The new Jaguar XF, heralded as the sporty saloon to turn around Jaguar’s fortunes. It will be exported from Castle Bromwich to 66 markets worldwide with the first UK customers taking delivery of their cars in March next year. The range starts with the Luxury 2.7 litre diesel at GBP33,900 rising to GBP54,900 for the 4.2 litre Supercharged 'SV8'. Ford’s Chief Technical Officer, Richard Parry-Jones talks to Sara Price.

Who is going to buy the XF?

Obviously, a lot of our customers come from current S-Type and we are also looking for those who are currently buying German premium brands to move across. It’s a much more interesting proposition as a design statement that the previous Jaguar so I wouldn’t be surprised to attract more design aware people from the German premium brands. The other obvious source of sales is people who are trading up from smaller premium vehicles and looking for a bigger vehicle and making more of a significant prestige statement.

So that’s the sort of demographic we have. The main hope we have is that we will have a much younger audience because Jaguar’s recent history has been characterised by vehicles that only really appeal to older people in significant numbers. The problem with that is, although whilst these people are very affluent and can therefore afford to pay more for their cars, the lack of appeal amongst younger people means that the brand is not getting refreshed.

So, it’s a bit like having a company where you have got a lot of experienced employees but you are not hiring at all. You do really well for a while but eventually you’ll fall over because you have not hired fresh blood and replenished.

The other comment I’d make is even though many young people can’t afford this car it is really important that it appeals to them. Because if you are able to afford a car like this, generally speaking, you are going to be unusually successful and younger, or more typically successful and older. And most people who fall in that latter category usually want to drive a car that young people would want to own. This is because very few people, who are in their 50s for example, feel like they are in their 50s. They feel much younger and identify with things that are youthful, especially the boomer generation.

And so it’s really important to the brand that young people aspire to own the car and admire it. And I think that we have made a big step in that direction with the XF.

Have we finished the journey, I don’t think so. But we have made a huge step in that direction.

How is a big five-seater cruiser, that isn’t very adaptable, going to appeal to youthful thinking and active people in their 50s? Why would they go for the XF and not a SUV that they can strap their surf boards, or other sporting equipment to at the weekend?

My answer to that is why would anyone want a sports car? It’s not very adaptable. You buy a sports car because it’s gorgeous looking and exhilarating to drive. This car is a sports car that happens to have two extra doors and the ability to seat three more people in it. So all the reasons why you want to buy a sports car are the exact same reasons why you want to buy this car, except it’s more useful than a sports car; you can do more things with more people.

Now it doesn’t have the ultimate versatility and practicality, it’s true but that’s because it’s primarily built to be gorgeous to look at and exhilarating to drive. Because it’s a Jaguar it’s also refined and comfortable so you don’t have to make a lot of collateral trade-offs to get that feel.

Is it enough of a sports car though to bring in people who aren’t bound by conventional notions of age?

I think so. I think if you compare it to the BMW 5 Series, the Audi A6 or the Mercedes E Class and you line them up side-by-side, it’s really indisputable that the Jaguar has got by far the most sporting silhouette and profile. And the haunches and they way the greenhouse tucks into the rear emphasises its sporting heritage. It’s not a sports car in the conventional sense, in the XK sense, but it’s is a very sporty sedan.

How many pre-orders have you had in the UK?

3,000 pre-orders in the UK. We have no quota on pre-orders.

Has that exceeded expectations?

In terms of pre-orders, yes, as the car has not actually had its press launch yet. We have obviously done some appearance launches and no advertising. That will all take place next year. The fact that there is a buzz being generated around it is good and the translation of that into pre-orders has exceeded expectations. The Jaguar company is feeling very confident about the car as opposed to complacent.

Is the XF going to make money for Jaguar?

Without doubt. If it sells as expected, and all the early indications says that it will, of course it will be profitable for Jaguar and a very important stepping stone in the road for recovery for Jaguar profitability.

What has been the response to the XF in the States?

It’s very early days as we have only shown the car at shows. The XF concept car which we showed at Detroit (Auto Show 2007) has received positive press and been very well received by the US consumer. The internet chat rooms, the buzz and comments have been very positive. One or two journalists who have seen the car expressed the concerns over whether Jaguar had gone far enough in terms of design revolution. I’ve seen that comment reflected also in Europe, but the overwhelming majority of comments are very positive and not so much surprised as relieved saying that this is exactly what Jaguar should be doing.

The interior is a mixture of more modern premium materials and colours and much more modern form language with a number of surprising elements. The i-Pod interface is thoughtful because you don’t have to have any exposed cable. The interface is completely hidden under the centre consol. You can leave your i-Pod in, very convenient, out of view, and all the controls are accessible via the normal audio system interface.

Has the design gone far enough?

The only comment I would make in response is that people who are not initially bowled over by it, the longer they are exposed to the vehicle, the more they warm to it. So, it’s a grower. Because there are intriguing features to the design which you can’t really work out when you first see it.

It’s not a completely, conventionally pretty car. There are a lot of design elements that are not predictable and those unpredictable elements take a little longer to understand.

What particular elements are those?

The front end of the car is quite intriguing, quite challenging, particularly to people who are looking for something perhaps a little less aggressive. There’s a lot of subtlety to the car as well that gives it a lot of longevity. One of its strengths is that it is a very pure design. It’s not overly tricked-up, nor is it too busy with lots of superfluous detail. It has exquisite detail but the surfaces are fairly pure, rather than extremely complicated. But ultimately the market will be the judge and that requires a bit more time. Meanwhile we’re working on the next Jaguar.

Can we take our cue from the XF, that this is now the direction in which Jaguar is heading?

The cue you can take from this car is that we are very confident about it, we are emboldened by the positive reaction we are getting to it, and I think that confidence and emboldened outlook you will see manifest itself in Jaguar stretching itself even further in design terms.

Are you wholly happy with the back end of the XF or could it have gone further?

I’m very, very happy with the back end on this car. What do you think?

I think it looks like a Mondeo.

I actually think that the back end is very pretty. Don't forget, no-one goes where they want to be in one design. You make a big step and then you feel your way to the crystallisation of the design language that has evolved. And it takes two or three cars.

Has Jaguar got time?

If I look at the business plan and the product plan that is forcing the business plan, then the answer is absolutely ‘yes’. Would it be more profitable to do it faster and earlier? Yes, of course. But there is an evolutionary process that you have to go through. It’s just highly accelerated at the moment. It might not be as accelerated as everyone would like but on the other hand we have momentum building. And what I admire most in the confidence at Jaguar is the confidence in the momentum from the people at Jaguar. They know where they are going, know how they are going to get there and have the clear sense of confidence and direction. And the XF is a key piece of that building process.

Words and picture, Sara Price

See also: UK: Brits place 3,000 Jag XF orders

Jaguar XF pics