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US:Jaguar C-XF Concept

Jaguar C-XF Concept
The car that will define Jaguar's design direction for the next decade

By Alistair Weaver, Contributor
Inside Line

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
It's only a concept car, but the C-XF can be driven. The front three-quarter is one of this car's best angles. The heavily recessed grille marks a significant departure from recent production Jaguars.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The C-XF is a four-door coupe in the manner of the Mercedes CLS. The XF production car will be a more conventional four-door sedan.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The nose is the car's most controversial feature. Jaguar's traditional round headlamps have been jettisoned.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
A short front and long rear overhang is a critical part of Jaguar's new design signature. Design guru Ian Callum wants to create an impression of "latent power."

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The concept uses a tuned version of the 4.2-liter supercharged V8 found in the Jaguar XKR. It develops 420-plus horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque.

If you're given to thinking that Jaguars are all about retro-conservatism then think again. The striking Jaguar C-XF concept car, which will make its public debut at the Detroit auto show, reveals Jaguar's design direction for the next decade or more. It offers a clue, not just to the appearance of the forthcoming S-Type replacement — the XF — but also to the next generation of the XJ luxury sedan. The C-XF could prove to one of the most important unveils in Jaguar's roller-coaster history.

We were invited to a private viewing of the car near Jaguar's English headquarters. Here's what we learned.

The background
In the 1990s, Jaguar's design language was deliberately conservative. The company's management believed customers in overseas markets — especially Japan and the U.S. — expected a steady evolution of design themes that had begun in the '60s. While Chris Bangle was revolutionizing BMW's design language, Jaguar's design director, Geoff Lawson, produced a series of cars — the X-Type, S-Type and XJ — that looked like they belonged to a different era.

The strategy has proved a disaster. The current XJ is technically accomplished, but customers have been put off by its same-again aesthetics. This year, to the end of November, Jaguar had sold just 11,195 XJs globally. Jaguar's total U.S. sales are down 31.6 percent to just 19,130 units in the same period.

The sea change
Jaguar's new design team makes little secret of their dislike of the current sedan range and the company's dire sales performance has given them license to effect a dramatic transformation. The handsome Jaguar XK coupe was the first evidence of this sea change and now the C-XF throws down a marker for the next-generation sedans.

The responsibility for redefining Jaguar's styling has fallen to Ian Callum, the talented Scot who penned the current Aston Martin range, and the latest Jaguar XK. "This is about re-establishing Jaguar," he says. "We need to get back to what Jaguar is all about. There is no need to reinvent ourselves."

According to Callum, a Jaguar should "evoke instant desire" and "make people stop and pay attention. The values that I see in Jaguar aesthetics include purity, dynamism, latent power, balance and modernity."

Callum reckons that the last significant step in Jaguar's design history was in 1968. "Jaguar design leveled off in the 1970s and '80s. With the C-XF, I have imagined where Jaguar would have been if we had continued the rate of change shown in the 1950s and '60s."

The designer dismisses claims that the C-XF is radical. "It's not radical, it's right. Jaguars should be seen as modern cars; Jaguar has to shout louder."

Four-door coupe
The C-XF is a four-door coupe in the manner of the Mercedes CLS. This is in contrast to the production Jaguar XF, which will be a more conventional four-door sedan when it's unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show in September. The production version will not only replace the S-Type in the Jaguar lineup, it will define Jaguar's design direction for the next decade.

Arguably the most controversial element is the grille, which is recessed back into the bodywork. "It's the classic 'car in the rearview mirror' look, with everything powering rearwards from the grille," explains Callum. This grille is framed by narrow, aggressive-looking headlights that eschew the circular motif of the current sedan range. The lenses contain a subtle, abstract Jaguar leaper logo, which is repeated on the door sills and the tread pattern of the bespoke 21-inch Pirelli tires.

