Jaguar goes big with C-X17 in Frankfurt

No matter one’s view on whether Jaguar should build an SUV, the C-X17 crossover shown at Frankfurt on 10 September demonstrates, if nothing else, just how serious the British marque is about growing its paw print in the sport-luxury sector.

The concept features some fairly racy lines for a crossover, but the bigger news lurks under the skin, where the car is built on an all-new aluminium foundation that will underpin a new line of vehicles slotted just below the current mid-size XF sedan and (Britain-only) wagon.

Potentially wearing revived S-Type badging, the first of these new cars, which will debut globally in 2015 and will arrive in showrooms by 2016, aims to challenge the German establishment in compact sport luxury. “Our first ambition is to change the vocabulary from ‘the German three’ to ‘the European four’”, said Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar’s global director.

Along with Audi, Jaguar has pioneered the development of aluminium construction in mass-produced cars. The C-X17 concept marks the debut of an all-new aluminium platform that – as a clean-sheet design with no accommodations for existing models or hardware – is flexible enough to serve as the basis for a wide range of models.

That includes a rear-drive compact sport sedan or an all-wheel-drive crossover SUV such as the C-X17 (which, the company underscores, has not yet been green-lighted for production). Expected vehicles will include fuel-sipping models that achieve the European benchmark of less than 100g of CO2 emitted per kilometer as well as cars with a top speed of 300kph (186mph).

(An interesting wrinkle is Jaguar’s pledge to use nearly 100% recycled aluminium in the platform’s construction. That’s a lot of Heinz baked beans.)

Competing against the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a stern test, so Jaguar will throw all its know-how at the sport sedan eventually built off of the platform, said Hallmark. “We are looking at bringing the best technologies we can.”

The advantages of aluminium will be reflected by the cars’ sheet metal as well, said design director Ian Callum. “Aluminium is quite difficult from a design point of view,” he said. But by building cars with the lightweight metal for 15 years, the company has learned a bit about stamping and assembling it in complex shapes. “We know how to get through those challenges in a way that maybe seven or eight years ago, we didn’t,” Callum said.

As for the C-X17 and the audacity of building Jaguar’s first crossover, such a model is strategically important, as Hallmark expects a production model would appeal to current Jaguar clients.

On 10 September, the first day of previews in Frankfurt, no one seemed to recoil in horror at the very notion of a Jaguar crossover SUV. If anything, there is a pervasive feeling throughout the industry of crossover inevitability; even Bentley and Lamborghini have gotten into the act in the past year. Nevertheless, Jaguar is proceeding cautiously. “We have to see if we have permission to go in this direction,” Callum conceded.