A few years ago, Jaguar found itself in quite a precarious situation. Owned by Ford Motor Company, it had a line-up of good but largely mediocre models with which to compete against the ever-growing popularity of the German Three.

The X-type wasn’t selling as expected, and the S-type died a quiet death long before its sell-by date. Equally boring was the XJ-series, with only a glimpse of hope radiating from the gorgeous XK models. Until the XF, that is.

First shown in concept form at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit in 2007, the XF immediately got the approval from the public and critics alike. Jaguar made a wise decision to approve the production version without making too many styling changes: The company needed a radical departure from the designs of old to breathe life into the company’s financial woes.

Regardless of whether you like Jaguars or not, you’re blind (dare I say stupid?) if you cannot appreciate the XF for its masterful design. While the body style leans towards that of the now-popular four-door coupe, the lower profile manages to incorporate subtle design cues from Jaguar’s rich heritage, fusing it with thoroughly modern lines and up-to-date technology to create a car you cannot ignore.

This laudable design extends into the cabin as well, where there is very little to fault. Once seated in the plush leather seats, you’re surrounded by a beautifully crafted dashboard. The leather is still there, as is to be expected, but Jaguar thankfully ditched the wood treatment for a thoroughly modern, ultra slick textured chrome finish. The gear knob, if you can call it that, will keep you fascinated for weeks on end, as will the air vents.

When you press that ‘start’ button, two things happen. Firstly, the gear knob, which is in fact a chrome dial similar in appearance to the dial you would use for Audi’s MMI or BMW’s iDrive, slowly raises itself up from the middle-console. Gears are selected by turning the dial clockwise or anticlockwise and works brilliantly – much better than the traditional gearlever that protrudes in the middle of the car.

While this happens, the air vents also make an appearance by rotating 180 degrees to face the cabin and its occupants (they are in fact hidden, but I didn’t notice this until I started the car). Likewise, when you switch off the ignition, they turn back to again create one flowing chrome strip on the dash, with the gear knob retracting back into its housing as well.

The XF comes with just about everything as a standard feature, which includes all the mod cons you would expect, as well as a full colour touch screen for operating navigation, climate, and entertainment. It also has a rear-view camera to increase visibility when reversing, and generally, it’s one of the best of these kinds of systems I’ve experienced in a long time.

This specific model nominated is the 3.0 V6 Premium Luxury Automatic, with the last part of its nomenclature referring to its trim, specification and drive systems. Powering the XF is a 3.0-litre V6 engine that develops 175 kW of power and 293 Nm of torque. Jaguar claims an acceleration time of 8.3 seconds for the 0 – 100km/h sprint, and a top speed of 237 km/h. The company also claims an average fuel consumption of 10.5-litres/ 100km.

While even 3.0-litre engines can sometimes feel too small for a car this size, I was impressed with how lightfooted the XF felt. Power delivery impressed (although outright acceleration could be better) and it responds well to changing driving conditions. I found the handling dynamics almost superb, inspiring significant confidence during fast cornering and high-speed cruising.

Priced to go at R543 000, the Jaguar XF 3.0 V6 Premium Luxury Automatic suffers only from a very long and unnecessary badge. It competes against cars like the Audi A6 3.2 FSI Quattro (R530 500), BMW 530i (R552 400), and Mercedes Benz E350 (R577 00). Yet it offers something more; classic, elegant and exclusive luxury in a high-tech design that makes for something unique, something that isn’t necessarily tangible.

As mentioned in our best and worst of motoring in 2008, the XF is at the top of my wish list and it therefore gets my vote to win – that’s what my heart keeps telling me. Compared to its various rivals, the XF offers good value for money, but debating value for money in this segment is like buying a caravan. It makes no sense. Will it make sense crowing it the 2009 SA Car of the Year? We’ll have to wait and see.

PRICE: R543 000.00

COMPETITORS: BMW 5, Mercedes Benz E, Audi A6, Lexus GS, Volvo S80, Cadillac CTS

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