These details will be toned down for production cars but the dramatic shoulder line, which flows from the base of the windows into the haunch above the rear wheel, will feature prominently. "The lines must look spontaneous," says Callum, "and a single line must define what the car does."

We can also expect to see shapes that taper dramatically from the C-pillar rearwards. This is a feature of the XK coupe that will also define the sedans. It is critical to Callum's interpretation of "athleticism." "The exterior skin is tight to the package, creating a feel of latent power."

The overall effect is certainly bold and two-dimensional photographs do not do justice to the car's proportions, which really do suggest power and athleticism. Some of Jaguar's current customers will question whether it's true to the marque, but Callum is unconcerned. "It is an exaggerated vision of the future. It doesn't matter if people don't recognize it as a Jaguar¿ it will become a Jaguar."

Even more radical inside
Even more radical than the exterior, the interior gives less of a pointer as to how the Jaguars of tomorrow will look. Occupants sit ensconced in a "cockpit," with the high-set, aluminum center console flowing around them. There are four individual sports seats, with enough room in the rear for a pair of 6-foot adults.

The cabin offers a reinterpretation of the classic wood and leather themes. Carbon-fiber-pattern leather is used in partnership with semi-aniline hide on the seats. Elements of the doors and transmission tunnel have been carved from poplar wood and then scorched by the artist Clive Sheridan, to create a satin feel.

"Jaguar is recognized for tailoring cars in wood and leather, but we have turned that on its head by treating these traditional materials in an unusual and contemporary fashion," says Alister Whelan, one of the designers responsible. There is no visible stitching on the seats or fascia. "This creates the impression that the interior is wrapped in leather," explains Whelan.

A concept car wouldn't be a concept car without a couple of high-tech trinkets. "We wanted to create a sense of theatre," says Callum, "but we also wanted to show a sense of humor. British humor is very tongue-in-cheek — we don't take ourselves too seriously."

Evidence of this humor is provided by the starting sequence. Jump into the driver seat and the Power button pulses on the center console, representing the "heartbeat" of the car. Prod the button and concentric rings withdraw to leave the gear selector in your hand. At the same time, beams of blue light emanate from the instrument panel and the front grille, marking the moment at which the engine is brought to life. "We want Jaguars to feel like they are coming to life when you start them," says Whelan.

Other novelties include JaguarSense, which activates the interior door handles when an occupant sweeps their hand across the fascia. A dual-view screen system allows the driver and passenger to view two different images simultaneously, while the centrally mounted rev counter responds to the way in which the car is being driven. If the driver selects Dynamic mode, the rev counter motors outwards, increasing its prominence.

It's all good fun, but don't expect to see any of these features on the production XF.

The grunt
The C-XF is no dummy. Under the hood is a tuned version of the Jaguar XKR's 4.2-liter supercharged V8. It delivers in excess of 420 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque and could, in theory, power the concept to 180 mph. The only significant novelty under the skin is a carbon-fiber sleeve for the electrical wiring.

Behind the engine is the same six-speed automatic transmission that partners with the V8 in the XKR.

Final thoughts
Jaguar is certainly not the first manufacturer to talk of a design-led revolution, but no one should doubt the determination of Callum and his team. Ironically, the company's parlous condition has given them a unique opportunity to re-establish a once fabled marque.

The production cars won't be as radical as the C-XF but they will be modern, and Callum is confident that the new XF is a "damn good-looking car." If enough people share his vision, then Jaguar is at the start of a long road to prosperity.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The futuristic interior reinterprets the use of wood, leather and aluminum.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The rear accommodation is made up of two individual sport seats. The car is surprisingly roomy, with ample head- and legroom for 6-footers.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The rear parcel shelf is a work of art.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
The concept rides on 21-inch polished alloy wheels. The cooling duct is a feature that appears on the current Jaguar XK.

(Photo courtesy of Jaguar Cars North America)
Jaguar may retain its "leaping cat" hood emblem for the US market, but the concept wears this badge recessed in the grille.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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