Picture the scene: it's the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the new Bentley Continental GT has been launched; Lotus has announced a stupidly overambitious all-new, five-car lineup; Renault has revealed a concept Zoe EV. It was all good stuff, but nothing that would light your face on fire. Until you got to the Jaguar stand. You see, Jaguar had brought the C-X75 -- a concept hypercar that had an all-electric drivetrain and jets to provide the electricity. JETS.
Jaguar said it was going to make it and was set to reenter the supercar market for the first time since the XJ220. The C-X75 looked unlike anything else around and the world wanted Jaguar to make it a reality. It wanted Jaguar to win.
Fast forward a little while and the C-X75 is in development. Gone are the jets and two of the electric motors. Jaguar had teamed up with Williams F1 to develop the, ensuring the tech inside it would be top notch. Sitting over its spine is a 500 bhp 1.6-litre turbo and supercharged four-cylinder engine, as well as two electric motors which put out just shy of 200 bhp each. That means there's nearly 900 bhp to play with.
The brief for the C-X75 was pretty complicated. It had to have the same emissions as a Toyota Prius (89g/km), the same electric cruising range as a Chevy Volt (40 miles), Veyron-esque performance, and the same look as the concept car. It had to do everything.
The project was looking good. Jaguar's plan was to see a limited run of 250 C-X75s at anywhere between £700,000 and £900,000. The team behind it had managed to meet all the targets with aplomb -- though the design isn't exactly the same, it's near as bang on.
However, the project was killed in December 2012 as, funnily enough, Jaguar's top brass didn't think many people would want to drop nearly a £1 million on a hypercar in the rocky economic climate.
All that's left of the project are five prototypes and some verykeen engineers who are fiercely proud of their work on the car. Jaguar has said that work on the cars will continue, too, as the hybrid tech inside will end up on future Jaguar Land Rover products.
The prototypes are all fully functional. During our afternoon at Jaguar's R&D centre in Gaydon we had access to four of them. One was used as a static example of what a finished car will look like -- it had a beautifully upholstered interior, an infotainment screen, a fully operational dashboard and a blue paint job that'll knock your face off. Another was unpainted, used to show how the car is packaged -- there's a giant coolbox where you think the engine sits, it's designed to keep electric bits and bobs cool so the car doesn't pop at top speed. When you bear in mind the exhaust gets very hot, it kinda makes sense. It was a bit rough and ready, but it showed just how much stuff goes in to mating all the tech together and ensuring that it works every time.
The two cars used for driving were black and silver. Both were hooked up to electric life support machines, which caused each car to emit a pulsing sound as they were charged.
The black car was to demonstrate the C-X75's electric mode. It was, in a word, strange. The C-X75 is by no means a small car, so blasting along at 90 mph making no mechanical noise is bizarre. Jaguar has put a noise generator in there to at least give the impression that it's capable of emitting sound. After a quick lap in the 'leccy car, I was ushered to the silver car.
The silver car is for the all-out, balls-to-the-wall driving. Its electric motors are primed for full power delivery and the 1.6-litre petrol engine is ready to whip all of its 500 horses as hard as it can. Mike Cross, Jaguar's handling don, took me for a spin first. He knows the track at Gaydon better than any one else and flung the C-X75 around its many corners with glee. He even got its arse out around a roundabout. Hero.
When my turn to drive came, a few things crossed my mind. One, without a roll cage it would be much easier to get in and out. Two, the dash, when active, looks remarkably finished. Three, it's rather comfy. And four, don't crash -- there's only five in the world and only 40 people have ever been in them.
Mike directed me to the track and told me to have fun. So I did.
Its engine screams its way up to 10,000 rpm, then a quick tug on the wheel-mounted paddle and it quickly changes cogs for you. Its robotized manual gearbox is pretty smooth, all told, though you don't drive a car like the C-X75 in beast mode for a relaxed ride. You use beast mode to try and shake the horizon's hand. Still, at low speed it's remarkably civilized, so long as you keep it in a low gear. I say that because before I went out I was told that the C-X75's gearbox didn't like sitting at low revs and that I should take every opportunity to use its 10,200 rev range.
Width is something the C-X75 has in abundance, which meant it felt very stable in the corners. A bonus, as there's no traction control on offer. At all. That said, caution is also required as 900bhp on a slippery track can make things very spinny indeed.
The main event of my drive was being given two cracks at the main straight. It's long, flat and very wide, so I was quietly confident that I'd achieve some big numbers. Cross managed an indicated 198 mph on his run, though it turns out that's the biggest number you can get on Jag's CG display as top brass never thought the company would make a car that would exceed it. Telemetry said Cross hit "a shade over 200 mph."
I took the bottom corner at 70 mph and pushed as hard as I could on the go pedal -- the car wanged up to 150 mph in an instant, pausing slightly to compose itself then flinging to me to 175 mph before I lost my bottle and trod on the brakes. They're pretty good too, as it happens.
Round two with the straight meant I had to take a fistful of big boy pills and keep my foot in. With the noise bouncing around my head I kept my eyes flicking between the end of the straight and the speedo. 150, 160...165...170...175...180...185...189...end of the track. It may not have been Mike's 200, but I'll take two and half times the UK's speed limit. It's a personal best.
What surprised me was how easily the car managed such speeds, how everything in the car simply worked. Yes, it's a prototype, but bits didn't threaten to fall off at all, it felt solid as anything.
The five prototypes are "stage one," meaning that way more work would be done further down the line to create a more complete car. A more hypercar-ish interior, a boot (there's engine bits everywhere at the moment) and a tidier engine bay, for example, would probably have found their way on to a production C-X75.
The cars that do exist, though, well...they're pretty awesome. I left Gaydon that day wondering two things. The first was whether I'd ever get to experience that punishing power and stunning noise ever again. The second was "Why, oh, why won't Jaguar make this car?!?" I mean, c'mon. It's awesome.
|Engine||1.6-litre turbo/supercharged + 2x electric motors|
|Power||900 bhp (ish)|
|0-60 mph||Sub 3.0 seconds|
|Top speed||200 mph+|