It's odd how, in the course of a conversation, you hear a word that just jumps out and hits you. So it was when I spent a pleasurable hour or so in the company of Jaguar designer Ian Callum as he drove me around the Cape Province of South Africa in his latest creation, the new Jaguar XK sports car. Well, someone had to do it.

Callum mentioned, in passing, that it can take a long time to "nurture" a car's lines. Nurture. I have heard of people cherishing cars, loving them, desiring them and every parent nurtures their children; but a designer "nurturing" swages and wheel arches and boot lids?

Still, when you consider Callum's most recent work - the Aston Martin DB9 and this new Jaguar - you can see what he's on about. The new XK, I discovered, might have been a boxy thing had changes not been made early in its development. The Great Nurturer didn't like it that way, so the car gained more curves, acquired attitude and leapt into life like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully and perfectly formed.

Maybe that's over the top. It isn't to all tastes. It's bit too much like the old XK8, some say. It's not enough like the old E-type, chime others.

No matter. This car, powerful, all-aluminium and iPod-ready is demonstrably better than its predecessor. It doesn't need to sell that many to make a case for itself; say 10,000 to 20,000 a year. Globally I'd be surprised if it didn't. The German competition does look dull indeed next to it.

The real challenge comes with the new saloons. The good news is that The Great Nurturer is working his magic right now and I would imagine that the next generation of cars is going to look fresh and exciting.

Chatting to him, I was interested in Callum's views on Rover. That was another great British marque that got its knickers in a twist with the whole retro-thing. Yet there was a time - about 1963 when the Rover 2000 came out - when that company was unafraid of radical change, of forging a new look and a new reputation for technological advance as well as craftsmanship and quality. It even got into aluminium. Callum approved, just as he disapproved of the BMW-inspired mock-Tudor Rover 75 of 1998.

"British" should denote modern, clever, advanced and safe design rather than a club-room on wheels. A Jaguar should boast as many technological tricks as a Lexus, go as well as a BMW and be refined as - well, a Jaguar. They're reliable now, too. With the XK a product-led recovery has begun: it deserves to be nurtured by Jaguar's patient parent, Ford.

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