Jaguar XF S
In Odyssey Red and with the optional Black Pack, the XF looks sharp and stylish IBTimes UK

Are Jaguars cool? The F-Type two-seat convertible undeniably is, but what about the saloon cars? The ones distantly related to John Prescott's car(s) of choice? Jaguar has upped the ante in recent years, not just with the F-Type but with a whole wardrobe of sharp new suits for the XE, XF and XJ designed to break free of the past and embrace the future.

Has it worked, and can a Jaguar saloon now be considered cool? I took the XF on a 1,000-mile drive through France to find out.

Truth be told, the Jag isn't just taking me on a July jaunt through France; it's taking three teammates and I, plus bags and camping gear, to Le Mans where we'll be competing in a 24-hour karting race. As road tests go, I reckon this one will be unique.

We begin at the crack of dawn with a Thursday morning game of car boot-Tetris. Tents packed, camping chairs ditched and kart helmets perched on the middle rear seat, we set off for the Channel Tunnel and France.

Running late, the XF was given an early opportunity to stretch its legs and show off its range-topping three-litre, supercharged V6 engine.

Jaguar XF S
Optional 20in wheels help give the XF a modern aesthetic IBTimes UK

Producing 375 horsepower, it's the same engine as fitted to the V6 F-Type, but without the dramatic soundtrack. Mundane noise aside, however, the car is still properly quick. Zero to 60mph takes 5.1 seconds and it is electronically limited to 155. The eight-speed automatic gearbox handles the power well and can be operated manually with paddles behind the steering wheel when the mood takes you.

Train boarded with minutes to spare, we spent the Channel crossing inspecting the XF more closely. Jags can still have a whiff of old man's-car about them, but I think this particular one looks fantastic with its Odyssey Red paint and black/red leather interior. The S styling pack gives the exterior just the right amount of aggression without looking thuggish, while the 'Riva line' joining the doors to the dashboard makes the interior feel pleasantly snug. I'm guessing rear comfort is excellent, given how quickly (and often) my teammates fell asleep back there.

Onwards to France and it was time to put the supercharger to sleep, switch from Dynamic to Eco mode, set the cruise control and let the Jag eat its way to Le Mans as frugally as possible. Jaguar claims 34 miles per gallon is possible, and while sometimes the live readout would pass 50 or even 60mpg, we struggled to get the average much above 30.

Jaguar XF
Despite aggressive looks and supercharged engine, the XF is more than happy to eat up motorway miles Alex Dowling

Rolling into Le Mans with the fuel light on, the XF had managed the 380-mile journey on three-quarters of a tank. Not bad for a car of this performance, of course, but a warning that drivers looking for a motorway marathon partner should consider a smaller-capacity diesel XF instead.

Inside there is plenty of space for four adults, with a lofty 6ft-plus friend having no issues in the back. The optional Meridian sound system (£1,225) is excellent, and while the 8in touchscreen it comes with looks great, the sat-nav system is unintuitive and could benefit from a refresh.

While we're talking optional extras, I'd keep the red paint (£690), the exterior Black Pack (£650) and 'Labyrinth' diamond turned wheels (£1,230), but would ditch the illuminated door sill-plates (£310) and head-up display (£1,265). The red and black leather interior was a free option and looks brilliant. All told, the supercharged XF 3.0 V6 starts at £49,995, and the one you see here is £58,715.

The Jag – has a car name ever rolled off the tongue so effortlessly? – was quickly refuelled then, after setting up camp on the edge of Le Mans' Porsche Curves, we went in search of the public road sections of the famous racetrack. Switching to Dynamic and manual was of course the order of the day, causing the XF to sharpen, becoming louder, more alert and more eager to please. The speed and rev dials also turn red, naturally.

Jaguar XF
Moody skies over northern France as we head south to Le Mans Alex Dowling

Driving along one of the world's most famous racetracks in a sensible (yet supercharged) family saloon car is a bit weird, and so too is driving along said racetrack, so familiar from a life time of video games, with traffic coming towards you. Regardless, the sprint down the Mulsanne straight, right at Mulsanne Corner, then left at the heavily banked Indianapolis (complete with curbs and gravel trap, on a public road...) and right at Arnage is a rite of passage for any petrolhead and the XF lapped it up, providing a far more fun and engaging ride than I could have hoped for.

Of course there are more exciting cars to do this in (more exciting Jaguars, even), but serving up spoonfuls of fun and sportscar performance after lugging four men and a tent across a country in effortless comfort is the XF's real strength. No longer does a Jaguar saloon feel like it will spend its entire life giving Paul, Colin and Peter a lift to the golf club; it doesn't have to be your neighbours' retirement present to themselves.

Jaguar XF S
Fully loaded: The XF provides plenty of room for four adults, but some luggage had to take up the middle rear seat IBTimes UK

The Jaguar XF, especially in S trim with a supercharger and toys like the upgraded touchscreen, sound system and 20in wheels, is a thoroughly modern car which would feel more at home in the garage of a 30-year-old than a 60-year-old. Add in the aggressive styling, an engaging and dynamic drive, and a modern interior with not even a hint of dated wood, and you have a genuinely good car which holds its own against alternatives from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

As the Le Mans circuit heads right, it disappears under a tyre wall and we're persuaded to follow the public road to the left. I switch the XF back to Eco and automatic, loosen my grip on the wheel and point the sat-nav towards Calais and home. Back on the empty French toll roads, the Jag settles back into a quiet, comfortable long-distance cruiser.

Jaguar XF 3.0 V6 Supercharged (9/10)

In truth, and despite the push-you-into-the-seat performance, wafting along the motorway with the occasional sprint out of a toll booth is where the XF is happiest. A future XF R with the F-Type's snorting V8 will change all this for sure, but for now the XF holds on to the softer side of Jaguar we all know, while injecting just enough visual drama and performance to make it feel sharp, fresh and new.

The interior quality let the Jag down a little, but it's 2016 so I'll settle for metal and plastic trim with carbon fibre details over lashings of dated wood and leather every time.

Good news, then. I've found a Jaguar saloon which enjoyed a weekend at the racetrack, not an afternoon at the golf club. Just make sure you pick the right colour and know your way around the options list...