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Under Tata, Jaguar Tries to Win Back a Prestigious Image

Jaguar has a lot riding on an all-new version of its XJ sedan, the battered brand's flagship model.

Jaguar held a press introduction for the new XJ in London earlier this month. Sales start in early 2010, although U.S. Jaguar dealers have already started taking orders, the company said.

India's Tata Motors took Jaguar and Land Rover off Ford's hands last year, for just $2.3 billion, not counting an additional $600 million that Ford contributed for future pension obligations. Ford paid more than that for Jaguar alone back in 1990, then sank billions more into Jaguar over the years.

Under Ford, Jaguar vastly improved its quality, but in the end, with Ford itself in distress, Jaguar was a distraction from Ford's core, mass-market business. The Jaguar X-Type, which was widely and somewhat unfairly lampooned as "the finest Ford Taurus money could buy" under the skin, cheapened the Jaguar brand's reputation.

Now Jaguar is fighting to restore its reputation for building prestigious, sporty and above all attractively styled cars. The XJ is the third major launch on Tata's watch, after the smaller XF sedan and the XK coupe and convertible. All get high marks for styling, which is critical for Jaguar.

Jaguar also got very high marks on two of this year's most important customer surveys by J.D. Power and Associates. Jaguar was tied for No. 1 with Buick in the 2009 Vehicle Dependability Survey for 3-year-old cars.

Jaguar was No. 2 but in a statistical tie with No. 1 Porsche in the 2009 APEAL Study, which stands for Automotive Performance Execution and Layout. APEAL basically measures how much buyers like their cars in the first 90 days of ownership.

However, Jaguar was way below average on the 2009 Initial Quality Study for "things gone wrong" in the first 90 days of ownership. Jaguar owners didn't seem to mind, since the same audience filled out both IQS and APEAL surveys. Ford gets credit for the good and the bad news on the surveys. Jaguar dealers generally get good marks for customer handling, as well.

U.S. models of the new XJ get three different engine options: a 5.0-liter, naturally aspirated V8 that produces 385 hp; a supercharged version that gets 470 hp; and a 510-hp "Supersport" version. Prices range from $72,000 suggested retail to $115,000, the company said.

"The all new XJ's beauty is much more than skin-deep," the company said.