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It’s midday in Dubai. As the sun blazes
down, the temperature eases its way north of 40 degrees, and the Jaguar C-X17
sits in the shimmering heat haze. Slightly odd to see a concept car out here in
the real world. Most are destined for a brief flirtation with reality on a
motorshow stand, designed to nebulously ‘articulate a future design direction’
without much point or purpose. Odder still, and better yet, Top Gear is about to
drive it.

Before we do, time for a quick C-X17
refresher. Showcased at this year’s Frankfurt Motorshow, the C-X17 is a
previously unknown breed of Jaguar, a premium SUV-crossover, destined to attack
the biggest and strongest automotive growth market.

There’s a healthy reality check here:
while Jag purists may choke at the thought of a Jaguar SUV, no self respecting
premium brand can make healthy profits without an SUV in its range. Look at
Maserati and Bentley – both have luxo-4x4s in the works.

It wasn’t just the traditionalists that
were worried, either: even Jaguar’s Design Director Ian Callum was sceptical,
explaining his reservations stemmed from the fact that “Jaguars were always low
slung”. But as we stand and ponder the silver C-X17, he’s clearly got a handle
on how a Jaguar SUV should resolve itself.

“This sort of car is the aspirational
vehicle of choice for a whole generation. This is what they want. In fact in
some countries this is all they know… so we started to explore the idea.”

It’s more than just ‘exploration’ though.
As Callum talks, it’s clear he’s passionate about the team’s tallest-ever
creation. “Most SUVs look like they’re standing still when they’re doing 100
miles an hour, but we wanted to create an SUV that looked liked it was doing
100 miles an hour when it was standing still,” he says.

It’s not easy, translating a design
language from sports car to SUV. Many manufacturers fail spectacularly as they
battle with the constraints of shared platforms and chassis architecture. But
the C-X17 is more than just design blue-sky thinking. It’s also the first car
to be designed around Jaguar’s all-new iQ (AL) platform.

While the concept itself sits on a
revised version of a physical XF base, the proportions are based on what iQ(AL)
can deliver. And it looks as if the new platform delivers more freedom for the
design team, because Callum, Thompson and their team have created a SUV that
does actually look like a Jag.

There are clear references to the F-Type
in the Jaguar front grill and bold hip line that feeds towards the rear lights,
while the whole car feels resolved in a way that much of the competition fails
to. But how real is it?

‘”I don’t want to create things that we
can’t deliver, so if we were going to make this car there’s very little on it
that would have to change,” says Callum. And so while the concept’s 23-inch
wheels will downscale a bit, Callum says 22s “aren’t impossible”. So there you
go – it’ll look pretty much like this when it reaches production in 2016.

For a little more extravagance, the
interior is pure concept car, a rolling showcase for Jaguar’s next generation
of digital technology. The Interactive Surface Control runs the entire length
of the car’s central tunnel, with a series of inter-connecting screens glowing
beneath, all connected via wi-fi and featuring the headline acts of social
media. Occupants are able to share content by flicking it from one screen to

The actual drive of the C-X17 is brief,
hot and concepty, but dynamic impressions are pretty much irrelevant this far
ahead of production. Of more importance is the intent behind it.

This is a concept only a confident Jaguar
would dare to show, and although every conversation is carefully prefaced with
‘if we were going to make a car like this’, it’s clear that the Audi Q5, BMW X3
and JLR’s own Range Rover Sport will face stiff competition in a couple of
year’s time.

The iQ (AL) platform will debut a little
earlier in 2014, as Jaguar picks a fight with the mighty BMW 3-Series and Audi
A4 in the small executive sector. A tough job.

What do you think?

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