Compact and affordable, but it's all Jag.
by Denise McCluggage
Base Price (MSRP) $29,950
As Tested (MSRP) $42,650
Jaguar has introduced an all-new sedan for 2002 called the X-Type. Starting at $29,950, the X-Type is a major step downward in price for a Jaguar, and a big step upward in mass appeal. It's elegant, comfortable, and fun to drive.
A new competitor in the tough foyer of compact luxury sedans, the X-Type is designed to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and, to some extent, the Lexus IS 300. The new Jaguar compares favorably to these highly competent cars in performance figures, while offering a distinct difference in feel and temperament. No question, the Jaguar X-Type is a serious player. After driving it, we feel it's a great alternative to these other superb sedans.
Jaguar offers two models: the X-Type 2.5-liter with a 194-horsepower V6 ($29,950) and the X-Type 3.0-liter with a 231-horsepower V6 ($35,950).
Both have as standard something that is expected of a Jaguar: bird's-eye walnut trim, Connolly leather-trimmed seating, and power windows, mirrors, door locks and driver's seat. And both have something unexpected: Traction 4, which is Jaguar's name for its viscous-coupling full-time all-wheel drive, the first four-wheel-drive system ever on a Jag.
The 2.5-liter model comes with a five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is a $1275 option.
The 3.0-liter X-Type offers a no-cost choice of either manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
Both models offer more options than have been traditionally available for a Jaguar. Three packages are offered: Premium, Sport, and Weather.
The Premium package ($2500) includes one-touch electric tilt and slide glass moonroof, an eight-way power passenger seat, two-way power lumbar support for both front seats, 70/30 split folding rear seat, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dim electrochromic rearview mirror, automatic headlamps, Reverse Park Control, trip computer and message center, and Homelink-compatible garage door/gate opener.
The Sport package ($2000) includes gray-stained bird's-eye maple wood trim, special Connolly leather seating with sports seats (extra side bolstering), body-colored exterior trim, a rear spoiler, Dynamic Stability Control (yaw control), sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires. (You know what Babe Paley said: “You can neither be too rich or have wheels that are too large.” Or something like that.) The Sport package requires the Premium package.
The Weather package ($1000) adds heated front seats, headlight washers, and Dynamic Stability Control (pricing is adjusted if ordered with the Sport package).
Other options that can be tagged on to the Premium group include a navigation system, an emergency messaging system with integrated digital cell phone, a premium sound system with 6-CD auto changer (alas, in the trunk), and high-intensity discharge headlights.
Ever since Ford took over Jaguar, purists have been scrutinizing every move the company makes in an effort to turn up some evidence of “Fording down” the illustrious British marque. The fact that the X-Type has a common ancestry with Ford's front-wheel-drive Mondeo (similar to the Contour sold in North America) really got their ears up. Can you imagine a front-wheel-drive Jaguar? No, and those dyed-in-the-green types at Jaguar couldn't either. Thus the X-Type has all-wheel drive - a happy state that would probably not have come about had designers started with a clean sheet of paper. In reality, only about 20 percent of the X-Type has any connection to the Mondeo.
The X-Type is clearly a Jaguar, which will delight Jaguar's many female fans. If anything, the X-Type might be a little too self-conscious in staking out its claim to Jaguarness with its abundance of family cues. It might clutter your vision at first look. The X-Type's appearance is more like the lordly XJ than the more retro S-Type, which was Jaguar's first (and successful) effort to broaden its customer base.
The problem facing the X-Type designers: Make a relatively short car look low and long. And by golly they did it, using lots of horizontal lines, body sculpting and a high-tailed wedge shape, though the wedge is more obvious in photographs than in person. Though the X-type is some seven inches shorter than the S-Type, the illusion is generally successful. It looks big on the road.
