As far as shop windows go, having your products on display within a beautifully lit studio on the side of the main road through London’s Knightsbridge region, is about as good as it gets. The Berkeley Hotel is the venue, the world’s sexiest eco-supercar is the product and it’s my turn for a guided tour by the guys responsible for building the thing.
The great unwashed are outside with their noses pressed against the huge glass window; collective jaws dropped in bewildered awe. A few minutes ago, a bus pulled up outside and the driver stopped to take a photo using his mobile phone. It isn’t easy turning heads in this part of the world these days but this Jaguar is proving to be an A-list superstar.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Jaguar will not be building this car. Which is a pity but not exactly a surprise because it’s so cutting edge, so entirely different to anything that’s gone before it, that we’re probably 20 years away from seeing its like in production form. And, with the pace of progress being what it is, propulsion systems will no doubt have changed beyond all recognition.
But the C-X75 has been built for a very good reason. Actually, make that a number of very good reasons but there’s at least a clue in its nomenclature. C is for Concept, X is for Experimental and the 75 relates to Jaguar’s age in 2010.
As a celebration of three quarters of a century in business, could any car be more fitting?
“It’s like Jaguar’s birthday cake,” smiles Julian Thomson, Jaguar’s Assistant Design Director, “a celebration of 75 years, produced without any constraints. It shows the world that this company is still relevant.” Indeed it does, with jaw-dropping looks that, if you study close enough, reveal more than the occasional nod to Jaguar’s previous output, particularly 1966’s stillborn race prototype, the jaw-droppingly beautiful XJ13.
That the C-X75 still looks futuristic and totally unique is testament to the prowess of Jaguar’s supremely talented (and, as it happens, very young) design team. It also showcases a powertrain straight out of Dan Dare with two gas-turbine engines backed up by four electric motors – enough to power it on to over 300km/h. The icing on the cake with this technology is a combined CO2 output of just 28g/km. The future of the supercar looks like it might be safe after all.
It’s a pointer for future Jaguar design, not just in aesthetics but in powertrain development too. But let’s drink in that exterior before we peer underneath its curvaceous panels. Jaguar shot itself in the foot years ago by becoming obsessed with its heritage, wheeling out the clichéd design cues every time a new model was launched. It gradually became a brand for old men – a far cry from the brave, inspirational company that Sir William Lyons founded. So, ten years ago, a quiet revolution began in earnest for Jaguar to regain its claws. Under the direction of Ian Callum, the entire range has been comprehensively overhauled. Jaguar has rediscovered its mojo, only this time I’m pretty sure it won’t go missing again.
You can tell the design team is firing on all cylinders. This car, which stole the Paris Motor Show, was conceived, designed and built as a running prototype within twelve months. That’s a staggering achievement. But things weren’t done in the usual manner because the C-X75 started as an experiment with new propulsion systems and the body was shaped around its powerplant – but more on that later.
It’s an electric car with four motors, two up front and two at the rear. These are charged by twin micro-turbines sat behind the seats, which are compact enough to allow a cabin design where the occupants are situated right in the middle, between both sets of wheels. Most mid-engined supercars these days have a very ‘cab-forward’ design but check out the side profile of the C-X75 – perfectly proportioned.
Airflow management is the order of the day. Starting at the front, Jaguar says it likes the surfaces to all flow from a car’s mouth. And what a mouth this one has. It looks mean, angry. The side air intakes are strictly for brake cooling and the front bonnet vent allows air to flow through what looks like the car’s radiator (but in fact is a battery cooler) and over the surface, keeping it aerodynamically efficient.
The car’s haunches and curves give it a timeless, almost surreal beauty that really needs to be seen first-hand to be fully appreciated. It looks like it was designed in the 1960s by a team with the same determination as those responsible for the Lamborghini Miura and Ford’s GT40. Fluid, muscular, taut, aggressive and utterly gorgeous in every respect, you can’t help but plead with them to build more of them. Jaguar’s bosses refuse to be drawn on the age-old question about an E-Type for the 21st century but there’s a glint in their eyes and a wry grin that says there may just be something in the pipeline. For now, this is the Jaguar grabbing the headlines.
Aerospace design is an intrinsic part of Jaguar’s heritage. Malcolm Sayer, more than anyone, was responsible for designing the D-Type and E-Type and he used his experience in aircraft design to great effect. With the C-X75 having basically a jet propulsion system, it would have been rude not to have brought back this design ethos. So the air scoops at the rear of the car allow the turbines to suck in copious amounts of air before it’s jettisoned out back through two fat exhaust pipes. Even the wheel design is influenced by the remarkable power source – it’s utterly stunning in every respect. And then you open the driver’s door and it gets even better.
Driver and passenger are seated ahead, in a fixed position, of a sealed airbox that houses the micro gas-turbines and air flows (at a rate of 70,000 litres every minute) to the turbines through channels in the structure of the body. As the seats are fixed to the bulkhead, at the touch of a button, everything moves toward the driver – instruments, steering wheel, pedals, everything.
Ice blue theatre lighting bathes the interior in a cool glow, operated as soon as the car senses the driver approaching – nice touch. The perimeter of the entire cabin lights up, along with the turbine area and, when it’s started up, additional LED lighting floods the door and bulkhead speaker cavities. Everything is tactile, gorgeous to the touch – cream and grey leathers, soft neoprene and polished aluminium abound and there’s a simple, elegant driver information system.
The car is started with a switch mounted in the overhead control panel, just to complete the jet aircraft vibe. When the driver selects Track mode, the cabin’s mood alters to that of an attacking jet fighter. All ambient lighting fades away and just the driver’s seat and controls have blades of blue light highlighting their extremities. The gear-selector (not that it has any gears as such) looks like a jet fighter’s thrust control. It’s comic book stuff, ludicrous yet restrained and even more impressive than the car’s external beauty.
Now for the tech bits. It’s four-wheel drive, with a 50kg, 145kW electric motor on each corner, fed by a bank of batteries housed in the car’s frontal area. They take six hours to charge and provide a whacking 1600Nm of twist, with a range of 110km when used in isolation – and remember, this gives zero emissions. Back that up with power from the turbines, which provide charge for the batteries too, and the range extends to 900km between fill-ups. Even when using the turbines for power, as I said earlier, CO2 emissions work out at just 28g per km.
Theoretical top speed is 330km/h and it will reach 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. Instant, life-affirming oomph is there in abundance and trust me, when you hear those turbines spin into a frenzy, you won’t miss the snarling of a V12 one bit. If this is the future of the supercar, then bring it on – I feel like a kid again.
One of the beauties of utilising jet engine technology is that these turbines will run on practically any fuel out there. If it burns, it’ll do nicely. Well, except wood, perhaps. Jaguar says it’s investing millions over the next five years in reducing its carbon emissions and looking at sustainability – and this is a fine start.
As my time with the car draws to an end, Jaguar’s much lauded Design Director, Ian Callum, perfectly sums it up: “The C-X75 is everything a Jaguar should be and we believe it is a worthy homage to 75 years of iconic Jaguar design”. He’s right. This is a magnificent creation and, even if only a small percentage of its design flair and technology finds its way into production Jaguars in the future, the brand can’t help but go from strength to strength. Sir William Lyons would be proud – natural order has been restored.