The Dubai skyline serves as the perfect backdrop for an exclusive, but short, first drive of the stunning C-X17.
To get behind the wheel of a concept car can be quite a privilege. But it can be daunting as well. After all, you could well be piloting the only example in the world – one that reflects years of planning, engineering and design. Luckily, in this case, we were on a closed road in Dubai – so there wasn’t really anything to hit. And, apparently, there is one other example of the C-X17 back at Jaguar headquarters in the UK.
But, I should probably backtrack a little bit – to the 10th of September 2013, at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Or perhaps even further back come to think of it. You see, Jaguar have been mulling over building a crossover or an SUV for years now. What the Cayenne did for Porsche – which is, essentially, to convert a struggling sports car maker into the most profitable automaker in the world – is no secret. But Jaguar hasn’t been able to pull it off – until now that is!
The Frankfurt reveal, earlier this year, of the C-X17 started with the standard sound and light show. But then appeared a rather svelte shape struggling to break through the screen that it was trapped behind. It appeared to have the grille from an XJ or an XF, and the curves from an F-Type. What eventually emerged was a stunning crossover that was unmistakably Jaguar (read more about the finer details of the design on the following pages in a conversation with Ian Callum, Director of Design, and Julian Thomson, Head of Advanced Design at Jaguar). Design elements, such as the taillights, had clearly been lifted from the F-Type. Jaguar was making no bones about conveying that this would be a properly sporty crossover. And while they’ve clearly taken their time in designing this Jag crossover, it seems like time well spent. It’s no easy task, as evidenced by the Bentley EXP 9F, which was shown at the Geneva Motor Show last year. It’s safe to say that this Bentley concept went straight back to the drawing board about 15 minutes after reveal. And, let’s face it, the original Cayenne wasn’t exactly elegant either when it debuted in 2002. Suffice to say, it’s not easy to retain a sporty brand identity when you’re designing an SUV. But Jaguar seems to have done just that with the C-X17.
The car that I was about to drive – albeit very briefly – had been converted from the striking electric blue of its debut into a liquid metal silver that seemed to fit perfectly with the Dubai landscape. Set against a backdrop that’s dominated by the Burj Khalifa – the tallest man-made structure in the world – the C-X17 seemed just as audacious with its bulging wheels and svelte lines.
Underneath, the C-X17 sports a brand new, all-aluminium architecture that will also form the foundation of another new model for Jaguar – a compact sedan that will take on the BMW 3 Series. The sedan will debut in the middle of next year, while the crossover will likely come a few months after – although Jag hasn’t confirmed that the C-X17 will actually go into production. But looking at the car from the outside, you would imagine that it’s pretty production ready. Just fit a more reasonably sized set of wheels and tyres, and you should be good to go. Moreover, production is a foregone conclusion when Ian Callum mentions the findings of a recent market research study, which revealed that for a brand to be taken seriously in the US and China – two of the largest markets in the world – a crossover is an absolute necessity!
Stepping into a C-X17 is another ballgame altogether. The interior is the stuff of pure automotive fantasy. The bucket seats look fantastic, but they’re about as comfortable as sitting on a washing board. The glass roof has slats for a sunshade, and the rotary gear selector is there just for show – in fact, they haven’t even decided yet whether they should opt for a joystick-like gear lever, as they’ve done in the F-Type, or the rotary selector that, seemingly, would be more appropriate in a luxury car. It’s safe to assume, then, that they’ll be going back to the drawing board for the interior.
As for how the car actually drives – well, I wouldn’t really be able to tell you. The drive was simply too short. What I can say is that the sporty intent is clearly visible here as well. The wheel arches are massive and the exhaust note from whatever is under the hood – I would assume a supercharged 3.0 litre V6 – is loud enough to announce your arrival well before the striking shape of the C-X17 is within sight.
The question is, if it’s a sporty SUV that you’re after, why not choose another JLR product – the Range Rover Sport. After all, it doesn’t get much better than that – not only is the RR Sport brilliant on the road, but it’s incredible off it as well. The C-X17, though, according to its designers, will have a character all its own. It has a platform of it’s own, even though it’ll be similar in size to the Range Rover Sport. It’ll certainly be more road-centric, even if it does have some form of Land Rover’s Terrain-Response system to help give it some street-cred in the dirt. It certainly won’t have as much suspension articulation as any Land Rover product – all of which have to be extremely capable off-road. The differentiation, on the road, between the C-X17 and everything else will be its sporty character – naturally, while maintaining the refinement of a Jaguar.
The future for Jaguar certainly looks bright. This year saw the introduction of a proper sports car, and a true successor to the legendary E-Type. Next year will see a compact sedan that should boost sales numbers considerably, while a crossover will complete the range.
Full credit must be given to Tata Motors for their continued investment, but the thinking in Mumbai must be that they’ve got their money’s worth!
INTERVIEW - Ian Callum & Julian Thomson
We sat down with the creative geniuses behind the C-X17, Ian Callum and Julian Thomson, to get their insights:
How do you go about designing a Jaguar crossover?
IC: Well, it has to be a Jaguar first and then form the proportions of a crossover. It would be very easy to create a crossover without referencing Jaguar enough. The proportional side of it was very demanding for us. So that was the first thing we really had to try and get right, especially working with the architectural people. And it couldn’t just be another crossover.
