It's clear from the styling of the XF and XJ saloons that design chief Ian Callum has been developing and evolving a new design vocabulary for Jaguar that, while it may make an occasional nod to the marque's enviable heritage, looks decisively towards the future. Whilst the two saloons have been well received in terms of value, technology and comfort, there's been a nagging doubt about the coherence of their design. They are not "good-looking" cars. In addition the whole range, including the bonkers-fast and sporty XK, is still seen as older person's transportation. Well, no more. This week Jaguar has delivered a stunning and beautiful "pure" sports car concept that aims to give the mighty Porsche 911 a run for its money.
The Jaguar C-X16 is a "production" concept vehicle due to be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show next week which means that although there will be some detail changes, this is essentially the car that will go into production in 2012. In many ways its purpose is the same as that of the E-type of 40 years ago - to appeal to a younger audience and provide a "halo" vehicle for the whole range. That's where the similarity ends though for this a project built from first principles to create a compact, taut and thoroughly modern sports car without re-inventing the iconic 60's sportster.
Motivating power comes from a new 3.0-litre 6-cylinder variant of the current AJ-V8 with higher compression ratios and Rootes-type supercharger that develops an impressive 375bhp (280kW) and 332lb ft (450Nm) of torque. But that's not the only engine on-board. A KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) charges a 1.6kWh battery back, mounted behind the seats, that in turn drives a 95bhp (70kW) 173lb ft (235Nm) electric motor mounted inside the 8-speed gearbox that helps the C-X16 achieve an extraordinary CO2 emissions figure of 165g/km.
The electric motor can be used on its own up to 50mph (80km/h) for economical city trips but that's not the fun reason its there. Just like your Formula One hero you can press a button on the steering wheel to get 10 seconds of boost for overtaking. Guaranteed to impress elderly female relatives. This all adds up to performance figures of 0-62mph (100km/h) in 4.4 secs and a top speed of 186mph (300km/h).
The styling of the 4.4 meter car (14.4 ft) - Jaguar's smallest since the 1950's - has hints of the larger XK but with much shorter overhangs, sculpted sills and a more aggressive stance. The front grill is a development of the shape on the XJ but has a touch of Maserati about it - no bad thing. The rear has the sharp crease and tail lights first seen on the C-X75 concept last year, a nod to the tail on the original E-type. The most obvious homage to that car however is the oval side-hinged hatch to get access to the trunk. Jaguar hopes that the 21" wheels that fill the bulging arches on this show vehicle will make it into final production. It's a very coherent and purposeful design up and undoubtedly Jaguar's best in the modern era.
The interior arrangement is what Jaguar likes to call a 1+1 so as to emphasize that this is a driver's car and that the passenger is just along for the ride. The dash wraps around the driver in the carbon-fiber and alcantara style of a racer. Chunky aluminum knobs and switches and the large touch-screen give the center console the look of an avionics package. The rest of the cockpit however is finished in a boudoir-red leather with the seats displaying a highly sculpted ergonomic shape in leather and shiny carbon-fiber.
This is a very impressive vehicle. It makes Aston Martins look desperately old-fashioned and promises 911-class dynamics. If Jaguar can really deliver that for the projected UK price of £50,000 (US$80,000) then it undoubtedly has a big hit on its hands.