Palm Springs, California- With the VDP nameplate, Jaguar hopes to use the heritage of its custom-equipped XJ Vanden Plas sedans of the past to bring a little heritage to the X-type. It's a marketing move that raises just as many questions as it answers about the future of Jaguar.
When the X-type first arrived here in 2002, Jaguar touted it as a triumph of design and performance, evidence that Ford had successfully reinvigorated Jaguar to meet the demands of the new century. Unfortunately the X-type proved to be smaller, pricier, and less dependable than people had been led to expect, and it would never drive like a BMW, no matter how many well-meaning journalists pretended that it did. X-type sales have drifted downward ever since the car's launch, and just 26,772 examples were sold in the United States in 2004, a decline of 20 percent from 2003. In comparison, Audi sold 51,043 A4s in 2004, and even Saab sold 34,075 9-3s.
With the 2005 X-type, Jaguar is basically relaunching this model, emphasizing more than 1000 component changes to improve quality. The VDP edition defines a package of options that includes seventeen-inch wheels with all-season tires, a 320-watt Alpine audio entertainment system, ten-way adjustable power seats with classic-style leather upholstery, walnut burl interior trim, and a number of other minor features. Self-styled guardians of Jaguar's cultural heritage thrown a hissy fit at the thought of the exclusive Vanden Plas name being squandered on a specialty equipment package for an entry-level car, but they overlook the fact that the nameplate has only a few calories of credibility as far as U.S. drivers are concerned. At the same time, this use of the VDP badge removes any bit of exclusivity it gives to XJ models.
Once you're behind the wheel, the all-wheel-drive X-type drives like nothing else in its class. In comparison, an Audi A4 seems soggy, a BMW 3-series feels cold, and a Saab 9-3 seems plain. The X-type offers lots of impeccably damped suspension travel, delivering an excellent ride with plenty of cornering grip. The mid-range power of the 227-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is this Ford-built engine's best attribute, and that's why the new five-speed automatic transmission brings out the best from it.
At the same time, there are issues. The compact dimensions that help make the 3677-pound X-type agile enough to be a rewarding driver's car also compromise passenger space, and the interior of this car measures at the small end of the entry-luxury class. The limited range of electronic features reveals the platform's age, notably the audio system, which makes do with a single-disc, in-dash CD player while a full six-disc changer is banished to the trunk. And the VDP costs $37,945 (combining the $3750 VDP package with the required $2250 moonroof and $1950 Premium package), which represents an incremental cost of $6500 over an unadorned X-type 3.0.
Jaguar has some tough times ahead, as it sold just 54,655 cars in the United States during 2004, and it must continue to cope with the weak dollar, the introduction of sales incentives on premium sedans, and the shift to luxury sport-utilities. The X-type VDP illustrates the company's most recent change in strategy, as it once again tries to compete by means of its unique Jaguar identity instead of price and performance. The Jaguar guys themselves must be frustrated at having to play the Vanden Plas card to raise the X-type's profile in the marketplace, but at least they've recognized that quality is the Jaguar message. Anything that improves Jaguar quality is all right with us, and maybe that makes the 3.0 VDP a useful place to begin rebuilding the company's place in America.