JT: We wanted to do the best looking crossover – period! When we do something, we have to do it correctly. We’re one of the last people to come into this market, so, for us, it’s got to be the best looking crossover there is. That’s very important to us.
IC: Also, what was very important for us was that it had to be a very sporty looking crossover. In some ways, we’ve taken a few of the cues off the F-Type – so people get that reference instantly. And it was important for us to really capture the sportiness because this is such a bookend for us. An XF and XJ don’t necessarily have a sporty profile, but it’s more important in this car, because it’s not a sports car. It’s the complete opposite of a sports car in so many ways. But, if we do build one, dynamically too, it’s got to drive like a Jaguar. So, the sporty content was very important to us, and that’s why we ended up with the curved forms around the back. But the glass proportion was quite complicated. We had to make sure that we gave it some length, because it can start to look very short.
JT: It has to look like it has a relatively small cabin. The body has to look very muscular, with the wheels really supporting the car. And that’s not what you normally think about when you look at a crossover. But all our cars have to look like sports cars in some way, so the architecture of the cabin and the angle of the screen is very important for us.
A deliberate attempt to make it look like an F-Type?
IC: In some ways, yes. It was a good reference point. We like the F-Type a lot – we’re still very pleased with it. And we won’t pretend this (the C-X17) has not come from there. But it wasn’t the first thing on our minds when we started off. The first thing we thought about was how to get the proportions right. The first models actually ended up much squarer in their form language – a bit stiffer. They weren’t sporty enough. So, we thought we have a sports car – let’s use some of that. Let’s use what we’ve learnt from that – especially around the back – and that was part of the journey of discovery. The first few times it was difficult. We produced some nice SUV’s, but they weren’t Jags.
JT: They’ve got to have that sense of poise about them. We’re very used to doing cars that are low to the ground and hunkered down – very muscular. When you lift those up in the air, you have to adjust all the volumes of the car accordingly. We spent a long time getting a particular look that was right for a Jaguar.
You had to wait for a new architecture to actually produce a crossover?
IC: We did really. I don’t think we could have done it with our current platforms.
JT: We did try though, but nothing really delivered the look we wanted. The first one we did was about 5-6 years ago. And even before we arrived, the company was toying with the idea.
IC: I resisted it actually, I wasn’t happy with the idea. People kept asking me if we would do a crossover or an SUV, and I kept saying that I didn’t think we would ever do one. But the world is telling us we have to. I think that point of realization came to me when we did some marketing research, and in the US and in China, people said that you’re not a car brand unless you’ve got a crossover. That’s what people want, so let’s get on with it!
Did you feel any resistance from Jag purists?
IC: Funnily enough, no. I was expecting a lot of resistance when I went to Frankfurt. I thought there would be a lot of people saying, “How dare you do this, who’s given you the permission?” But I never got any of that. What people did say is that it looks like a Jag, which is good in two ways – one, because it looks like a Jag, and, two, because it means that people are actually referencing this design as Jaguar now. It took ages to get over that bridge. But we’re over it now, and this looks like part of that family – which is hugely satisfying. People just said, “Wow, at last.”
JT: In America, there isn’t that demarcation between a sedan and a crossover – they’re just cars. People just go out and buy the car that suits them in the end – so those barriers don’t exist anymore. Europe is probably the last place to catch onto crossovers. We still sell wagons in Europe, which is very much part of a previous generation of cars.
How much of the new architecture was affected by the shape that you wanted to achieve?
IC: Quite a lot – the biggest one we worked on was what we call dash-to-wheel. We decided what we wanted, and the engineers said, “Okay, we’ll make it work.” The first attempts were too short – we wanted some more length in the design.
How does that take into account the proportions of the sedan – the 3 Series fighter – that will come next year?
IC: Quite significantly. You’ll see that when you see the car. I think its got fantastic proportions. It’s a pragmatic car, it’s a usable car, but it has got a very sporty stance to it. And that’s because we got the wheel-to-body relationship, in terms of the length of the car, just right in the end – it’s just where we wanted. The wheelbase and track of these two cars is very different though – the footprint of the crossover is not the same as the footprint of the smaller car.
Final question – the Range Rover Sport comes from the same family, and it’s an incredible machine. So, how does this crossover fit in relative to that?
IC: You know, I don’t know the answer to that to be honest with you. We’re not consciously designing something at Jaguar while being aware of Land Rover. We’re just doing what’s right for us. Of course, the reference between the two brands is going to be made, but it’s not part of our remit to even think about it. If we start thinking about it too much, we might do the wrong thing. We have to do what’s right for our brand. This is a much smaller car by the way – there’s no commonality in its make-up. This is an all-new platform – all-new architecture.
But do you take learnings from Land Rover?
IC: I’m sure in the four-wheel drive systems we will, yes. But that’ll be it. Everything else is Jaguar. Since we have the best four-wheel drive systems to use, we will use them. A car like this will not be as articulate as a Range Rover off-road. We don’t want it to be – that adds a lot of weight, and it might take away some performance attributes that we wouldn’t want it to. This will feel quite different though, I can assure you – you’ll take this around Silverstone quite quickly I think.