Jaguar's C-X17 SUV concept has made its world debut at the Frankfurt motor show.

The model marks the start of the most ambitious model expansion programme in Jaguar's 91-year history. According to insiders, the ‘sports crossover’ concept previews an upcoming new SUV that will become part of a range of other new compact Jaguars.

It also announces an all-new, lightweight and extremely stiff aluminium monocoque architecture, which Jaguar bosses say “will underpin the entire innovative future of the Jaguar brand”. 

The new architecture, whose title iQ[Al] stands for ‘intelligent aluminium architecture’, will form the basis of an entirely new generation of compact Jaguars (but not Land Rovers) over the next few years. Jaguar bosses say it is both modular and scalable and enables flexible, high-volume production that can produce competitive interior packaging and allows a great deal of design freedom.

When questioned on how closely the C-X17 previews the new range of compact Jaguars, design boss Ian Callum insisted the sleek and spectacular-looking SUV show car is “only a concept”, adding it merely shows what “one book-end” of the new range could be like. But he also believes modern design departments shouldn’t propose cars that could never be built, hinting that the C-X17 concept is close to reality in that sense. 

Callum also said he believes the 2007 C-XF concept, the Los Angeles show car that previewed the production XF models, was too far from reality. From this it can be concluded that the C-X17, shorn of its rear bodywork and about 20-30cm of wheelbase, provides a general guide to the look and proportions of the new range of compact Jaguars, and more specifically the SUV that will become part of it.

Speaking at the launch Callum said: "It's an innovative sports crossover, one that uniquely combines our exciting sports car heritage with flexibility, usability and space. 

"It is a Jaguar, but in a completely different form. It demonstrates our desire to push the boundaries of technology, performance and of course design.

"The C-X17 was born out of a distinct set of principles: a deep sense of what makes a Jaguar. It's unmistakably inspired by the F-type, but also designed to launch an entirely new wave of Jaguars. For me, successful design is like a story, full of strong characters and great imagination. A story that can take us on a journey where wonderful experiences can be had."

The most striking thing about the C-X17 is how it translates some of the most fundamental and striking styling features of the F-type sports car — which have rapidly become core Jaguar properties — on to a 4.72m-long SUV. 

“Getting the proportions to work was far from easy at first,” said Callum. “In fact, we found the initial results quite difficult and disappointing. It was a matter of continuing to work hard on the small things. In circumstances like these, changing things by a couple of millimetres can make a huge difference.” 

The C-X17 is a relatively long car for its ‘compact’ billing, fully 40cm longer than a Range Rover Evoque but, at 1.65m tall, no higher. This gives it an arresting sleekness (“If you want form, it takes space,” said Callum), while the radical 23-inch wheels help to accentuate the sporty side, as do the strongly raked screens front and rear, plus head and tail-lights reminiscent of those used on the F-type. 

There are muscular haunches and classic Jaguar bonnet lines which feature twin ‘power bulges’ that converge as they run forward towards the grille. This even more powerful iteration of the F-type’s three-dimensional shape is flanked lower down by a pair of large supplementary air intakes. These features all integrate into a graceful shape that is recognisably Jaguar. 

The firm is at pains to point out that while this is a sports crossover that rides higher than a saloon, it is lower and lighter than most vehicles of its type. Additionally, systems such as brake-based torque vectoring and an intelligent all-wheel drive system (based on the standard car’s front engine/rear drive layout) give it top-class dynamics.

The C-X17’s interior majors heavily on luxury, but with a simple execution. In a deliberate move away from what Callum refers to as “preconceptions”, there is leather trim but no wood. The concept seats four occupants in light, simply designed bucket seats that hint at the uncomplicated design of the E-type’s half a century ago, and which are covered in saddle leather in a small dog-tooth pattern. Jaguar claims “an assured driving position” set at “a low height”, likely to be similar to that of an Evoque.

The piano black console that runs right through the cabin can become a touchscreen, and the door inners have a high-contrast black and white finish, while above the occupants is a panoramic roof featuring a translucent multi-bladed sunscreen, a bit like an egg slicer, that can vary the flow of light into the cabin. The graceful quality of the interior is carried right through the cabin to the boot, which has two so-called ‘leisure seats’ that fold out to provide comfort for a pair of picnickers. 

Jaguar’s first production offshoot of its new family underpinned by the iQ[Al] structure will be a pioneering C/D-segment saloon, due in 2015 and aimed squarely at the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class models that currently dominate the sector. The new saloon will be built in a huge factory currently under construction at JLR’s Solihull plant, already its centre of excellence for aluminium manufacturing but previously exclusively used for Land Rovers. 

The new Jaguar saloon will be the first all-aluminium car in its hard-fought class and is claimed to offer all the virtues of frugality and dynamics brought by light weight.

“Our intelligent aluminium architecture will bring technology from our luxury models into an accessible price segment,” said Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar global brand director. “Add the class-leading dynamics and the beauty and purity of form that Jaguar is renowned for and we have the formula for a monumental leap forward.” 

The new Jaguar saloon is set also to spawn SUV (previewed most closely by the C-X17), estate and coupé offshoots, plus an overlay of super-performance R models. Jaguar claims some versions of the new range will have top speeds of 186mph, while at the other end will be those that emit less than 100g/km of CO2. 

Power for the new models will come from a new range of high-output four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines, to be built at Jaguar’s new £350 million engine plant, currently under construction in Wolverhampton. The models will also use newly created versions of the F-type’s V6 petrol engine range, claimed to give best-in-class specific power outputs. 

When complete, the new compact Jaguar line-up should boost sales volume enormously. The company’s global marketing director, Steven De Ploey, reckons 90 per cent of customers for the new range will be new to Jaguar. “We aim to attract younger, more cosmopolitan buyers with active lifestyles,” he said. “We’re hoping that will include more women buyers and more customers with young families.”  

Jaguar sales volume, currently still below 100,000 cars per year despite a recent series of range-expanding moves, will need to top 250,000 cars per year within the next few years if the company is to get close to its privately declared (and unofficial) target of 750,000 combined Jaguar and Land Rover sales by 2020.

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