x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jay Leno drives the new Jaguar C-X75

As part of our coverage of the LA Auto Show, comedian and car lover Jay Leno is the first get behind the wheel of the marque's new turbine-electric concept in California.

Jay Leno is the first non-Jaguar employee to try out the C-X75 concept. Though the car is designed to have twin turbines generating electricity, Leno's run was on battery power alone.
Jay Leno is the first non-Jaguar employee to try out the C-X75 concept. Though the car is designed to have twin turbines generating electricity, Leno's run was on battery power alone.

Fashion is not my thing, as you might have guessed. But even I know that the outrageous designs you see on the catwalk are not designed for stores you find in shopping malls. They are a display of how the designers see the future, to show off design cues that will make it onto mainstream clothes.

It's the same in the car world. You see concept supercars at auto shows but rarely do they make it into production as is. Jaguar, I hope, will be the exception to the rule.

A bit like Porsche revealing the 918 not so long ago, Jaguar's new C-X75 was a complete surprise. It was the hit of the Paris Motor Show in October. Not just because of its looks but the fact it will run using four electric motors powered by two tiny turbines. It's called the 75 as in celebrating 75 years of Jaguar heritage.

I saw pictures of it in Paris and it looked stunning. But, a bit like a beautiful woman, the real test is how these works of art look in daylight, in the real world, up close and personal.

A few days before the Los Angeles Auto Show, where the C-X75 was being shown for the first time in North America, the guys from Jaguar brought their priceless supermodel here to my garage. Seeing it in the flesh blew me away. I was speechless. And that's not something that happens very often.

It's a beautiful car, and maybe that's what makes it a Jag. Because Jags have always been beautiful cars. From the XK120 to the XKE (E-Type) to the new range.

The C-X75 has everything to do with the old Jaguar company and nothing to do with the old Jaguar company. That's what I mean. It is an interesting concept. It's a totally new design. It's got a totally new form of propulsion. Yet it is still a Jag.

The current range looks good, but I think to have a stunning flagship like this would be a huge hit. As much as Jaguar is unmistakably English, the Indian owners Tata seem to understand the DNA of Jaguar. That's a huge relief. There's a lot of cars being made that no longer have any oohs and aahs. This does. By the bucketload.

The C-X75 is not some silly concept riding a millimetre off the ground. It's a car with real road clearance, a car you can actually drive on the street. But more of that in a minute.

Ian Callum, one of my favourite designers, came along with the C-X75. He told me the car is inspired by the 1960s XJ13 race car that Jaguar made, but never raced. It had a V12 behind the driver. I can see that resemblance.

I was really lucky, when I was in England last year for the launch of the XJ, I went up to Jaguar's home near Stratford-upon-Avon. At the test track there I was given the chance to drive a whole range of classic Jaguars to take out for a spin. The XJ13 was my top choice.

So it is great that, a year on, I get the chance to drive the XJ13-inspired C-X75. Because I have compromising pictures of Ian, I am going to be the first person outside Jaguar to drive the C-X75.

First though, Ian shows me around the car. The nice thing, despite being so cutting edge, is it still looks like a Jag … but it doesn't look anything like a Jag. I'm not quite sure what that means, to be honest, but if you look at it you'll understand exactly what I am saying. It's got certain key features, such as the detail on the buttress behind the driver's head, that is reminiscent of the new XJ. The back end is especially sexy and has hints of E-Type and even the D-Type.

One thing about Jaguar is they are feminine but also very masculine. My XK120, when I park it on the street, there will be women around when I come back. What kind of car is that? Then they ask me questions. They think it is fantastic.

Inside the C-X75 is beautiful. The seat is fixed, Callum says, to make you feel at one with the design. Instead of the seat moving to the controls, they move to you.

I might be the first person outside Jag to drive it, but they sent engineer Paul Kelly out with me. Just in case …

It was probably not a bad idea. I felt like a schoolboy about to go out on his first date. I have driven some cool cars in my time, but being first to drive a new car - and a new car of which there is only one on the planet - does get the frisson of excitement going.

This a gazillion-dollar prototype and so, there's no driving it at 100mph. We took it up the street, which is the first time it has run on the open public highway. It's a car with real road clearance. It's a car you can actually drive on the highway.

I got a sense of what it will be like if it does get made - even at a pace hardly likely to make Usain Bolt sweat. The plan is this car to be powered by four electric motors. They run off batteries charged by 20cm turbines that run on pretty well anything. Diesel most likely.

There is a fuel cap on one side of the flank and a battery charger the other. Right now this concept is just battery powered - the turbines aren't hooked up.

There is no point talking handling and performance. It is just a thrill to even feel it move. Being behind the wheel was a huge honour and you feel like you have such a massive responsibility. It ran smoothly and quietly, which is how you would hope it will run if and when it goes into production.

It's quite comfortable and its quite pretty inside. It certainly looks futuristic but very familiar at the same time. All this polished sub-structure is just fantastic. Kind of like Schwarzenegger's 'exoskeleton' from The Terminator. It feels like a supercar from somewhere in the future.

It's spacious inside, too; it's not cramped. The way it is designed has a nice greenhouse effect, with a lot of light and air. Visibility is good. All cars have to have the thick A pillar but this is one OK to see around. It all works. Some of the cars out of Italy today, you can't see out of the back. This looks ready to go into production.

You could tell Callum and the Jag guys were really proud of the car. Making something unique like this is like a day when a top chef is allowed to run riot in the kitchen and create a dish that has never been done before.

And like food, there are no rules to car design. The definition of a supercar changes all the time. A supercar in the future will be a car that gets incredible mileage and has incredible performance and has incredible looks. In the old days, it was just about performance and looks. In the 21st century, it's also about responsibility.

Jaguar really surprised everybody when they showed up with this car in Paris, but that's what Jags do. They tend to show up and surprise everyone. The XK120 in 1948, the XKE in 1961 and this one in 2010. That's part of the Jag tradition. You turn up with something cool, surprise everyone - then hopefully build it.

It looks like it could be prepared for production in a few years, maybe with a V8 to start with and then the hybrid powerplant afterwards. Getting it to market is the key thing. Alternative power can come later.

One thing about Jag is that they always say they are concept cars. But ever since the XK120 being shown at Earls Court years ago, there is a tendency for them to make it into production. The C-X75 has got a lot of good press. When I pressed him, Callum did not say the C-X75 would not be made. That's like a kid being told: "Dad didn't say no".