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Motoring: Designer’s dream

I have seen the future and it looks like a Jaguar.

8 January 2011

12:00 AM

8 January 2011

12:00 AM

I have seen the future and it looks like a Jaguar. It’s sleek and curvaceous and, although it’s a fraction under four-feet high, ingress and egress are easier than in a flattened fag-packet Ferrari. A 195bhp electric motor at each wheel means 0–62mph in 3.4 seconds and zero tailpipe emissions in urban use. Switch on the diesel-powered twin turbines and you can recharge on the move, giving a range (with a 60-litre tank) of 560 miles and nugatory emissions of 28g/km of CO2. Above all, it’s beautiful. That’s what makes you think it must be a Jaguar.

Confirmation came in the form of Jaguar’s legendary designer, Ian Callum, in Knightsbridge to present the C-X75 on a morning of frosted sunlight. Outside, beyond the plate glass, tourists snapped it, children posed against it, navvies rested on their shovels, grown men peered with worrying intensity, ladies paused on the way to Harvey Nichols. Someone said Yasmin Le Bon was among them (unless it was we who attracted her). The only heads that did not turn were those of the disciplined troopers of the Household Cavalry, though their mounts couldn’t resist a side glance at this beast of 780 brake-horsepower.

Asked for a car to celebrate Jaguar’s 75th birthday, Callum’s brief was not to make this or that but — OK, just show us what you would like to do. A designer’s dream, surely, but also a challenge. What, after all, has made Jaguar — by world standards, a small but never exclusive manufacturer — such a distinctive and longed-for brand? Not their prices — they’ve never been in the supercar league and their founder Sir William Lyons built them down to budget. Nor their build quality: they were knocked together on a production line Lyons bought for a song from Standard. Not until Sir John Egan’s stewardship in the 1980s, and then Ford’s, did they ascend the reliability tables. Now they’re at or near the top of virtually all customer-satisfaction surveys. But although a reputation for reliability is a great thing, it’s not fundamentally why people buy Jaguars.

They buy them for their looks, their luxury and their performance. Lyons had a wonderful, instinctive eye for how a car should look but safety and environmental demands mean that modern design is far more complicated. However, in Callum — creator of the Aston Martin DB7 and the modern Jaguar XK, XF and XJ — Sir William’s aesthetic inheritance is more than assured.

The prototype C-X75 is as svelte and tactile as a Jaguar should be and as futuristic as the next generation of supercars will have to be. Aerodynamic enough not to need spoilers, its flowing curves and arches were inspired by the 1966 XJ13, arguably the most beautiful Jaguar ever. (That one-off was designed by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, and thankfully they’ve still got it.) The C-X75’s lack of engine and gearbox made for design opportunities not only in its lines but also in the packaging of components. Thus, the Lithium-ion batteries are hidden beneath the bonnet while the twin Bladon Jets micro gas-turbines — surprisingly neat and elegant — are displayed beneath the rear window, helping towards a 50–50 weight distribution.

A six-hour charge yields 68 miles on the batteries, but flick those 80,000rpm turbines to recharge and you get that astonishing 560-mile range. Alternatively, switch them to power boost and 1180lb ft of torque will nail you to your seat at 205mph.

You don’t move the seats. Instead, you move the wheel, the entire instrument binnacle and the pedal box. It was gratifying to see floor-mounted pedals, while the interior as a whole is a clean modern balance of aluminium and leather, with striking electroluminescent lighting in the upward-opening doors. The side windows look like half-closed — half-open? — eyes, seductive and inviting. Instead of door-mirrors there’s a camera in the small, D-Type-inspired tailfin, but wretched EU rules may compel the reinstatement of mirrors. Don’t ask what it would cost to replace one of the bespoke 21- or 22-inch Pirellis.

But you won’t worry about that if you can afford the car. If you can buy it at all, that is: Jaguar’s owners, Tata, has yet to decide whether to make it. If the opinion of the Knightsbridge street and the assembled hacks is anything to go by, it could make it tomorrow and sell out next week. Design guru Stephen Bayley, taking time off from his book on rivets (sic — the art of making things and its contribution to the good life), looked as if he’d be first in the queue.

So what should Jaguar charge for its 75th anniversary car? At £75,000 it would be too plentiful and cheap, at £750,000 too expensive and few. Maybe it should sell 750 cars for — well, you name it, before it decides. Email with a suggested price and a promise to buy and you may get your name in automotive history.

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