Does the idea of a 4x4 Jaguar seem strange? A decade or so ago, the very thought would have had old blokes in wing-backed armchairs choking to death on their brandy and cigars. Even the company's design director Ian Callum was sceptical until fairly recently, primarily because Jaguars ‘have always been low-slung'. But these are fast-moving times, and no self-respecting premium player can possibly survive without an SUV or crossover in its range. ‘This sort of car,' Callum says, gesturing to the C-X17 concept, ‘is the aspirational car of choice for an entire new generation. This is what they want. In fact, in some countries this is all they know...'
Jaguar's new C-X17 4x4 concept: this is it
Yep, it’s official. The Jag crossover has arrived at Frankfurt. Jason Barlow reports
So if a whiff of controversy still clings to it, even a visually impaired Luddite would quickly conclude that the C-X17 smashes the ball out of the park at a considerable velocity. If there's ever been a prettier crossover than this, we can't think of one. It's 4.7m long and 1.63m tall so it's no shrinking violet, but Jaguar's advanced design team have worked hard to finesse the shape to deliver a strong stance and good proportions. The front overhang is notablyshort. The Jaguar grille is well established now and hasn't changed much here, and manages to be confident and assertive without pulling a scary rear-viewmirror face like the Audi Q7 or Porsche Cayenne. The windscreen is raked, but not comical, and the car's glass area is slender despite the car's size. The kick up over the rear wheel arches adds some sculpture and resolves into a rear light treatment that's pure F-type. ‘That was a very conscious decision,' Callum confirms.
The C-X17 is finished in a cobalt blue, called Caesium, with glossy black brightwork around the windows, and graphite five-spoke split alloys. They're 23in in diameter, by the way, which is borderline ridiculous but hey, it's show car so we can forgive it its jazz hands moment.
‘It was a challenge, I don't mind admitting,' Callum adds with his trademark honesty. ‘It took longer than I'd anticipated to get it to the point were it was as exciting as it could possibly be. We worked very hard to generate that sense of speed and movement, even for something that is relatively pragmatic. The glass area is about as slim as we could go. Having said that, this isn't fantasy land. There's nothing here we couldn't do in a production car.'
The C-X17's cabin is a bit more ‘out there', though. The seats are slim-line jobs, mounted lower down than you'd expect in an off-roader, and a houndstooth motif has been laser etched into the seats' saddle leather. The car's sculpted modernism is intensified by the use of vaned louvres in the roof, which stream daylight into the cabin. Artificial interior lighting is another element that's evolving fast, and as well as sills and doors, the C-X17's seats also feature illumination.
The multi-media touch screen - or Interactive Surface Console in Jaguar speak - definitely is for real, though not quite as it appears here. In the C-X17 the system runs the entire length of the car's centre tunnel, a series of inter-connecting screens shimmering beneath transparent acrylic glass, connected by in-car wi-fi. All the social media mainstays - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - are present, along with whatever else the occupants choose to entertain themselves with. The cool bit is how the content can be passed between front and rear seat occupants with a flick of the wrist. A toned-down version is destined for production.
The audio is by Cambridge-based specialists Meridian, and there are dash-mounted tweeters, countless speakers, including some secreted in the A- and B-pillars and front seats, and digital sound processing. Even the gear selector is gunning for extra theatricality: it's finished in a material called ruthenium, a rare platinum by-product usually used in wear-resistant electrical contacts. There are strips of it across the dash, as well as anodised black aluminium. The TFT instruments live in two back-lit cowls, and there's head-up display. The message is clear: Jaguar is determined to be in the front line of the new wave of highly sophisticated automotive connectivity and technology.
So that's the car - now for the big picture stuff.
Firstly, the C-X17 is a rolling showcase for Jaguar's new chassis strategy, iQ[Al], or ‘intelligent aluminium architecture', as it will henceforth only be known in internal marketing meetings. This is a clean sheet reimagining of all the hard bits under the vehicle's skin, suspension, chassis and all, a fully scaleable, modular component set that, claims Jaguar, has the stretch to deliver sub-100g/km CO2 emissions and 186mph top speed, though perhaps not on the same car.
Factor in a range of all-new engines, which will be made in a factory currently under construction in the Midlands, and you can see why this is such a big deal. With more than a decade's experience in aluminium, Jaguar reckons it has found the ‘sweet spot between volume, engineering capability and flexibility', and will be able to ‘respond more quickly' to market trends. The C-X17 is a hypothetical example of what this new architecture (the word ‘platform' is now banned) could deliver. What is definitely confirmed is that Jaguar's new BMW 3 series/Merc C-class/Audi A4 rival will be the first to roll it out for real, in about 18 months' time.
The crossover should follow not long after that. Right now, all concerned are amusingly non-committal, and pull unconvincing facial expressions when challenged. But everyone knows this is a monumental no-brainer. Although there will be clear brand differentiation, the related Range Rover Sport demonstrates how to make a lofty SUV really handle. JLR's all-wheel drive expertise is world leading, and this putative Jaguar 4x4 would feature torque vectoring, amongst other dynamic assets. ‘If it looks like it should have some all-terrain capability,' Callum says, ‘then it should be able to deliver it. That said, it's not about articulation, it's about traction.'
Doesn't sound so strange now, does it?