You don't expect a bargain when you go shopping for luxury saloons, but that's what you'll find in Jaguar's XJ6. There are four contenders in this market besides the Jag: the Mercedes S-Class, loved by rap artists and Swiss taxi drivers alike; the oddly restyled BMW 7 Series; the modernist Audi A8; and that chromed Mercedes look-alike, the Lexus LS430. And though it's hardly a saloon, we shouldn't forget the Range Rover, Britain's favourite luxury wheels.
Aside from the Jag, all of these cars have prices starting north of £45,000, and some the wrong side of £50,000. But the XJ6 is yours for just £39,000.
Is there a catch? Not really. The XJ's prices start low to compensate for the absence of a diesel, which appears next year. Conscious that company car buyers will be savaged by benefit-in-kind taxes, Jaguar has worked a canny game with the list price and the fuel efficiency of this car, making the base XJ a shrewd buy despite its being petrol-powered.
That efficiency stems in part from its six-cylinder engine - several rival ranges offer only V8s - and partly from its body construction, which is of lightweight aluminium. So while a 3-litre V6 might seem puny for a car this large, on the road it turns out to be anything but, the Jag surging forward with an athleticism belied by its patrician looks. The V6 can thrust it to 60mph in 8.4 seconds and on to 136mph, which is more than enough for this island. More useful is its overtaking thrust: planting the accelerator on the carpet at 30mph - a little unseemly, it's true - will launch you from 30mph to 70mph in just eight seconds, a feat aided by the standard six-speed automatic.
This switches gear as slickly as a supermodel, and contributes substantially to the sensation of effortlessness that has long been a Jaguar hallmark.
But what makes this new XJ still more soothing is its unexpected agility, the payoff for that light, strong body. It's big but it doesn't feel it, either in town or on sinuous open roads. Even if you're not into hard driving, your subconscious will tell you that this car is happy to change direction, making it a willing accomplice during cut-and-thrust moments, and on twisty roads it's sufficiently entertaining to have your passengers telling you to slow down and grow up.
Happily, there's much to enjoy at a sedate pace. This car doesn't ride urban ruts with quite the tranquillity of its 1968 forebear, but then no contemporary car does - the upshot of the modern, slender-walled tyres necessary for today's cornering speeds. But you could hardly call its passage disturbed, especially at a cruise. The seats are comfortable and - revolutionary for an XJ, this - there's plenty of space in that richly leathered, arboreal cabin. Past examples were low-slung, lithe and cramped, but this iteration combines height with subtle muscularity, producing an interior that's easier to enter and exit, and a bigger boot too.
If there's a disappointment, it must be with this new Jaguar's look.
Recycling the 1968 XJ's style has created a car that already appears old - ironic, given that it is one of the most advanced luxury saloons you can buy. But, there are many who love Jaguar's traditional style - this is the best-selling saloon in its class. Clearly many are already enjoying this bargain.
SPECIFICATION - Jaguar XJ6
Max power: 240 bhp
Max torque: 221 lb ft
Max speed: 136 mph
0-60mph: 8.4 sec
Fuel consumption: 27.0 mpg
CO2 emissions: 249 g/km
BMW 730i: £46,855
A demeanour more modern than the Jag's; able too, but not as
fuel-efficient or as keenly priced.
Mercedes S280: £45,515
As able as the Jag but not as economical, its Germanic cabin less
friendly on a cold night.