Friday, May 25, 2001

Jaguar’s objective for its new, small car was simple: it should be a driver’s car, a real Jag and not a souped-up Ford. Attractive for new, younger customers, who are practical and demanding. My first test drive in France had to prove that the X-Type is a real Jaguar.

It’s never an easy task to make a new, small car, designed for a new, larger group of customers than you have ever accommodated. But that’s exactly what Jaguar made its goal when developing the baby Jag.

The X-Type must double Jaguar’s production from 100,000 to 200,000 a year. The majority of X-Type buyers are expected to be new to the marque, younger people who previously may have regarded a Jaguar beyond reach or being unsuitable for their active lifestyles.

Or to put it differently: the X-Type is aimed at buyers of the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But those buyers really do not expect a souped-up front-wheel-drive Ford Mondeo/Contour, on which platform the X-Type has been developed and from which it uses 20 percent of components.

The first generation of the Mondeo was the European version of the Contour world car. The second-generation Mondeo, introduced in Europe in November, is totally new and has been very well received. It actually grabbed the title of Europe’s Auto 1 ahead of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The election was organized for the 10th time by the leading German car magazine AutoBild and its sister magazines in 12 European countries.

But there is no version of the new Mondeo for the North American market. So will the baby Jag be filling the gap? Pennywise it would make sense, as all Jaguars are built as world cars, with specifications that meet regulations of all export countries.

Reasons enough to distinguish the X-Type, that started its life with code name X400, from the Mondeo. As the smaller luxury segment is the fastest-growing in the premium market (it nearly doubled since 1995) Jaguar had to set high standards. No wonder the BMW 3-Series became the benchmark.

To meet performance Jaguar uses two V-6 engines, a 2.5-liter (194 horsepower and 244 foot-pounds of torque) and a 3-liter (231 horsepower, 284 foot-pounds) version. Both are derived from the powertrain in the S-Type Jaguar.

For sporty driving dynamics, Jaguar developed an all-wheel-drive system, Jaguar Traction-4, which is standard on all versions of the X-Type. On the road during my first drive with the X-Type in the neighborhood of Dijon, France, I was able to jump to my own conclusions.

To plunge into the matter: I was impressed. The use of 4WD might by unusual, but it is a clever move. The weight distribution is 60/40 front/rear, but the split of torque is divided 40/60, which Jaguar engineers say is the best balance for safety and rewarding driving capabilities. The car doesn’t lose traction, not even on the wet pavement on the winding roads in the hills of the Bourgogne area, where you hardly notice you are far and away over the legal speed limit.

The speed-sensitive steering is very responsive and provides good road feel. There is a basic suspension package, which is really doing what you might expect the X-Type to do: provide a good mix between comfort and good handling.

For a more sporty feel there is the Sports Package with fat Brembo brakes and 17-inch wheels. Although the base 2.5-liter engine is a very smooth performer, I would prefer the stiffer sports suspension.

Both engines will be available with either a Ford MTX75 five-speed manual transmission or a new five-speed automatic transmission, with normal and sport shifting modes. The less powerful 2.5-liter version is better off with the stick shift, whereas in the 3-liter I would prefer the electronically controlled automatic transmission, with its quiet shifting and only slightly slower sprint capabilities.

Acceleration from 0-60 mph of the 3-liter automatic vs. the manual is 7.1 to 6.6 seconds. The performance of the 2.5-liter V-6 is 8.5 and 7.9 seconds respectively. If we would not need pure power as many drivers in my home country of Holland don’t and if the price is important too, the 2.5-liter Sport would be my choice.

The interior of the test car is roomy and offers a pleasant mix of black and red leather, combined with gray-colored bird’s-eye maple. Seats in the sports version provide good side support. Of course, the X-Type is equipped with many comfort and safety features, such as front and side air bags, and head curtains for front and rear occupants.

Optional accessories such as a voice controlled navigation system/ climate control/audio, trip computer with message center and TV tuner (with navigation system) are available, as well as rain-sensing wipers, heated front windshield and heated front seats.

The base price of the X-Type is $29,950. The first cars will be in U.S. showrooms on July 30. The 2002 Jaguar X-Type’s base price range is $29,950 for the 2.5-liter to $39,950 for the 3-liter.

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