In times like these, show cars are no longer mere attention-grabbers. To succeed, concepts need to be design exercises with a message—the greener, the better. The Jaguar C-X75 (concept, experimental, celebrating the brand’s 75th anniversary) meets this description with a refreshingly bold and remarkably different approach.
What we have here is a radically dynamic and amazingly frugal two-seater that employs a pair of micro-turbines acting as diesel-fed range extenders for its battery-powered EV motor. The result combines high-end performance with the kind of fuel economy, emissions, and driving range not even subcompact hybrids can achieve today. In addition, the C-X75 is a true innovator in terms of style, materials, ergonomics and vehicle dynamics. Will it go into production? Probably not. But it does incorporate more elements that are here to stay than most of its comparatively conventional counterparts on the catwalk.
The brief given the project team was to create a “design-led, sustainable high-performance eco-sports car” for the Paris Show. What Jaguar top management did NOT want was a relatively straightforward V-8 hybrid like the Porsche 918, nor an EV like the Mercedes-Benz SLS E-Cell, and certainly not a frugality-through-sacrifice compromise like the Jaguar XJ220, which deserved a V-12 but featured a twin-turbocharged V-6 instead.
Why, we ask, did Jaguar choose micro-turbines, why diesel fuel, why not a pure EV approach like the Audi R8 e-tron or the Mercedes SLS E-Cell? “Because there is such a thing as range anxiety, because the turbines weigh significantly less than the lightest alternative range extender, and because there is no more efficient fuel than diesel,” answers the chief engineer Peter Richings. “You see, the small gas turbines tip the scales at 55 pounds each. In addition, they don’t need oil lubrication or a catalytic converter, and they will run on almost anything from biofuel to LPG. Although they rev at up to 80,000 rpm, turbines are a very reliable known quantity. The fact that they may take up to 15 seconds to reach their optimum operating speed does not really matter here because they are only used to recharge the batteries.”
The silver show car is indeed fitted with the advertised drivetrain, but since the innovative propulsion system is still in its infancy, the car’s moves are positively slo-mo. The noise it makes vaguely resembles a jet airliner. But unlike the turbine-powered prototypes of years ago, the water-cooled turbines used in this application do not drive the wheels. Instead, they charge the batteries while the car is underway. Motive force is provided by four electric motors, each weighing only 110 pounds, which combine to produce 780 hp along with an irresistible 1179 pound-feet of torque. Since the micro-turbines, which deliver 95 hp each, sip from a 16-gallon diesel tank, Jaguar quotes a CO2 emission of only 28g/km. The zero-emission range is a useful 68 miles. To restore the full battery strength, hook up the vehicle to a domestic power line for about five hours.