JAGUAR AT ITS BEST WITH NEW XF.
FOR decades Jaguar stylists have been in a straitjacket, always having to look over their shoulder at the great cars from the company's past rather than being allowed to look forward with change.
If you need any evidence of this, just look at the current XJ and see how similar it is to the one that went before it - and the one before that too.
When you see what changes BMW has made in its styling and to a lesser extent, Mercedes, it just underlines how conservative Jag has been. However with one bold leap it has broken out of that trap and delivered the beautiful XF.
Now I have to hold up my hands and admit that this was a car I didn't want to like. I saw the gorgeous concept of 18 months of a couple of years ago and thought the production reality a little frumpy in comparison. It lost the sharpness around the front and the rear roofline is a few inches higher in the interests of more practical headroom. It perhaps didn't help that the first XF I saw was finished in a very un-fetching metallic chocolatey colour. I thought too, dare one say it, that there is more than a hint of Mondeo about the shape...
But I am now a convert, and a fervent one at that, having spent a few days with an XF and finding my initial reservations replaced by unbridled enthusiasm.
This is an epic car, one with a presence and beauty that pictures seem unable to properly capture and more than that, blessed with one of the finest chassis offering one of the best driving experiences you can find.
Technically it is a sort of cross between the S TYPE it replaces and the XK coupe and in a departure from recent Jaguar practice, it is made from steel rather than aluminium.
I've spoken of its beauty which I'm happy to say is more than skin deep. The interior is more modern in its architecture than in previous Jags and there is a nice element of interaction between machine and driver.
Pressing the ignition button that pulses red, the vents swivel open and a rotary gear selector raises from the centre console allowing you to chose `D'; it's as if the car is waking up and connecting with you, the driver. Some might find it a bit corny but I like it.
There is a variety of engines, petrol and diesel, and I had the 4.2 V8 to play with. It's by now a familiar engine but one difference is the gearbox it's bolted too because the change from the hand-operated paddles behind the steering wheel is lightning quick, making acceleration much smoother.
The XF's crowning glory is the chassis, one of the smoothest I have driven yet also one of the best handling and supported by superb steering.
The combination is beguiling; this is a truly extraordinary car to drive, one of the most surprising and impressive that I've tested in a long time.
Jaguar has excelled here, taking a much needed fresh approach to the styling and surpassing even its own high standards on chassis development.
I'm told that it is finding more favour with people who were previously non-Jaguar drivers than existing owners but that has to be a good thing - for one thing, there are an awful lot more of them.
It is too early to say what the future holds for Jaguar under its new Indian parentage but if the XF is any gauge, in terms of product, it is on the verge of a golden era.