by Kelly Taylor
The name Jaguar has meant a lot of things to a lot of people but one thing it has never meant is “accessible.” Until the S-Type, which still grazes the ionosphere at $60,000 and up, the cheapest Jag you could buy started at about $81,000. And there were no special finance rates or cash back to dealer programs.
That kind of pricing gave Jag a good shot of panache but left a gaping hole in its marketing scheme: even BMW recognizes the value in attracting entry-level buyers, grabbing them earlier in life with 3-series models close to the price of loaded Toyotas and then trying to retain them when life’s circumstances dictate a move into 5, 7 or even the X-series SUV.
This brings us to the 2002 Jaguar X-Type. Sure, you can trick it out to more than $60,000, but a perfectly acceptable X can be had for a hair less than $43,000. Now that is almost 10 large more than the $34K 320i, but the X comes standard with a host of amenities that will push the 320i past the $43,000 in zero seconds flat. You get alloy wheels and all-wheel drive, which on the Bimmer doesn’t appear on the horizon until you’ve visited the $50,000 upper echelons of 3-dom. You get leather seating, again, part of a package on the Bavarian. An eight-way, power-adjustable driver’s seat is standard, as is automatic climate control with dust and pollen filtration, side-curtain air bags and cruise control. Heated seats are only $1,000 away, part of the “weather package.”
Now it is true that the X-Type shares a platform with the recently-introduced European Ford Mondeo, but 80% of the X-Type is pure Jaguar � the rest was shared with the Mondeo to decrease development costs. What Jaguar couldn’t change, they improved. Take the engine block, which is from the same Duratec V6 engine in the Taurus. Truth is, a good block is not hard to make. It’s the stuff you bolt onto it that makes the difference. In Jaguar’s case, that would be British-built cylinder heads and intake and exhaust headers. Which is why the Jaguar-equipped 3.0-litre block cranks out 231 horsepower to Taurus’s 200. The smaller 2.5-litre V6 engine also comes within a cat’s whisker of the Taurus, at 194 horsepower, as well.
All that power gets transferred to the ground through four wheels: all-wheel drive is the only drivetrain configuration available. In this case, AWD is primarily a dry-weather, traction-improving tool. It’s not designed as a winter traction tool, though it will pay some dividends there too. In the X, AWD sends 60 per cent of torque rearward and 40 per cent forward.
Combined with the X-Type’s wonderfully balanced weight distribution, the rear bias gives the X excellent cornering characterstics. It compares favourably to class competitors BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in handling. It feels like a rear-drive car, complete with that sense of pivoting around a corner, despite having its engine transverse-mounted over the front axles, as in a front-wheel-drive car. Jaguar claims performance times (0-100 km-h) of 8.3 seconds for the 2.5-litre, and 7.0 seconds for the 3.0, both with the manual shifter.
The X-Type starts at $42,950 for the 2.5 and $49,950 for the 3.0. A five-speed manual is standard on the 2.5 and is a no-cost option on the 3.0, which otherwise comes with a 5-speed automatic transmission. On the 2.5, the automatic is a $1,490 option.
Unfortunately, the only X-Type available for my road test had an automatic transmission. This is a car that cries out for the five-speed manual. Acceleration (0-100) suffers by six-tenths of a second for the automatic-equipped 2.5, and half a second for the 3.0. On the road, the X-type proved comfortable and confident. Curves, even descending-radius off-ramps, rarely approached the car’s limits, even charging through one off-ramp at 80 km-h. The ride is perhaps un-Jaguar-like in its firmness, but it is not harsh. It is, however, not the Jag for people accustomed to Vanden Plas pampering.
The way the front grille and headlamps appear to lean forward pay homage to the sedans of Jaguar’s past. The round headlights give way to subtle bulges in the hood that sweep back to the windshield. Out back, the body sweeps around to a tail that is perhaps too derivative of the S-Type. Overall, the exterior design is stylish.
Inside, the X-Type is attractively Jaguar. There’s the requisite real bird’s-eye maple trim and nicely stitched leather trim. With the automatic comes Jag’s J-gate shifter pattern and wood-topped shift lever. The instrument cluster features chrome rings around Jaguar racing-green
instruments with classical white markings.
A few things I didn’t like about the car include the imprecise automatic shift linkage. There’s no clear indication you’ve actually arrived at the position you intended, especially on the shorter side of the J-gate. It’s better than a lawn tractor but not by much. In fairness to Jag, few if any buyers of the automatic ever get the shifter around the bottom of the J.
Also, the sound system, even the optional premium system, includes only a cassette slot in the dash. For CDs, you have to feed the optional six-disc changer in the trunk. When you do, however, you’re greeted with a wonderfully rich sound from the 180-watt Alpine premium system, which includes 10 speakers and an active subwoofer in the parcel shelf. The standard sound system is a rather mundane four-speaker (only dual-cone speakers at that) affair. Choosing the standard system necessitates a trip to the aftermarket.
Jaguar is the Johnny-come-lately to the entry-level sport luxury market, formerly cornered by BMW and Mercedes. Today’s X-Type goes up against a wider range of rivals, including the Lexus IS 300, BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti I35, Audi A4, and Acura TL. Against those rivals, the X-Type offers competitive handling in a package that is true to Jaguar’s philosophy. It should attract a lot of lookers, if not buyers.