The XF has a huge responsibility. It will replace the S-Type, a car that was decent to drive (particularly in supercharged R form) but was styled awkwardly and sold far too slowly. Sales have been nose-diving for some time, especially in the US, as customers have been tempted by much more modern, more exciting machinery from Germany and Japan.

Jaguar needed to shake free from the whole retro image which marked out owners as being retired dentists instead of dynamic, young and sexy. When Ian Callum took charge of design, he did so on the condition that he could make Jaguar desirable again. After a couple of subtle tweaks to existing designs, the first proper car to emerge with his signature was the XK. And what a success that's been.

Since its launch in early 2006, the XK has played its part in stifling losses at Jaguar, but the company knew a sports car alone wouldn't save its skin. It needed a volume seller, one that could poach BMW, Audi, Lexus and Mercedes customers. It needed a new face, a new direction. This is it.

Even under unforgiving artificial lighting, the XF's complex amalgam of swoops, curves and creases comes to life. Callum is at pains to point out every detail. From the way a single line can be drawn from the headlamp right the way back and around the rear lamp clusters, to the curvature of the glass, it's clear he's had his own way with this. "It was often a fight," he says. "But we knew that getting the design right was paramount to its success and we eventually got the looks we wanted."

The gaping grille is inspired by the XJ6 Series 1 and looks mean enough. There's a Bentley-esque mesh panel within it, with a simple cat's head badge in the upper center. From this, let your eyes trace back over the hood's pronounced power bulge, while at each side the sculpted curves blend together.

At the rear is a pair of shamelessly Aston Martin-style lamps joined in the center by a tasteful, thick strip of chrome. A rather large 'leaper' sits astride this and, Callum tells us, the 'Jaguar' script will probably be ditched altogether once the car becomes more widely recognizable. The leaping cat will, at last, come of age as a brand identifier in its own right.

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