Jaguar has a habit of making a big splash at motor shows, and the C-X17 crossover at Frankfurt a few weeks ago (pictured above) pulled off the same headline-grabbing trick as its C-X75 hypercar and C-X16 sports car. Which is clever for a very small car company. But Jag really hates being a small car company. In numbers sold, it's about 20 times smaller than Mercedes alone.
Jaguar: into the next decade
The C-X17 crossover is just the start of an ambitious growth plan for Jag… Paul Horrell reports
The C-X75 died (boo hoo). The C-X16 is about to become the F-Type coupe, but that's not a car to be made in big enough numbers to transform Jag's business. So neither of these was ever going to change the size and might of the company.
But the C-X17 certainly could. There's so much to say that this is going to be a long blog. So make a coffee and join us for a journey into the future of Jaguar...
The narrative behind the C-X17 is complex, because from this one car will come a small-ish saloon to tackle the BMW 3-Series. And then the crossover itself. That's two big growth opportunities right there. Then it will give us the basis for the XF replacement.
Rather hilariously, Jaguar is still refusing to acknowledge on the record that the C-X17 will get built. But it will. As I'll explain below, they have agreed why it's near-impossible that it won't get built.
While everyone at Frankfurt was making a huge fuss of the blue crossover concept, the company made another vastly significant announcement. It will build a small saloon, beginning in 2015. And the claims for that saloon are bold. "It will be the most efficient, advanced and refined premium sports sedan ever seen in the C/D segment," say Jag. Well, it's in with a chance, given it's going to have an all-new aluminium body and chassis, and all-new petrol and diesel engines. Memories of the X-Type - a Jaguarised Mondeo that was past its sell-by date the minute it was launched - can safely be put aside.
The C-X17 previews the aluminium architecture that will be under this new saloon. So I asked Ian Callum, Jag's design director, what exactly is the potential of this architecture. "There's a whole range of cars to replace. All Jaguars will be aluminium. That'll give scale economies. This is really the first all-new Jaguar architecture for decades, except the XK [from which is derived the F-Type]. Even the XJ was an 'aluminumised' version of Ford's DEW platform."
I was also talking with Kevin Stride, Jaguar Land Rover's Vehicle Line Director. He explains Callum's comment: "The reason we now have a Jaguar aluminium architecture, different from the Range Rover one although it will share learnings and electronics with that, is that we want to grow Jaguar. And they all have to be Jaguars. This one architecture has to be flexible. We can't do many architectures for a small - if growing - company."
So if all current Jags will be replaced using this new very adaptable set of aluminium structural parts and suspension bits and electronics, the first of those replacements will be the XF. That's probably around 2017. Remember the current one has been given a new lease of life by the addition of the Sportbrake and 4WD versions, plus new engines for the US and China.
But first comes the small saloon, in 2015. "I've finished designing it," says Callum. Jaguar initially thought of making this car a sort of four-door coupe, or even a hatchback. But then it realised that worldwide it's the regular saloons that sell in big numbers, so that's what it'll make. Nothing too outrageous-looking.
The crossover hasn't been confirmed, but why engineer a variable platform that can accept a crossover, plus a show car that proves that fact, and then NOT build it? Especially when all rivals have crossovers that are among the best-selling cars in their ranges? Ask these questions of Callum and he simply smiles, coughs and nods. Anyway, test mules are running around Coventry. Which means it's likely for launch in 2016.
Interestingly when I ask Stride, the engineer, what's so great about the new aluminium architecture, he looks at Callum and says it's design. "It has to give Ian's team specific advantage. In all areas we asked: how would you have Jaguar proportions and design? Where do you put the front wheel versus the occupants? It's a compact double wishbone suspension for front-wing height benefit."
But then Stride swings round to the engineering advantages. "We need technology for how the cars feel. Aluminium allows us to use more sophisticated suspension. It's a light, stiff platform."
We know a fair bit about the engine range. Again, they'll be bang up-to-date. At the top end are the supercharged V6s recently introduced on the F-type, up to 380bhp. After all, Jaguar said a version of the new car will be able to hit 300km/h (186mph).
But it said another will be as low as 100g/km CO2. That one will have the company's brand-new four-cylinder diesel engine, to be built at the all-new Wolverhampton engine plant. There will be related four-cylinder petrols too, with various power outputs thanks to different turbo boost.
Stride confirms that the platform can do four-wheel-drive as well as RWD. Hardly surprising when Jaguar has recently developed a 4WD system for the current XF and XJ (which will eventually be an option in the V8 F-type). We also know that JLR is working on integrated hybrids, as seen on the Range Rover Hybrid at Frankfurt. An electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and the eight-speed autobox.
There is, though, a limit to what this architecture can do. It can go as big as the next XJ, but at the other extreme it won't give a rival to the BMW 1-Series. Callum explains: "We can't make the front end shorter, so the compact saloon is the smallest we would make."
Even so, that's quite a range of Jags before many years. Three sizes of saloons, with estates for the little and medium ones. And a crossover. And the sports cars. All made of aluminium.
Back to the C-X17 concept crossover. Most show cars have unrealistic interiors, and this is no different. But Callum says the outside is realistic. Fair enough: the C-X16 was very close to the F-Type coupe.
Callum says of the C-X17, "We've been through the package checks and the feasibility. We might discover millimetres here and there, but you can say we know the car well." Stride chips in, "We even know its aero, because we can, by computer modelling. It gets to within 1% accuracy."
I'm winding Callum up now. The real car is at least two years away I say, and the Porsche Macan and other new arrivals might make it look a bit old and staid by then. Is the C-X17 actually radical enough for a sporty crossover of the late decade? Callum gives me a dead-serious look, with a bit of table thumping to go with it. "I'll guarantee that if we would put this exact car onto the road, it would have the most exciting profile versus its competitive set at the time of launch."