Colerne, England - By now, most of the world--or at least those members of its population who are interested in cars--knows that the new Jaguar X-type sedan shares much with the humble European Ford Mondeo, just as the Audi A4 has a lot in common with the lesser Volkswagen Passat. Because of this commonality, Jaguar personnel have stressed the X-type's "Jaguarness" and generally downplayed what is now called "components sharing."
Yet plenty of Jaguars in the past shared components, beginning with cars such as the SS1 and the SS100, which owed as much to the Standard Motor Company as to the Swallow Sidecar organization, as Jaguar was called early on in its life. Raiding someone else's parts bin is nothing new and didn't stop old Jaguars from looking and feeling different--particularly the latter. As for "Jaguar-ness," I'm not sure what that is, despite spending time with an awful lot of Jaguars all the way from the SS100 and the C-type up to the current offerings. (Don't ask me to define "Britishness," either--it can't be defined; it just is.)
What I can tell you, however, is that the new X-type is a really good car. It's also distinctly different from the Acura TL, the Audi A4, the BMW 3-series, the Lexus IS300, and the Mercedes-Benz C-class--its main competition in the near-luxury sport sedan segment.
There are four X-type models: the 2.5, the 2.5 Sport, the 3.0, and the 3.0 Sport. The transversely mounted 2.5- and 3.0-liter V-6 engines are derived from the Ford Duratec DOHC 24-valve unit and come with standard five-speed manual and automatic transmissions, respectively. (The automatic is a $1275 option on the 2.5, and the manual is a no-cost option on the 3.0.) The 3.0-liter engine makes 231 horsepower and 209 pound-feet of torque, and the smaller engine produces 194 horsepower and 180 pound-feet.
Jaguar opted for all-wheel drive rather than the Mondeo's front-wheel-drive layout, which most critics (if not buyers) would have regarded as heresy. The all-wheel-drive arrangement is pretty simple: A planetary center differential sends 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear via bevel gears. A viscous limited-slip coupling automatically adjusts the torque split in slippery conditions. The compact aluminum housing for these components bolts directly to the X-type's transaxle. In this class, only the Jaguar has standard all-wheel drive, although similar systems are optional on both the BMW and the Audi.
The front suspension uses lower control arms, an anti-roll bar, and MacPherson struts that incorporate Bilstein twin-tube dampers. A double bearing at the top of the strut helps reduce friction and torque tug on the steering. The multi-link rear suspension has Bilstein monotube dampers, short coil springs, and an anti-roll bar. A stability control system is available as part of a $1200 Weather package on the 2.5 and 3.0 models and is standard with the Sport package. Regular X-types are fitted with sixteen-inch wheels and 205/55 Continental tires, and the Sports--which also feature firmer dampers and springs, a lower ride height, and revised steering software--have seventeen-inch rims with 225/45 Z-rated Continental ContiSport Contact tires.
Inside, Sport models get more heavily bolstered seats, a sport steering wheel, and smoke-gray wood in place of the natural--that is, brown--variety. Among our party of journalists, the older, more conservative types preferred the natural wood, whereas the hip younger crowd went for the Sport finish. All X-types are fitted with a power driver's seat, leather, and a four-speaker Alpine stereo. (A ten-speaker premium system is optional.) A power passenger's seat is part of the $2500 Premium package, which has to be ordered if you want the $2000 Sport package.
All X-type cabins are warm and inviting, although the finish of the buttons and surfaces still isn't up to the levels of Audi or BMW. There is some nice detailing, however, such as chrome-rimmed gauges, bright-metal buttons for the center stowage area, and a chrome reverse detente on the manual gearshift lever, which also has a stylish leather-trimmed ball top. Although there isn't an enormous amount of rear-seat leg and head room, it definitely betters that of the 3-series and the IS300, and front-seat accommodations are pretty generous for this class. The trunk is also the largest of any Jaguar, at a voluminous 16.0 cubic feet. Front and side air bags and front and rear side curtain air bags are standard on all models. The optional DVD-based navigation system has a big, seven-inch screen that also takes care of the audio system, HVAC controls, and telephone. Hard buttons, touch-screen controls, or Jaguar's optional voice activation can be used for all of these functions. The launch of the X-type coincides with the introduction of JaguarNet, the company's rival to GM's OnStar system.
Externally, the X-type looks like a Jaguar--well, it looks like lots of Jaguars. Every Jag styling cue you can think of has been added to this car, just to make sure you know what it is. The X-type looks better in Sport trim, with its color-keyed grille, dearth of chrome trim, and bigger wheels, but an opportunity was missed with this car. The very essence of what made Jaguars so cool in the 1950s and '60s has been lost. Then, they were modern and very stylish, their qualities neatly encapsulated by the company's advertising catch line: "Grace . . . Space . . . Pace." Now, however, there seems to be a faction within Jaguar and its corporate boss, Ford, that confuses Englishness and Jaguarness with old--a sort of tourist's view of Britain as an olde worlde land of royalty, cream teas, green fields, and rooms furnished with wood panels and leather sofas. It's not like that anymore. Time to move on.
Dynamically, at least, this car has moved on. Jaguars were always fast for their price and had a trademark combination of good handling and a supple ride. The X-type lives up to that heritage with a supple ride, supreme bump absorption, low road noise, and a really chuckable chassis, especially with the Sport suspension. Over an unfamiliar road, in the rain, or piling on the miles down a freeway, the X-type is mighty fine. Unlike a German car, in which you're always aware of the wheel impacts, the Jaguar cushions them beautifully, although the wind-noise suppression at speed is only average.
The biggest revelation is the car's steering. In the past, Jaguar steering has been too light and suffered from poor on-center feel, but the X-type's helm is communicative and nicely weighted: The Sport models' extra heft makes them even more pleasing down a twisty road. Handling is pretty neutral, with a hint of initial understeer and a tendency to tighten its line when you lift off the throttle. The brakes feel good at first, with a nicely progressive pedal and plenty of bite, but they're prone to fade in repeated heavy applications.
The X-type's only real letdown is its two V-6 engines. Although the numbers look fine on paper, the X-type is hampered by its bulk, which ranges from 3428 to 3792 pounds, depending on transmission and trim. Refinement at higher revs is only average, and there's a seeming lack of midrange torque, despite the 3000-rpm peaks for both engines. Both V-6s make a suggestive growl under hard throttle, but the 3.0-liter unit feels dead below 4000 rpm, and the 2.5 requires serious caning. Rev them hard, though, and they provide good performance. According to Jaguar, the manual-equipped 2.5 takes 7.9 seconds for the 0-to-60-mph sprint, and the 3.0 automatic needs 6.6 seconds. Top speeds for the manual 2.5 and 3.0 are 140 and 146 mph, respectively. The manual gearbox has short throws and a pleasing action, although the clutch pedal is a bit dead. The automatic, which retains Jaguar's J-gate for manual shifts, is pretty good but not as smooth as the manu-matics from Lexus and Acura.
At first, the X-type looks like a good value in this arena. A base 2.5 costs $29,950, and a base 3.0 runs to $35,950. Add in the options, however, and the Jag becomes quite pricey. A 3.0 Sport starts at $40,450, which is more than a leather-trimmed, sport-suspended BMW 330i. (The all-wheel-drive 330xi is $1000 more than the Jag.) A fully loaded X-type 3.0 is $41,850, and a similarly equipped Sport is nearly $44,000. Ouch. Still, as a first effort in this area of the market, the X-type is a fine achievement. Now that Jaguar has the pace and the space, perhaps it can work on rediscovering the grace.