The front view is broadened with two sets of side-by-side round lights flanking Jaguar's traditional horizontal split grille. The design of the grille and headlamps with fluting that sweeps back over the hood make the X-Type look like a baby XJ. It looks more conservative than the S-Type with its unique round grille. This aspect of the X-Type looks particularly auspicious when seen in a rearview mirror. Riding the hood is the traditional bounding Jaguar known as the “leaper.” (Such hood ornaments are outlawed in Europe, so the X-Types there will make do with the flat, full-faced Jaguar known as the “growler.”)
The visual stance of the X-Type is not affected by the all-wheel-drive system. This is a ground-loving vehicle that makes the eye believe it is longer and lower than it is and bigger as well. What seemed to me at first to be a busy-ness about the indents, many horizontal lines and visual cues of Jaguarness faded with on-going exposure into acceptance and even appreciation. Anyway, the car looks better on the road than it does in a showroom. Or in pictures. Moral: don't cling overlong to first impressions.
This is a real Jag on the inside, too. Jaguar's leather and bird's-eye maple are done as well as it was in the days when those luxury touches were not added to every model on the road. The wood in the Sport package has a distinctive grayed darkness, rather like weathered wood; it is genuine bird's-eye maple that has been pre-stained a gray color.
The standard seats are quite good, supportive and comfortable, and they can be adjusted every which way. Aggressive side bolstering is added with the Sport package, which is appropriate for more aggressive driving. Side bolstering requires more effort when getting in and out of the seat, however, so the Sport package is best left for those who love spirited roadwork. We had no trouble flinging the car around with the standard seats.
The cabin has a spacious feel with outward visibility enhanced by the slimness of the pillars. With the elevation of the driver's seat easily adjustable, drivers of varying heights have an excellent forward view over the hood. The rearview mirrors are particularly generous in size. I like this large exposure aft ward, but at city intersections the mirror can hide a pedestrian stepping down from a curb. Diligence and a little head movement are called for. All the switchgear operates intuitively. Only one cup holder is provided, however. Lots of stowage adds to the convenience, but the center console is small.
In addition to dual-stage frontal airbags, the X-Type features front and rear side curtain airbags, the first Jaguar to do so. In the vernacular one might say that “Jaguar intenders skew heavily female.” That means the woman buyer figured early in planning the ergonomics of the X-Type. Not that there is any evident “feminization” but rather such things as placing all the controls within easy reach and providing a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, allowing her to adjust perfectly to the car. Many different body types will find a comfortable home in the X-Type. There's plenty of headroom unless you're wearing a helmet in a car equipped with the sunroof.
The design of the X-Type isn't all about style, either. The trunk is big, something that can't be said for all Jaguars. With 16 cubic feet of trunk space, the X-Type can carry more cargo than the big XJ sedan. The X-Type's boot is comparable to the impressive trunk on the Audi A4 and vastly superior to the trunk on the BMW 3 Series. Pull one or both of the small handles in the trunk and you can flip the rear seats down for carrying longer items. That makes this a practical Jaguar.
The optional navigation system did a great job of locating our destination after we had to detour to avoid an accident. To reduce the chance of driver distraction, destinations cannot be programmed while underway.
The X-Type sets new standards for rigidity of structure. This translates into a car that's got its intentions focused on serious matters: running smoothly and quietly and taking to corners like a cat to ice cream. We put the X-Type through demanding paces in the spaghetti roads of rural France near Dijon and on the winding roads north of Atlanta, Georgia. Narrow, often high-crowned pavement in France followed the wandering ways of long-ago farm animals over the varied terrain. Polished by the rain, it was a dedicated driver's dream. The dampness was simply erased by the all-wheel-drive system, which offered comforting security.
The brakes, particularly the Brembos in the Sport Package X-Type, were authoritative and reliable. We have taken to thinking of them as Autobahn brakes, able to slow the car from high speeds. Using the brakes repeatedly revealed no problems.
Engine torque is spread over a power curve in that desirable mesa shape. The 3.0-liter engine doesn't have the edge of a BMW, but the Jaguar's power is there early at the launch and accessible over a wide range of speeds. A car like this somehow feels more powerful than it really is because there is never that questing need for more oomph at a critical moment.
