Jaguar X-Type (2003)

"The question we kept asking ourselves is, what's 'Jaguar' about this car?"
Good: a perfectly nice car, intuitive navigation system
Bad: very Ford-like, tight sport seats

The X-Type is Jaguar's attempt to go "down market." What does thatmean? Well, in addition to selling a small number of $60,000 XJ8s,Jaguar would also like to have something to sell to people who wantto spend $30,000 to $40,000 on a car. They think they can do somereal volume in that "mid-luxury" segment. But going down market,and mixing with the hoi polloi presents a real challenge for aluxury car maker: How do you make a cheaper car, and still live upto your luxury reputation?

And that's exactly the issue that jumped out at us when we drovethe Jaguar X-Type. The question we kept asking ourselves is,what's "Jaguar" about this car?

Considered on its own merits, the Jaguar X-Type is a reasonablynice, heavy-ish, mid-sized, all-wheel-drive car that would like tobe a sports sedan (think BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G35, Audi A4).The X-Type is available with one of two engine options and achoice of manual or automatic transmissions. We tested twocombinations. The base model we drove had a suggested retail price of $29,305, and came with a 2.5-liter, sixcylinder engine with a manual transmission -- an unusual offeringfor a modern-day Jaguar, which traditionally accommodates its olderclientele with automatic everything. By offering a stick shift,Jaguar is trying to appeal to a younger crowd, and signaling itssporty aspirations. The higher end X-Type we drove came with amore powerful 3.0-liter V6, sport seats, a GPS navigation system, and othergoodies. The total suggested retail price is $36,305-- a cool $7,000 over the base model. All X-Types come with all-wheel drive.

Our first impression? Divided, to tell the truth. We found theengine adequate in both cases, though not as smooth or as quiet aswe've come to expect from Jaguar. The handling, too, wasperfectly adequate, more firm than the larger, more luxurious Jagsof old, in keeping with targeting this car to younger, lesssensitive rear ends. Our Producer, Dougie Berman, found theclutch in the manual transmission car rather annoying, describingit as heavy and having excessive pedal travel. He found itfatiguing to drive around town. Tommy disagreed, finding itsmooth, and not a problem.

Sometimes optional equipment can make a big difference in how acar feels or drives. Not so, however, with the X-Type. The versionwith the automatic transmission and the larger engine didn't turnthe car into a luxury coach. The transmission was fine, but not assmooth as glass, as you might expect from Jaguar. And even thelarger engine was a bit loud and somewhat coarse. Overall, "luxury"is not the impression you get when driving the X-Type, even whenthe car is loaded.

The X-Type is very Ford-like inside, which is fine for a Ford, butnot necessarily a good thing for a Jaguar. If you're expectingJaguar luxury, the interior feels cheap, right down to theswitches -- the directional light switch is right out of the Fordparts bin. The seats don't feel terribly luxurious. There isn'teven an automatic dimming rearview mirror on the base model, whichis quite unusual for a luxury car. If you want all of theavailable luxury touches, you'll have to load up the car, and payaround $40,000.

We particularly disliked the sport seats on our higher end 3.0X-Type. The seats had very tight side bolsters that pushed upagainst both sides of our cheeks -- our lower cheeks, that is.Worse, there's no adjusting the side bolsters. It made us want totake our wallets out just to get an extra half inch of breathingroom down there. Anybody with even the slightest posterior girthis going to be sitting up on those bolsters, hovering over theseat. Stick with the standard seats.

And a minor complaint: Jaguar has switched to a Tony theTiger-like Jaguar logo that's now plastered on the center of thesteering wheel and on top of the stick shift. We thought it was alittle silly looking, for such an otherwise classy company. Wemuch prefer the old leaping Jaguar to the current cereal boxrendition.

One way to make a car seem more expensive is to add lots ofcontrols and buttons, and Jaguar succumbed somewhat to thistemptation in the X-Type. The X-Type center console is quitebusy. On the plus side, there's one nice, large volume control onthe radio console. That's good. It would be really nice if theconsole had an equally large tuning control... but it doesn't. Wefound ourselves taking our eyes off the road to find neededcontrols more often than we would have liked.

Another plus: The navigation system on the 3.0-liter X-Type can'tbe programmed while the car is moving (good thinking, Jaguar!),and it's fairly intuitive and easy to use as these things go.

Overall, though, the ergonomics are good and up to date. It was onlya few years ago that Jaguars were ergonomic nightmares. And one ofthe real positive influences Ford's ownership has had on Jaguar isto straighten out that mess and put things where they belong. Nowyou can find the lights, the defroster, the high beams, and the fancontrol just like on any other modern car. So we need to note thehuge improvement here.

Here's one place where at least some Jaguar-ness shows up. Whilethe body of the car is fairly average looking (as opposed to theclassic, Jaguar long and low look), the curved hood, dual roundheadlights, and Jaguar hood emblem do say "Jaguar." The cues aresubtle otherwise, and from certain angles, you might mistake itfor a run-of-the-mill Ford sedan. But from the driver's seat, atleast you'll always be looking at the leaping Jaguar on the hoodto remind you why you're paying that extra $150 a month over yourTaurus.

Both the 2.5- and 3.0-liter X-Types use a Ford Duratec engine,which has proven itself to be reliable. Jaguar has made some minortweaks to the design, including changes to the tuning, manifolds,and cylinder heads. The result, according to Jaguar, is betterperformance and a little more horsepower. We'd expect bothrenditions of the X-Type to be reasonably reliable, especiallycompared to Jaguars of yore.

So getting back to our initial question, what is "Jaguar" aboutthis Jaguar? Well, there IS the hood ornament. Other than that,not much ties this car to other Jaguars, in our opinion. If youwere plopped into this car minus hood ornament and logos, "Jaguar"would never be your first guess. That doesn't mean it's a badcar. In fact, the X-Type is a perfectly nice car. The reasonwe're critical is because of expectations. When a luxury brandlike a Jaguar decides to put out a lower priced, "entry level"car, the trick is to figure out what makes a car a Jaguar, andthen make sure that the entry-level car at least has the mostimportant of those qualities (car geeks call it the "brand DNA").

There are certain things that we think of when we think of Jaguar:British-ness. Quiet. Power to spare. And soft, leather and wood for the feel of bathed comfort. When we think Jaguar, we think of a softer, powerful luxury car -- not a BMW, and not a Mercedes, both of which are firm and very Teutonic. With the X-Type, Jaguar went for sporty firmness, and modest power, which doesn't quite make sense to us.

The closest competitor to the base model X-Type is probably BMW's325iX, a four-door sedan with a 2.5-liter, six-cylinder enginethat you can get with a stick shift and all-wheel drive for about$35,000. Given a choice between the 325iX and an X-Type, we'd takethe BMW in a heartbeat. And the closest competitor to the 3.0X-Type may be the V8 Lincoln LS (also made by Ford, with a retail list price of $38,348), which to us seems more like an entry-level Jaguar than the entry-level Jaguar.

We're not sure who is going to buy the X-Type. Perhaps people whoare awed by the Jaguar name, or seeking the perceived prestige.But we wouldn't be surprised if Jaguar dealers are left with anumber of these on their lots -- which might force Jaguar to offersome sweet financial incentives to make them move. And,eventually, a redesign and significant upgrade will be in order ifJaguar really wants to make it in this segment.

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