- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Stateside, Jaguar has fared particularly well under its two gentlemanly Mikes, both displaced Brits. (The automaker has also fared well since Ford bought the company).

Mike Dale retired more than a year ago to go play with his vintage warplanes. Mike O'Driscoll is in the chair to edit the next chapter of Jaguar's history in America. The outline for that chapter has Jaguar more than doubling its sales, to 200,000 vehicles worldwide by 2004 and shooting to the higher ranges of as many J.D. Powers lists as possible. Actually, for a marque that was traditionally loved for its styling yet disparaged for its failings Jaguar has already risen spectacularly in the customer satisfaction surveys.

Ford, as Mr. Dale gratefully acknowledged, saved Jaguar. New manufacturing processes and economies of size and sharing have aided that rescue. More important is what Ford has not done to Jaguar: it has not turned the agile animal into a pussycat or a minx or a Manx or a cougar. The company's cherished "Jaguar-ness" has survived. Indeed, the argument could be made that Jaguar's image has been enhanced.

Ford poised to become the No. 1 carmaker as GM struggles is particularly fond of saving costs by sharing components. Sometimes this technique approximates mere badge engineering. Mercury vehicles seem to wear a lot of Ford duds, the equivalent of lace or fur trimming. This sharing is not unlike a family passing around rain gear, or handing down clothing, but purists have been leery of the practice when it comes to Jaguar. ("Leery" is what purists do best.)

When the S-Type was planned to share a platform with the Lincoln LS, the buzz started that this was certain evidence of the end of Jaguar's uniqueness. Then the S-Type arrived and was quite well received and achieved its purpose: bringing many first-time Jaguar buyers onto the scene. The car's fine rounded mouth and headlights were visual throwbacks to the Jaguar sedans of the 1950s. Perhaps not quite so Jaguar was the rear view. And grumblings were heard about the interior lacking the high tone of the XJs. But then the S-Type lacked their high price as well.

With the S-Type, Jaguar began rounding out Jaguar offerings into a more complete "line" not just producing only high-end sedans and pricey sports cars. Everyone anticipated an entry-level luxury car: a "Baby Jag." That, the purists assured us, would be a clear erosion of Jaguar-ness.

Could one imagine a Jaguar remaining a Jaguar with a price tag at $29,950? And more to the point: this Jaguar was to be built on a platform that rode as a Ford Mondeo in Europe and the Contour SVT in the Americas. (That was one of my favorite Fords, so I was perhaps less alarmed than others.) Except and a big except the Mondeo and Contour were front-wheel-drive vehicles. I was as adamant as anyone that a real Jaguar simply could never be FWD. And I think Mr. Dale would rather total one of his beloved WWII fighter planes than see a front-driver Jaguar.

So, Ford gave the new Jaguar X-Type all-wheel drive. And the engineers even one-upped Audi and its fine Quattro AWD system by equipping the Jag with rear wheels that have a 60/40 bias. (A neutral 50-50 balance is not adequate when you are running out of road on a constant-radius icy curve; it's comforting to have the back end be in a position to do some extra pushing.)

A lot is riding on the X-Type in the Jaguar plans for growth, even survival. Mr. O'Driscoll has characterized the X-Type as critical to the company's future. "And there's no room to get it wrong."

Those of us who have driven the new "Baby Jag" know Jaguar has definitely not gotten it wrong. Forget you know the family; this new member a remarkable value on its own is every inch a Jaguar.

What else can we expect next from Jaguar? A hot "R" version of the X-Type is under way. Mr. O'Driscoll assures us there will never be a Jaguar sport utility vehicle. Land Rover, after all, is in the Ford family. But don't rule out a sport wagon or an "uncompromising" sports car. Now that's a Jaguar even the purists can anticipate with relish.


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