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The British are Coming

English automakers created the standard for high-line vehicles. Now after wrestling turbulent economies, they introduce some of their best and most competitive cars.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010

(continued from page 3)

For Jaguar, that’s the all-new XJ sedan. The brand’s long-time flagship has undergone the most dramatic remake in decades. “It’s the face of the brand,” proclaims Gary Temple, CEO Jaguar Land Rover North America. The sweeping coupe-like design calls attention to what is a very sophisticated bit of engineering. Under the paint, Jaguar has crafted a lightweight, all-aluminum package that has somehow achieved seemingly polar opposite goals. It is refined and comfortable, yet swift and sporty. It’s offered in a variety of versions, all the way up to the newest addition for 2011, the 510-horsepower XJ Supersport.

While Jaguar’s goal was to regain its reputation for striking, if timeless beauty, Land Rover is trying a different strategy with the upcoming Evoque. “This is the smallest, lightest, most fuel-efficient addition to the Land Rover lineup ever,” contends managing director Phil Popham. Originally shown in concept form as the LRX, the new model is the Brit marque’s first car-based crossover-utility vehicle, or CUV. The move is critical considering tightening fuel consumption and emissions standards—yet Land Rover insists Evoque will still offer some enviable off-road capabilities. Initially, it will be produced in four-wheel-drive configuration, with a front-drive model to follow. But in keeping with the times, look for a battery-based hybrid to follow around 2013.

Mini: Going to the Max

The Mini launched in 1959, as the British Motor Co.’s response to the fuel shortage created by the Suez Canal crisis of a few years earlier. The design penned by Sir Alec Issigonis proved to the Brits that small could be beautiful. Americans took another four decades to catch on.

Like Triumph and Humber, Mini might have landed on the junk heap had it not been for the former BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder—coincidentally a nephew of Issigonis. The avowed Anglophile acquired an array of foundering U.K. marques, though BMW was eventually forced to sell off all but Rolls-Royce and Mini.

The original Mini went out of production in 2000, but a new version debuted a few years later, and for the first time, was backed by a serious U.S. distribution channel. Sales quickly outstripped supply. Volumes dipped a bit in 2009, but several factors seem poised to drive a comeback, especially the likelihood of another fuel-price spike once the global recession ends.
And there’s plenty of new product, with most of the attention focused on the all-new Countryman. It boasts a variety of firsts, starting with the fact that it’s the first Mini SUV/crossover. It’s also the brand’s first four-door and the first model with all-wheel-drive.

“We’ve gone from astonishingly small to small,” laughs Jim McDowell, Mini’s top American executive, noting that even now the Countryman remains one of the tiniest vehicles on the American market.

Mini is also launching a new roadster and a coupe. And it is field-testing the battery-powered MiniE. Early results were so positive the maker agreed to extend the initial leases for some of its American drivers. Expect battery power to be a key part of Mini’s strategy, going forward, suggests McDowell.

Aston Martin: How Do You Say “007” in Arabic?

“We would have disappeared if Henry Ford II hadn’t come along,” says Aston Martin’s charismatic CEO Uli Bez of the Ford Motor Co. heir who purchased the foundering British maker in 1987. But Aston, which thrived under Ford’s stewardship, was the first PAG brand to be sold off exactly two decades later. And again, the buyer proved a surprise—in this case a consortium headed by Kuwaiti investors and the chief of the Aston Martin Racing team, David Richards.

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