2002 Jaguar X-Type First Drive

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2002 Jaguar X-Type Sedan

(2.5L V6 AWD 5-speed Manual)

On the eve of the introduction of its most important model in more than 30 years, Jaguar commissioned an updated version of The Jaguar File, a book by Eric Dymock that details each and every Jaguar created since the company's 1922 origin.

The 432-page book includes photographs of everything Sir William Lyons built, from the very first Swallow motorcycle sidecar to this latest example of his company's handiwork, the X-Type. There are well over 200 photographs of cars; some fast, some slow, others quirky. But there's not an ugly one in the bunch.

Why, then, do so many expect so little from the new X-Type, Jaguar's first attempt at a mass-market car since its takeover by Ford? Do critics think it is any less a Jaguar, just because its price tag won't bankrupt small nations? Or is it because the X-Type is built on a Ford platform, sharing parts with Europe's Mondeo (called the Contour in the short time it was available in North America)?

Sharing development costs, though, is nothing new to Jaguar. Heck, the entire British motoring industry was built on incestuous interdependence. The company's most recent new model, the S-Type, shares much of its running gear with the Lincoln LS. And for those "purists" who still grouse at the Ford association, it's worth noting that Jaguar's first automotive efforts were nothing more than coach-built bodies atop other people's cars.

In pure mathematical terms, the new X-Type is more "Jaguar" than the upscale S-Type. According to Simon Sproule, vice-president of public affairs for Jaguar Cars North America, the S shares 40 percent of its parts with the Lincoln while less than 20 percent of the X-Type's parts come from the Mondeo. Apart from the platform, some suspension bits, the engine block and the gearbox, the X-Type's engineering is pure Jaguar. And that's not an expertise to be taken lightly.

For instance, while the engine block is derived from the same Duratec V6 engine that powers Ford's Taurus, the power-producing bits — cylinder head, intake and exhaust systems — are all of British origin. The result is that the X-Type's top-of-the-line 3.0-liter V6 pumps out a stellar 231 horsepower, compared with the 200 that Ford squeezes from the same displacement. Even the smaller 2.5-liter version boasts 194 hp, just a sneeze short of the larger-displacement Taurus.

This gives the smaller engine about equal performance to the BMW 325i and stouter acceleration than the Mercedes C240. It's a willing little performer, even if, like its competitors, it needs to be revved hard to motivate the 3,428-pound X-Type seriously. It's also fairly smooth, though it lacks the silkiness of the BMW's inline six in this regard. Like its Teutonic competitors, the Jag offers a five-speed manual as standard equipment to let the smaller engine breathe. An automatic is optional.

Like the 2.5-liter version, the top-of-the-line X-Type 3.0 more than keeps up with its German rivals. Boasting 231 horsepower, the 3.0-liter V6 has at least as much top-end power as the BMW 330xi, almost as much low-end torque as the Mercedes C320 and positively stomps Audi's 2001 A4 2.8 (that model is also new for 2002 and gets a more powerful 3.0-liter V6). Jaguar claims the X-Type 3.0 with a manual transmission gets to 60 miles per hour in only 6.6 seconds (7.1 for the automatic). Mercedes says the rear-wheel-drive C320 sedan requires 6.9 seconds and BMW claims that a row-'em-yourself BMW 330xi all-wheel-drive sedan takes the same amount of time (7.5 with the optional slushbox).

Colin Tivey, vehicle program manager for the X-Type, says that the Jaguar's advantage comes from its variable valve timing mechanism. And in a complete reversal of most internal combustion engines, the larger version is actually smoother than its baby brother and should compare favorably with BMW's hitherto peerless inline six.

If the X-Type's straight-line performance is a surprise, then its handling is a complete shock. Ditched is the floaty ride traditional in big Jags. In its stead is the tight, athletic grace of a German touring sedan.

According to Mike Cross, the X-Type's head of vehicle dynamics, this dramatic departure from tradition is a deliberate attempt to woo a younger clientele. "We didn't want to just build a smaller version of our big Jaguars," says Cross, "The X-Type's sportier handling will appeal to those sub-40-somethings now shopping BMW."

At least part of the credit must go to the X-Type's Traction 4 all-wheel-drive system, a technological first for Jaguar. A full-time system akin to Audi's quattro, Traction 4 transfers 40 percent of the power to the front wheels with the remaining 60 percent propelling the rear.

