Pros: Performs well
Cons: Styling, some interior materials, tall dash, cramped rear seat, price
A decade ago Ford spent $2.5 billion to buy Jaguar. At the time, Jaguar was in awful shape. Although its cars continued to be desired for their sensuous styling, clubby interiors, and excellent ride comfort, a widespread reputation for poor quality led to declining sales. On top of this, Jaguars plant was outdated and extremely inefficient. If the company was ever to be viable again, billions more would have to be spent. Why was Ford willing to spend so much money on a company in such bad shape? The short answer is the name. Even though people stayed away because of numerous horror stories concerning cars that spent months at the dealer, they continued to perceive Jaguar as a prestigious brand. Unlike, say, Lincoln. The long answer is that this prestige was based on Jaguars storied past of racing wins and cars that continually embodied a distinct British upper-crust character that could otherwise only be found in far more expensive cars. Ford hoped that by investing in Jaguar it could combine the continuing power of this brand with lower manufacturing costs and higher quality.
The first parts of this plan have been successful. The additional billions were spent. Manufacturing costs were drastically reduced, while quality steadily improved, such that it now approximates that of other European brands. Sales improved, but the traditional, expensive Jaguars with their high prices could never sell in sufficient volume to pay off Fords huge investment. For this investment to pay off, Ford implemented the second stage of its plan: additional models that could be sold at lower prices because they were based on other Ford products.
This, of course, is a risky strategy. If people saw the new cars as Fords, they might not only refuse to buy them but the Jaguar brand itself could be tarnished, eliminating any chance the investment would ever be recouped. Despite shared underpinnings, the new cars would have to possess the character of authentic Jaguars.
The first car that followed from this strategy, the S-Type, seemed to have accomplished this objective. Though sharing a basic structure with the Lincoln LS, it was generally perceived as a real Jaguar. Aided by styling that strongly references classic Jaguar sedans, it has sold well against competition that includes the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class..
For 2002 Ford attempts an even more difficult maneuver. It has developed a compact Jaguar off the platform of the Ford Mondeo, which was unsuccessfully sold as the Contour in the U.S. How could a successful Jaguar be based on an unsuccessful Ford? How could it hope to compete with the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class? Many in the automotive press were quite skeptical.
I myself advised that this feat might be possible, and at any rate judgments should await the car itself. I was not so skeptical because I own and greatly enjoy driving a Ford Contour with the six cylinder engine upon which the X-Types two sixes would be based. The Contour performs quite well, with an energetic engine and sharp handling. Downsides, however, include a somewhat cramped rear seat, unluxurious ride quality and noise levels, and unpleasant torque steer. Torque steer, where the wheel pulls to one side during hard acceleration, is not uncommon among front-wheel-drive cars. But it also is not good. This is one reason why BMW and Mercedes have stuck with rear-wheel-drive. Unless these problems could be fixed, the X-Type wouldnt stand a chance.
Well, the car is here now. Does it somehow confound the skeptics and succeed?
Note: This review covers the 3.0 with manual. A more recent review covers the (2003 model year) 2.5 with both manual and automatic. That review can be found here.
Jaguar X-Type Reliability
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On the Road
Usually I discuss styling and accommodations first. This time Ill start with the driving experience. The driving experience is quite good. The X-Type builds on the Contours strengths and largely eliminates its weaknesses. To begin with, all-wheel-drive is standard, clearly in a successful move to eliminate torque steer. Still, all-wheel-drive is not without its downsides. It can make a chassis so balanced that it feels dead. This is not the case here. Jaguar has included a rear-wheel bias in its all-wheel-drive system. This gives it much of the feel of a rear-wheel-drive car, but with the ultimate chassis stability of an all-wheel-drive car. The X-Type has the initial feel of, say, a BMW, but floor it in a turn and oversteer remains present but minimal. The tail end does not step out. Instead, all four wheels work to solidly put power down.
And there is enough power. The six in my Contour, with 170 HP, is just enough to move its 3,000 or so pounds with some alacrity with a manual shift. With an automatic, the Contour feels a bit sluggish, even with the six. With standard all-wheel-drive, a stiffer structure, and various other changes to add a luxurious feel, the X-Type weighs in at a much heavier 3,600 lbs. Consequently, I feared it would feel a bit dead on its feet, not only with the standard 194 horsepower 2.5 liter but even with the 231 horsepower 3.0 liter. Yes, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I drove the X-Type with the 3.0 and five-speed manual, the quickest combination. But it was so energetic, just a bit less exuberant than a BMW 330, that I suspect the other powertrains will also be sufficient for most people interested in such a car. Not only is the power sufficient, but the engine feels and sounds good when being exercised. Like in the Contour, it continues to make its presence known, but the sounds are considerably more refined.
The shifter and clutch were good enough to largely escape my notice. The throws were neither delightfully short nor unbearably long. Feel was decent. I never missed a shift, even when rushing quite a number of them. The major change I would like to see here is another gear. My five-speed Contour turns a few more RPM on the highway than I would like, harming fuel economy and adding engine noise, and the X-Type similarly suffers (though no more than the 3-Series).
Returning to the handling, it fell between the Mercedes and the BMW in precision and general athleticism. The steering feel is light and quick yet precise. A bit more feel would be nice, but the all-wheel-drive likely has something to do with this. Although I drove an X-Type without the sport package, which includes a stiffer suspension and wider, lower profile tires, I felt grip was sufficient for nearly all potential buyers. The larger wheels look nicer, but I am wary of their effect on the ride. Be sure to test drive both.
