The best view of Jaguar's future is the one seen through the windshield of the C-XF concept car. As you're driving down Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, you're surrounded by the very people who have it most in their power to make the 2008 production version a resounding success.
For more than fifty years, every Jaguar model to make the big time has been an early hit in California--and no Jaguar that's failed here has ever been a true winner. Not for nothing is Jaguar's North American headquarters in nearby Irvine. This is as good a place as any to measure the strength of the Jaguar heartbeat.
This seminal concept car, launched in Detroit in January, is meant to begin the rest of Jaguar's life. It's the precursor to the XF production car, the 2008 S-type replacement whose awesome responsibility is, first, to score the sales success that has eluded Jaguar for many years, and second, to show how Jaguar design would have evolved had it not diverted for a quarter-century into producing pastiches of Sir William Lyons's fine designs. Both the C-XF and its production derivative are the work of a youthful team put together by design director Ian Callum and advanced styling boss Julian Thomson, on whose shoulders an almost intolerable weight of responsibility has rested for the past five years.
If you'd been able to cruise across L.A. as we did, first in the C-XF and then in a current S-type, two things would have struck you. One, that the C-XF has indeed succeeded in jumping the two model generations that Callum and his henchmen knew from the outset it would have to, and two, that even in a town so used to extraordinary sights, this new Jaguar is very, very special.
It's worth remembering that the S-type was a Jaguar pioneer in its own right. We got our first glimpse of it in 1998. Before then, Jaguar had spent a long, long time building only the XJ sedan and the XJ-S coupe, a one-and-a-half-model range for which a total sales volume of more than 40,000 units was considered healthy. Under the skin, the S-type was closely linked to the Lincoln LS and was supposed to be Jaguar's ticket to sales approaching 100,000 units. But it failed to impress, and many critics (including Europeans) said the Lincoln was the better car. Worst of all, the Jag was born looking old.