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.
First drive: the Jaguar C-X17
We get behind the wheel of Jag's upcoming crossover in the heat of Dubai
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 another.
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.