It proves an ideal combination. The rear-biased torque split reinforces the sporting nature of the new Jag. In fact, in most situations, it feels just like a rear-driver. The steering is light and precise with but a little of the understeer that usually spoils an AWD vehicle. Yet, in poor weather, the baby Jag reaps all the benefits of having all four tires sending the power to the tarmac.

We had a chance to sample the X-Type at England's Castle Combe racetrack on a typical spring day in the British Isles — in other words, cold and rainy with but a hint of sunshine peeking through occasionally. The X-Type gripped the pavement as well as any Audi, treating the puddles of water as if they weren't even there.

Where the X-Type outshone the German product was in its suspension control. Two levels of suspension tuning are available, and even the standard settings are much more sports-oriented than other Jaguar sedans. Cornering is far flatter, and there's much less jiggling-about when flinging the X-Type into hairpins.

The optional Sport package adds 17-inch wheels, a dynamic stability control system and a slightly stiffer suspension that's been lowered about 10 mm. Buy it for the included stability system and the bigger wheels shod with lower-profile tires because the suspension tweaking doesn't make that much difference. The 225/45ZR17 Continentals on our test vehicles were especially impressive, providing limpet-like grip on the wet, slimy track.

Jaguar may have taken this German influence too far, however. The X-Type's cabin, like its Teutonic rivals, is spartan, in complete contrast to the traditional warmth of Jag interiors. Yes, there is wood and leather, but not as much as you'd expect from the company often described as making automotive accommodations as inviting as a hearth with a blazing fireplace.

The plain-Jane cabin represents a deliberate attempt, says Tivey, to meet the leader in this class, BMW's 3 Series, head-on. And indeed, the X-Type is luxurious in the same way a 3 Series or a Mercedes C320 is. There's lots of amenities arranged in a coolly efficient interior that reeks of purposefulness, but it lacks the coziness of other Jaguars. If the X-Type breaks with Jaguar tradition, it has nothing to do with its Ford lineage, but with an interior that isn't quite as inviting as, say, an XJ8 or even an S-Type.

It certainly isn't lacking anything, though. Bird's-eye maple is standard and the seats are clothed in Jaguar's traditional Connolly leather. Even the base 2.5 model's driver seat is power-adjustable. Of course, there's standard automatic climate control, one-touch open/close power windows, a 120-watt AM/FM/cassette audio system, remote keyless entry, adjustable front armrest, fold-down rear center armrest and puddle lights in the doors. The steering wheel houses controls for the cruise control as well as the audio system and optional telephone. It is worth noting that, as in other Jaguars, the CD player is optional. Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, dual-stage front airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags for the front and rear occupants.

There's a whole bunch of ways to dress up the X-Type, pushing the price well beyond its $29,950 starting sticker (the X-Type 3.0 starts at $35,950). Optional on either model is the $2,000 Sport package which, along with the stability control system, altered suspension settings and larger wheels and tires, substitutes dark wood veneer inside and adds a sport steering wheel with perforated leather trim and leather-trimmed sport seats. These last are particularly worthwhile, especially for trim 30-somethings as they are well bolstered and more comfortable than the stock items.

Creating a loaded X-Type means ordering the $2,500 Premium package, which adds a power moonroof, an eight-way power front passenger seat (standard on the 3.0), front seat power lumbar adjustments, an ultrasonic reverse park control system, integrated garage door opener, electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a trip computer with message center, a 70/30 split folding rear seat and pre-wiring for the dealer-installed voice-control module. A Weather package ($600 or $1,200, depending on other packages ordered) includes heated front seats, headlight washers and dynamic stability control.

Stand-alone options include xenon high-intensity gas-discharge (HID) headlights ($675), a navigation system ($2,200), a Jaguarnet integrated communications system ($1,500) and entertainment package that includes a six-disc CD changer, 10 speakers and a 180-watt Alpine audio system ($1,200).

Add it all up, and you've got a baby Jaguar that costs over $45,000, hardly economical but still the lowest-priced Jaguar available today. It's also in the same ballpark with loaded-up BMWs and Benzes, whose sales figures Jaguar so covets.

In the end, we don't think that the X-Type's price is all that crucial. Much more important to its success is whether the trendy, affluent buyers accept it as a Jaguar.

It certainly looks the part, what with those beautiful "cat's eyes" headlights and its great leaping feline hood ornament. Yes, it shares some parts with a Ford — a non-luxury model at that — and from certain angles (mainly from the side) you can see its pedestrian lineage.

But it'll corner with a BMW 330, accelerate like a Mercedes C320 and stick to a wet, slippery road like a quattro-equipped Audi. Sounds like a formula for success to us.

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