by Chris Thorp/ Auto Express
The wait is finally over. Jaguar's sensational R-D6, spiritual successor to the legendary E-Type and star of the Frankfurt Motor Show, has hit Britain's roads with Auto Express behind the wheel.
As part of our world exclusive Top Story, we brought the four-door coupé to the UK's capital to meet the very people who will determine its future. Is the radical diesel-engined Jaguar special enough to take on the GT elite? You'll have to read on to find out.
If first impressions are anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes. In the hustle and bustle of the famous 'square mile', in the heart of the City of London, the R-D6 looked more glamorous than ever, and drew huge crowds. Out of the artificial atmosphere of a show stand, the modern Jaguar design really comes into its own. Despite incorporating many new ideas, the front is instantly recognisable as a Browns Lane classic; its grille has been inspired by the C-Type race car, while twin LED headlamps add to the striking nose.
It's a development of the look that graced the stunning R-Coupé, unveiled at 2001's Frankfurt show, and promises to be a key feature of future products. In profile, the silhouette is eerily similar to that of the recent Visos concept produced by Jaguar's parent firm Ford. It also seems to have drawn inspiration from Bentley's new Continental GT.
However, the huge 21-inch chrome wheels set the R-D6 apart, and the rear evokes memories of the E-Type. From the sweeping curve of the C-pillar to the side-hinged bootlid, the Sixties' influences are clear. Wild curves and muscular bulges make it hard to judge the coupé's size from close up, but with a length of 4,330mm it's not much bigger than Audi's TT.
Squeezing the electronic door release gives access to a cabin that is clearly still at the concept stage, but has all the essentials. The black leather-covered dash is dominated by the leaping cat emblem, the interior is spacious and the driving position is spot on. All the dials are easily visible through the three-spoke steering wheel, with the rev counter taking pride of place, hinting at the car's performance aspirations.
But one of the R-D6's most interesting features is its Mazda RX-8-style rear barn doors, which are hinged at the opposite end. These provide easy access to the back seats, which are big enough to carry two adults. And the neat tricks don't stop there, as the boot can be extended by sliding the two chairs forward to create an estate-rivalling load bay. Back in the driver's seat, it's easy to imagine just how good the R-D6 will be away from the confines of the city. Carefully selected materials merge Jaguar's luxury and sporting brands. Butting up against beautiful polished aluminium, a dark wood veneer on the doors adds some character, and all the controls and surfaces have been made as tactile as possible.
Machined seat-adjustment knobs are a joy to use, and a starter button hidden beneath the gearlever's sliding top adds to the sense of occasion. Now that the motor show hype has passed, Jag engineers are refining and redesigning the R-D6's mechanicals so that it will drive as well as it looks. The most important component is the V6 diesel engine squeezed under the bonnet.
But is the oil-burner a surprising choice? Not really. The powerplant will be introduced in a new flagship diesel S-Type next summer, and Jaguar is using the R-D6 to pave the way for future sporty derv cars. In this concept, the 2.7-litre bi-turbo motor develops a fine 230bhp and 500Nm of torque. For the S-Type, output will drop to around 200bhp, but it will still be one of the most powerful engines in its class.
A Jaguar spokeswoman told Auto Express: "The 2.0-litre diesel is fine for our entry-level model, but for the S-Type the 2.7 motor will offer the performance and power to convince fans of our sporty models, too." The decision to fit an oil-burner is no publicity stunt: Jag must crack the rapidly expanding diesel market if it wants to continue to appeal to tax-conscious company car drivers. But there's more to a fine-handling sports machine than a potent engine. Here, superb chassis rigidity promises excellent road-holding thanks to the latest aluminium and composite body.
Technically, the platform construction is similar to the XJ's, using aluminium sandwich panels for strength and lightness. With a 1,500kg kerbweight, expect the R-D6 to be a truly capable four-seater once the final suspension setting adjustments have been made, while engineers promise superb handling and a supple ride. Although the R-D6's future is still not certain, its styling points to the all-new XK, due in 2005. The nose will also grace future saloons, including the fresh S-Type here in 2006.
However, if our early poll is anything to go by, the green light for a production R-D6 would be exactly what the performance coupé fan wants. When the car was first unveiled, the sweeping retro lines wowed show-going crowds, so let's hope Jaguar's designers will use the concept as a reference library for styling cues to be used on upcoming models. Whether the R-D6 will go into production remains to be seen, but few cars have attracted more attention while out with Auto Express, and we think it's one of the most exciting models to wear the leaping cat badge in decades. In fact, several well heeled passers-by were so impressed, we could have sold a few already. Let's hope Jaguar gives the people what they want!