The weight of the 2.5-liter and 3.0-liter X-Type models is identical, regardless of engine size. The 2.5-liter engine provides good power when paired with the five-speed manual transmission; it sometimes feels a bit underpowered when paired with the automatic transmission. The 3.0-liter engine delivers quicker acceleration performance, while the 2.5-liter provides better fuel economy. Best combination of power and fuel efficiency is with the 3.0-liter and manual transmission.
EPA-estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 2.5-liter automatic (19/26); 2.5 manual (19/28); 3.0 auto (18/25); 3.0 manual (18/28). Acceleration performance (0-60 mph in seconds): 2.5 manual (7.9 seconds); 2.5 auto (8.5); 3.0 manual (6.6); 3.0 auto (7.1).
Something must be said about the sound of the V6 engines. The English are an essentially auditory people; you can be ranked socially merely by how you sound (think Eliza Doolittle), so perhaps it is no surprise that much attention has been given to making the X-Type engines sound right. They do. A driver might actually search for some stonewalls to motor between, touch the instant-down on the window and smile at the reverberation.
The transmission choices are both quite good and come down to personal preference. The five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission costs more on the 2.5-liter model, but is a no-cost choice on the 3.0-liter version. Put it in Drive and it shifts smoothly and predictably up and down, keeping the X-Type's engine in the proper gear for smooth cruising or quick acceleration. Its shift points seem to be the result of some clever mind reading; this is because the transmission selects shift patterns according to driving conditions. There's also a switch to select either normal or sport modes; sport mode raises the shift points to make full use of available engine power. Jaguar's trademark J-gate, allowing the driver to shift over to partial manual use, works okay, with shorter, sportier shift throws than those of the Jaguar S-Type.
The five-speed manual, standard on the 2.5-liter and available as a no-cost option on the 3.0-liter, has a short throw with a sports-car feel. It can add to the fun and is our first choice for race tracks. If only to nitpick, the clutch pedal is a little vague, and it takes a little practice to achieve smooth launches and elegant shifts. A little time in the car solves this, however. It works great when driven with gusto in a high-performance setting.
On the French roads, the X-Type seemed to rise to every challenge. Whether on a major highway or winding backroad, it always felt smooth and stable. The steering is sharp and precise, and the car feels nimble yet secure.
To further explore the handling, we took the X-Type onto a tight handling course Jaguar had set up near Atlanta. A tight corner flooded with water showed off the advantage of the Sport package; the high-performance Pirelli P Zero tires provided better grip in the wet than the narrower Continental ContiSport Contact tires, greatly reducing understeer (the tendency of the car to push out toward the outside of a turn when the front tires lose grip). The Sport package also seemed to offer tighter response, though it wasn't a huge difference. In any case, ride quality doesn't seem to suffer at all with the Sport package and we liked the way the sports seats kept us in place when whipping through slaloms and chicanes.
The Dynamic Stability Control system made it easier to drive the car most of the time; it reduced the chance of losing control or spinning out and it reduced yawing when charging too fast through a slalom. In practical terms, DSC can help a driver maintain control in an emergency to help avoid an accident or reduce its severity. The system can be switched off for those rare times when the driver feels it's too intrusive. (By default, the system switches back on every time the car is re-started.)
The X-Type seemed quite happy at Atlanta Motor Speedway where we took some laps on the NASCAR oval and an infield road course. It was supremely stable while doing 120 mph on the back straight and around the high banks of the speedway. It was easy to drive quickly through high-speed and low-speed turns. It was fun and predictable when pushing its tires beyond their limits. And it felt comfortable when braking and turning at the same time, a move that ruffles many cars. The handling is quite neutral, understeering at times, yet willing to rotate according to the skilled driver's wishes in the middle of a turn.
It comes to this: If you've always lusted after a Jaguar's feline mystery and elegance and thought that some day you should own one, but can't afford one of the pricier models, then “some day” may have arrived. Pricing for this newest of Jaguars has pulled that day in like a zoom lens. When you try one on be sure to search out some plate glass windows to mirror your passing. And reflect the sound of that engine.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.