The ride was much better than my Contours. Even the base touring tires thumped across road imperfections in a German fashion, but the structure is so stiff (notably stiffer than that in my Contour) and the suspension tuned so well that these thumps are heard more than felt. To the extent they are felt they lend a sense of connection to the road. Although I covered so fairly well pocked roads, the ride remained comfortable.
Still, I wonder if something has been lost here. This ride quality, even more than in the S-Type, seems more German than Jag. Though composed, it does not feel luxurious in the British way. The chassis is too taut for this. Perhaps Ford focused a bit much on the German competition? Perhaps this is what customers want? I guess well see.
Noise levels, especially wind noise levels, are far below those in my Contour. They are appropriate for this class of car. Clearly this is where a few hundred of those extra pounds went.
So the X-Type performs competitively, if not quite like a traditional Jaguar. What about the styling and accommodations?
Accommodations and Styling
Again, Im going in reverse order. The interior looks very much like that of a Jaguar, with much wood and leather. It even feels pretty much like a Jaguar, with materials just a notch below those of the S-Type in quality, which were themselves a notch below those in traditional Jags. Since this is a less expensive car, I guess this is to be expected.
The front seats are quite comfortable and supportive. In the British way, they are a bit softer than the seats in the Germans, yet even without the sport package are bolstered well enough to hold you firmly in place during aggressive maneuvers.
Beyond the front seats and general ambiance I was less happy with the interior.
I have always liked the low dash in my Contour. In the X-Type the seats are a bit lower and the dash is substantially higher, resulting in reduced forward visibility (though still nearly as much as in the German competition). The dash is positioned higher than the beltline and cowl (base of the windows and windshield, respectively), so this was clearly deliberate. I guess they felt this lent the car more of a luxury feel, and that a Jag is not a Jag without a cozy, somewhat closed-in interior? Probably. Still, though this might make the X-Type more of a Jag, I dont care for it. Also, the higher position of the dash means that it does not flow smoothly into the doors, but stands distinctly apart from them. Aside from looking less refined, this makes the interior feel even narrower than it is. Again, probably intentional, but not to my liking.
The lower position of the front seats compared to the Contour means they must be positioned further back to provide the same amount of legroom. Obviously this hurts rear seat room. The larger S-Types rear seat is already cramped. In the X-Type, the rear seat is marginal. At 5ֽ, my knees brush the front seatback (even when it is adjusted for a 5ֽ driver) and my head brushes the headliner. Anyone taller than me will have to scrunch a bit (or a lot) back there. Especially if the driver is also taller. The seat cushion is also lower than I would like. It provides little thigh support. The 3-Series is better here.
All-wheel-drive takes away from trunk room. My Contour has a large trunk for a compact car. The X-Types trunk is merely average. On the plus side, the rear seats do fold down, though the pass-through is a bit small.
We now come to my largest problem with the car: the exterior styling. The X-Type basically takes the styling of the traditional large XJ sedan and fits it over the package of the Contour, a car much shorter in length and considerably taller in height. Unlike with the S-Type, there is nothing original or potentially shocking here. In photos I felt the car looked OK if not stellar. In person it just does not look right, at least not to my eye. The proportions are off, making the car appear chunky and even a bit cartoonish. It simply looks forced, perhaps because it was. The considerable front overhang and the amount of metal over the wheel wells hurt, though the 17 wheels of the sport package help the latter a bit. The rear-wheel-drive configurations of the BMW and Mercedes, not to mention their non-shared architectures, permit better proportions. Admittedly, I have a sharp eye for proportions. The typical customer may see the traditional Jaguar style in a tidier package and be perfectly happy with it.
A second concern with the styling is very personal. I want a sports sedan, and though the X-Type looks like one the styling screams feminine luxury. Even in sport package guise with the low profile tires and body color grille the styling says luxury, not sport. Im hardly a manly man, but somehow I cannot see myself in a car that looks like this. Its partly the curves, and partly the forcibly shrunken XJ styling again, but this cars looks say it is for those who want a big Jag, but cannot afford it, not someone who wants an authentic, BMW-killing, drivers car. In short, the chassis and the styling are not in agreement on what type of car this small Jag is trying to be.
About that affordability: though the X-Type starts just below 30 grand, it quickly exceeds that number with options, and jumps higher still with the larger engine. The car I drove with a moderate level of options stickered for $42,000. Yes, a 330ix will cost about the same, but thats a nice chunk of change. As with the S-Type, people who buy this car will do so because they desire a Jag, not because of the price.
The above paragraph was written years ago. For quick, up-to-date new car pricing, and especially user-specified price comparisons, check out the website I created: www.truedelta.com. Why yet another vehicle pricing website? Well, I personally lacked the patience to keep using the others. They were too slow and required too much effort, especially when trying to compare prices. So I taught myself some programming and created a site where there is no need to dig through option packages, prerequisites, and the like one by one -- the TrueDelta algorithm figures these out for you in one swift pass.
Strangely, the X-Type falls down more in style more than substance, when everyone likely suspected the opposite would be the case. Despite its Contour origins, the X-Type's performance is competitive. Its style and ambiance are clearly Jaguar. If you like the looks and have the money, its a good car. On the other hand, if you havent cared for Jags in the past, this one will not win you over.
To learn more about my reliability research and sign up to participate in it, or to perform thorough, up-to-date new car price comparisons, visit www.truedelta.com. A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.