Britain’s flag-waving automaker makes its mark with new "Baby Jag."
by Paul A. Eisenstein
A steady drizzle falls from leaden skies. On the narrow roads that snake through the farm country of Dijon, it would normally give good reason to ease off on the throttle. But not on this particular afternoon. On open stretches, we press the pedal to the floor, holding until the last moment to apply the brakes. As confidence builds, we enter each turn just a little faster. And yet the car seems to suggest we’re still far from its limits.
There’s a lot riding on the new Jaguar X-Type, a car with which the British automaker hopes to more than double its worldwide volume. With a base of $29,950, it will enter the U.S. market at less than half the price of the marque’s flagship XJ sedan. To get there, Jaguar depended heavily on the help of its parent, Ford Motor Co., borrowing both engineering assistance - as well as 20 percent of its components from the decidedly downmarket Ford Mondeo.
Would the X-Type be a breakthrough for Jaguar? Or just a rebadged Ford? When TheCarConnection.com was offered its first chance to drive the X-Type, we jumped at the opportunity to decide for ourselves.
Baby Jag is born
Sometimes called the "Baby Jag," other times as X400, its internal codename, the new sedan becomes the fourth line in the fast-growing Jaguar model mix. Where the XJ sedan and XK coupe/convertible compete in the stratospheric side of the luxury line-up, and the S-Type goes after the mid-lux world of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar’s newest entry takes aim at the "affordable luxury" segment. It’s the fastest-growing niche in the premium market, having nearly doubled over the last five years. It’s also the most competitive segment, dominated by the benchmark BMW 3-Series.
So to be taken seriously, Jaguar would have to set its sights high. For ride and handling, BMW set the standard; for craftsmanship and refinement, it was the Audi A4; for robustness and reliability, it was the Mercedes C-Class. But more importantly, noted Colin Tivey, the X-Type program’s chief engineer, "We tried to benchmark where (Jaguar thought) the future competition would be."
In a sense, Jaguar also used its own S-Type sedan as a reference point. Introduced barely two years ago, it was Jaguar’s first "saloon car" in 40 years. The S-Type has been a moderate success, significantly boosting U.S. and worldwide sales, and attracting an audience that had largely never considered a Jaguar before. But the sedan fell short of expectations on a number of fronts. While nose on it’s a striking looker, even Jaguar’s former design chief, the late Geoff Lawson, felt it missed the mark. The interior also fell short of Jaguar’s standards - and will benefit from a major re-do scheduled for late next winter.
Considering its base price, it would have been easy for the X-Type to make a lot of compromises. It might have turned into little more than a high-line Mondeo - with the trademark "leaper" hood ornament. It’s good to report that despite some modest similarities to the Ford sedan - notably the side dimensions - the X-Type is a car that more than lives up to our tough expectations.
The interior is a rich mix of leather and wood - Jaguar’s familiar bird’s-eye maple, to be more precise. Where the S-Type looked a bit tacked together, the X-Type looks well conceived and integrated, and far more lavish than one might expect at the price.
The seats are firm yet comfortable, especially in the Sport Package, which provides a good bit more bolstering, something we found essential when we put the X-Type through its paces. While there’s plenty of leg and headroom up front, it’s a wee bit more cramped in the back, but not nearly as tight as with some of the competition, the 3-Series in particular. Overall, X-Type is actually as roomy as the S-Type and offers more trunk space - something that Jaguar’s have been notably short of over the years.
As you’d expect, the X-Type is loaded with creature comforts and safety features, including standard dual-stage front and side airbags, as well as head curtains for front and rear occupants. The S-Type’s digital control system has been improved: it now features a seven-inch video monitor and you can use voice commands to control the navigation system, as well as climate control and audio.
Driving "on rails"
When we started hearing early driving reports from inside Jaguar, our sources often used the hackneyed cliche, "on rails." After spending two days tearing up the hills and dales of Dijon, we challenged some of our media colleagues to come up with an alternate, and more apt expression. We’re still waiting.
The biggest surprise about X-Type was Jaguar’s decision to launch it only in all-wheel-drive configuration. That was a brilliant decision, for if it had followed Mondeo’s lead, and emerged as a front-driver, X-Type simply wouldn’t have amounted to very much. The vehicle has a 60/40 weight balance, biased to the front, but the powertrain’s torque is biased 60/40 to the rear. Don’t go looking for your college physics text. The bottom line is this: you have to go to extraordinary lengths to lose traction, even on the wettest of pavement.
Powering the vehicle, buyers will have two possible options, a 2.5-liter, variable-cam V-6 that punches out 194 horsepower, or a slightly larger, 3.0-liter version rated at 231 hp. The aluminum block is based on Ford’s Duratec powerplant, but the heads are unique to Jaguar.
For the first time in a decade, Jaguar is offering buyers a choice of a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic, or a five-speed stick. The manual is an especially good choice with the smaller engine, though we found that the automatic was surprisingly responsive and remarkably smooth with both engines. For pure power, the 3.0 is a great engine. For those who like to make a little more work out of it, we’d suggest the 2.5 with the stick.
For those who worship the numbers, the 3.0/manual combination will race from 0-60 in 6.6 seconds; the automatic is a half-second slower. For the 2.5-liter engine, you’ll get a 7.9 second run with the stick, and 8.5 seconds with the automatic.
X-Type’s speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering was taut and responsive, providing great road feel and no trouble finding center. The basic suspension package uses a novel, two-bearing front mount and it proved more than adequate, a well-tuned balance between ride comfort and handling. But for those who want to reach the vehicle’s limits, we’d strongly recommend the stiffer Sports Package. You’ll also get a set of Brembo brakes. On our soggy two days of driving, they proved uncanny in their ability to scrub off speed in a hurry. Basic wheels and tires, by the way, are 16-inch, with 17-inchers part of the Sports Package, and an 18-inch option reportedly on the way.
My co-pilot, TCC correspondent Denise McCluggage, summed up the performance of the X-Type aptly when I pointed out she was closing in on a sharp corner at 180 km/h (over 110 mph). "Oh? I didn’t even notice," she chuckled. The car, she said, with an ear-to-ear grin, "eliminates the wet."
We’re always reluctant to present a review that comes across as a full-fledged rave. And we don’t want to do that here. There are some minor grumbles, such as the point made earlier about styling. We’d like to see a Tiptronic-style shifter on the automatic, rather than the quirky Jaguar J-Gate. The dim digital odometer display can be frustrating to read. We’d prefer an in-dash CD changer, rather than the trunk-mounted system. But in terms of performance, we had only a minor complaint about the powertrain: an occasional, and almost imperceptible pause in acceleration when we pressed the accelerator coming out of hard curves.
The X-Type more than lives up to our expectations. And when you roll in price, it is a startingly good effort for a first-time entry into such a competitive segment. The new sedan is going to be a winner - and set tough new standards, not only for the competition, but for future product to come from Jaguar.
2002 Jaguar X-Type sedan
Base Price Range: $29,950 (2.5-liter V-6); $39,950 (3.0-liter V-6)
Engines: 2.5-liter V-6, 194 hp; 3.0-liter V-6, 231 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual or five-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase: 106.7 in
Length: 183.9 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 54.8 in
Curb Weight: 3428 lb (2.5-liter/five-speed)
EPA (city/hwy): 19/29 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, dual-stage front, and side airbags, head curtains for front and rear, optional stability control system
Major standard features: Automatic climate control with pollen filter, AM/FM/cassette with optional six-CD changer, xenon headlamps, leather seats, eight-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection