The striking new Jaguar C-XF announces much more than the styling direction of the S-type-replacing XF due in showrooms in spring 2008, writes Guy Bird.

The bold four-door with coupe looks represents the start of the transformation of Jaguar’s saloon range and hints at how the next XJ could look and even a possible X-type replacement too.

Team leader of the C-XF and head of Jaguar advanced design, Julian Thomson, was candid about the need for the brand to break from its staid recent designs: “It’s time to move on, we still want to interpret our positive heritage but we want to do it in a more emotional way rather than just rearranging certain design cues – which we’ve been victim of in the past somewhat. This car is very much the blueprint for our future sports saloons.”

Jaguar sources say about 85% of the concept – officially unveiled to the world yesterday (7th January) at the Detroit Show press day – will end up in the final XF production version.

The production car’s roofline will be slightly higher for more rear passenger space, the headlamps thicker for technological and legal reasons, the wheels slightly smaller than the 21-inch show car’s for better ride and the hidden exterior door handles will make way for conventional ‘grab’ handles.

The sharp new deep-set grille and shape with Bentley-style mesh should all stay though. Inside, there will be fatter seats for comfort, a more conventional dash and more familiar controls, but some of the great ambient lighting effects – including the door panel striping and instrument panel illumination – could remain.

Such electroluminescent lighting – where material is ‘printed’ with chemicals and compounds which light up when a current is run through it – is already used by the British Military and JCB diggers for its durability, robustness and space saving compared to conventional light bulbs, so it’s highly production-feasible.

Some elements of the prototype ‘JaguarSense’ system – where sensors react to the sweep of your hand as you pass over them to activate various controls from interior door handles to dash displays – are also set for production.

Under the concept’s bonnet the familiar 420bhp 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine will sit, but expect the 2.7-litre V6 diesel to take most sales.

As to the design cues customers could expect on future Jags, Thomson said: “The C-XF’s got a fantastic stance with big wheels pulled out in each corner – we’ll strive to get that in all our saloon cars. The graphics of the car – the shapes of the windows and lights and the style of them is very much an indication of where we’re going too.”

He was also keen to stress the production car would not lose the concept’s essence: “We don’t want to do a concept car and talk about a new design language and then when the new saloons come out – people just say ‘that’s rubbish, it’s nothing like they showed us before’. We’re not in the business of doing that.

“We want people to really remember this as a Jaguar. We want them to find things on this car that won’t be to everyone’s taste but some people will just love. That’s what a luxury product is about.”

Guy Bird

See also: DETROIT PREVIEW: Jaguar concept heralds S-type redesign