First there was the XK180, followed by the F-Type then the R Coupé – all of which supposedly illustrated the design direction in which Jaguar was heading. Then at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show the R-D6 was unveiled, and at a stroke the Coventry company was starting from scratch with its corporate look. The problem was, this was the most daring concept yet from the company, and for Jaguar, tradition had always held sway over radical change.
Take a look at the five-door silhouette of the R-D6 and you’ll probably think of the Mazda RX-8, not least because of those rear-hinged back doors. But unlike the Mazda, the Jaguar featured a tailgate which was side hinged; a reference to the classic E-type. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the car though was its size; at 4330mm in length it was 342mm shorter than Jaguar’s smallest car (the X-Type). But thanks to better packaging along with greater width (it was based on the floorpan of the range-topping XJ) and height, there was plenty of space in the R-D6 for four to travel in comfort.
Look for classic Jaguar styling cues and you wouldn't find many. The grille was similar to the one you’d find on an S-type and the twin headlamps weren’t too dissimilar to the ones seen on generations of Jaguars – but in looks only. The technology was all new, with LEDs front and rear. The twin exhausts were integrated into the centre of the rear valance and the door handles were all flush; they pivoted on their leading edge to activate an electrical actuator which opened the doors.
To maximise the interior space the wheels were pushed to the very corners of the car, and those wheels were monstrous 21-inch spoked items wrapped in 255/30 R21 tyres at the front and 275/30 R21 items on the back. To keep weight down as much as possible the bodyshell was made of aluminium and composites, although at 1500kg the R-D6 was hardly a featherweight for a car so small.
The reason for the car’s relatively high kerb weight considering its compact dimensions was the high equipment count. This was a true premium small car, which meant it had to be fitted with every gadget that buyers of much larger cars would be expecting. Satellite navigation, electric adjustment of just about everything that moved and a premium hi-fi were just the start of the equipment list. But the interior was less about all the toys fitted and more about the beautiful detail design that made the car feel really special.
Although there was wood and leather in the R-D6’s cabin, it wasn’t of the type that Jaguar buyers were used to. The timber was black-lacquered piano wood while the dash, its surround, the seats and the trim panels were all finished in black leather. But what set the car apart from Jaguar’s production cars was the amount of aluminium detailing spread around the cabin, making it look thoroughly contemporary and very classy. Rather less classy was the starter button, which was hidden beneath a sliding cap in the gearknob. And it didn’t say ‘start’, instead it said ‘fire’. Tackiness alert!
The five-door bodyshell design was only the start of the revolution for Jaguar; the fact that the R-D6 was powered by a diesel engine was just as radical. For a company which had only weeks before put its first ever oil-burning car on sale, it was quite unexpected to find a 2.7-litre twin-turbocharged diesel V6 under the bonnet. Tuned to produce 230bhp and a delicious 369lb ft of torque, the concept was endowed with an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, and it could also sprint from a standing start to 62mph in under six seconds.
||Front-engined, 2.7-litre, turbodiesel, V6
||5-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
||Under 6 seconds