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Jaguar gets new claws with C-X16, a true successor to the E-Type

Letters from America Jay Leno gets a first-hand look at the first worthy successor to the E-Type since it was retired in the 1970s ahead of its debut at the Frankfurt motor show.
Jay Leno believes the C-X16 marks a turning point for Jaguar, which has its confidence back after the British marque finally developed a worthy heir to its famous E-Type's throne.
Jay Leno believes the C-X16 marks a turning point for Jaguar, which has its confidence back after the British marque finally developed a worthy heir to its famous E-Type's throne.

I was one of those people very disappointed by the Jaguar XJS, the car that replaced the E-Type Jag when it came out in the mid-Seventies. To me, it wasn't a sports car at all, but more of a boulevard cruiser. Since then, there have been sporting Jaguars, for sure, but no real sports car. The E-Type is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cars of all time, so making something as gorgeous again is an incredibly difficult task. But 50 years on from the creation of the E-Type, Jaguar has come closer than ever to matching its beauty.

Its latest model, though, the C-X16, which is being shown in Frankfurt at the moment, has all the styling clues of a Jaguar sports car and especially the E-Type. I love the rear end; the twin exhausts look great, as do the rear lights. The whole car works and looks like a modern interpretation of the E-Type. I don't have a lot of interest in the convertible though, to be honest. For me, coupés are always where it's at.

Crucially, I think it shows that the age of Jaguar in desperation is over. It's now an extremely successful company, it's making a profit and it's making a car that it is enjoying building. Let me qualify that; if the new XJ had not been the tremendous success that it is, the C-X16 wouldn't even have made it to the drawing board. Jaguar built the car it needed to build and now the company is planning to build the fun car it wanted to build. It's a measure of the confidence Jaguar has when it goes into such a highly competitive market.

You can only build a car like this if you're successful, because it's an indulgence. Visiting Jaguar this summer and talking to the team, they seem extremely enthusiastic about the product.

At the unveiling of the XJ a couple of years ago, it was all very business-like. This time, designer Ian Callum was like a big kid: "Look at this! I gotta show you this!"

This car is more likely to end up in my garage than the C-X75 - it's the right size and the hybrid system it has, with an F1-style power button for an extra 95hp, is great fun.

Jags have always been extremely good-looking cars. As a car guy, the one thing I've always found about Jags is that, when you talk to women who know nothing about cars and you drive, say, an XK or 120, they always ask what kind of car it is. And they always want to sit in it. These are extremely masculine cars that also have a deep appeal to a feminine sensibility.

When I was a kid, everyone wanted an E-Type because it was a car that was attainable. If you worked hard and were good at your job, there was a chance you could own one of these. Aston Martin was always just a bit out of reach. Astons seemed like old money, whereas Jags seemed like new money - you've got that big promotion, now here's your reward. I don't see people sneering at Jaguar owners the way they do at exotic Italian car owners. There's a respect and a sense of "I'll bet he earned that". To me, that's always been the appeal of Jaguar: you get the rich man's car for a lot less.

It's also the equal to an Aston Martin in looks, performance, liability, drivability, but at half the price. I love that pinched centre, the visibility is great, the dashboard is stunning and the steering wheel is a lovely shape. Of course, as I said earlier, this is an indulgence but I genuinely believe that this car, the C-X16, could be the greatest thing that's ever happened to Jaguar.

The technology involved is really exciting, too, particularly the hybrid system. It's technology used sensibly, rather than for this ridiculous high-speed nonsense that's become so prevalent these days.

There is no car enthusiast in his right mind who thinks anybody should be doing 320kph on public roads. When you buy a car such as a Bugatti Veyron, it's truly an amazing piece of work, but you're paying such a premium because every part has to be built to function at 400kph. Consequently, your tyres are 10 to 50 times more expensive than they would be normally. And, let's face it, when it comes to fun driving, it all happens between 65kph and 190kph.

Forget about the top speed - give me horsepower, give me torque. And the idea that one car is better than another because it goes 335kph rather than 315kph? We'll leave that kind of thinking to the boy racers.

But back to the new car - this is a market segment Jaguar badly needs to be in. You can only rest on the laurels of the XK 120 and E-Type for so long. The company, though, has yet to officially reveal the name of the new motor but what's to think about? It's a Jaguar, it's made in England. It owns the E-Type name so why not use it? Corvette can bring back the Stingray; Ford can bring back the GT; Ferrari can bring back the GTO - why can't Jaguar do the same? I live in hope.

Updated: September 16, 2011 04:00 AM