Friday, November 30, 2001

It just got easier to drive a new Jaguar.

New for 2002 is the Jaguar X-Type, a compact sedan whose starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $30,595.

That is nearly $14,000 less than the previously most affordable new Jag, the S-Type.

“The X-Type connects Jaguar with a different type of customer,” said Mike O’Driscoll, president of Jaguar Cars North America. “It challenges existing perceptions, broadening the appeal and accessibility of the marque.”

I should say so.

At this price, Jaguar suddenly has an offering for anyone shopping for an entry-level luxury sedan like a BMW 3-Series or a Lexus ES 300.

Don’t think of the X-Type as a stripped Jaguar. It was designed from the get-go as an entry Jaguar, so it combines a smaller size with impressive V-6 and standard leather seats, leather steering wheel, automatic climate control and bird’s-eye maple trim.

Yes, officials at Jaguar used the basic platform of the European Mondeo from parent company Ford Motor Co. in developing the X-Type. But there also were plenty of improvements and much tailoring done.

All X-Types are V-6-powered with engines based on the same 240-horsepower, AJ-V-6 found in the S-Type.

The base X-Type engine is a 2.5-liter V-6 capable of generating 194 horsepower, which compares with the 184 horses from the 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder in the BMW 325i sedan.

The test Jaguar had the uplevel, 231-horsepower, 3-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. This compares with 210 horses in the ES 300’s 3-liter, four-cam V-6 and the 225 horses from the BMW 330i’s 3-liter, inline six.

The X-Type’s power came on smoothly, eagerly, no matter if I was seeking to speed up in city traffic or wanting to pass on the highway.

Torque of 209 foot-pounds at 3,000 rpm was immediately palpable. The first time I stabbed the gas pedal, the car shot forward in a fluid movement, no dawdling.

The X-Type is the first Jaguar that comes with standard and permanent all-wheel drive. It uses a viscous center differential and is engineered with a rear-wheel-drive bias since 40 percent of the power goes to the front wheels and 60 percent is directed to the rear in normal driving.

When wheel slip is detected, however, the viscous coupling automatically transfers power to the wheels with better traction.

Jaguar officials said all-wheel drive resulted as engineers worked to transform the platform of the front-wheel-drive Mondeo into a car that felt and drove like a Jaguar. All other Jaguar models are rear-wheel drive.

Thanks to the all-wheel-drive feature, I never felt a single tug of torque steer in the X-Type. Torque steer occurs in some front-drive cars as strong power prompts the wheels to tug to one side or the other at acceleration, prompting a driver to hold tightly to the steering wheel.

The X-Type’s impressively rigid body was noticed, too. In slalom maneuvers, the test X-Type flowed smoothly around cones, back and forth.

Brakes with anti-lock mechanism and electronic brake distribution that evens out braking power, front and rear worked powerfully to help moderate the speed of this car.

Front suspension is independent MacPherson strut, while the back has an independent torsion control link design. They worked to cushion most road bumps, yet didn’t make riders feel as if they were merely floating along the road.

The X-Type’s power-assist rack-and-pinion steering responded quickly to driver inputs and provided good feedback from the road. Sometimes, I felt as if I could sense the tire tread’s contact on certain road surfaces through the grippy, 16-inch, V-rated tires.

Yet, there wasn’t any appreciable road noise, and the sleekly styled body with four round Jaguar headlights up front seemingly emanating from rippled hood sheet metal allowed air to flow smoothly past.

The X-Type is Jaguar’s smallest car, but don’t be fooled into thinking this compact sedan is overly small. It’s 7.9 inches longer than a BMW 3-Series sedan.

While legroom is less than you’d find in the S-Type, the X-Type’s rear-seat headroom of 37.5 inches is nearly an inch more than in the S-Type, and the X-Type’s 16-cubic-foot trunk is larger, too.

The dashboard shelf sits high with a distinctly Jaguar swath of shiny wood dressing up the area just below it. The wood also is on the shift lever knob of the automatic transmission.

Note that the X-Type offers a five-speed manual transmission, too. Its knob is covered in leather.

Instrument gauges are nicely clustered in the X-Type and visible through the top half of the steering wheel.

Note, though, that as in some other Jaguars, the speedometer has numbers only at 20-mph increments, and it sometimes can be difficult to glance down quickly and see if you’re traveling 40 or 45 mph, for example.

Standard headlights provide strong illumination without any distracting patterns, and that’s without paying for the optional xenon lights.

There is no accessory power after the ignition is turned off in the X-Type. The built-in cup holder in the center console doesn’t accommodate large cups very well.

Be warned that while the X-Type base price is attractive, it is easy to option up the car so its price tag reaches S-Type range. For example, the test car with uplevel engine, metallic paint, upgraded audio, weather and premium packages topped out at more than $42,000.

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