Future Models - Jaguar

Jaguar  sedanConquest: 400 X-Types are expected to be sold in Australia this year.

Conquest: 400 X-Types are expected to be sold in Australia this year.

The X-Type is pitted squarely against its rivals from BMW. BRUCE NEWTON put the car through its paces during a test drive in France

JAGUAR will present a challenge to BMW when it launches the eagerly awaited X-Type compact saloon in Australia in mid-October, pricing its four-car range directly against its Bavarian rival.

The most important and most affordable Jaguar ever will come in a two-model, two-engine range with pricing starting at about $70,000 and topping out just under $90,000 - exchange rate fluctuations permitting.

The price settings are being established using the iconic BMW 325i and 330i sedans as a guide, while X-Type will undercut the premium priced Mercedes-Benz C-class.

It is a policy that will be reflected in many other markets. Australia is simply a microcsom of a battle that will be fought out world-wide as Ford-owned Jaguar attempts to double its sales from 100,000 to 200,000 over the next three years, courtesy of its fourth and cheapest car line.

It says 80 per cent of the sales will be conquests, many of them from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

In Australia, 400 X-Types are expected to be sold this year with another 1000 sales forecast in 2002. That would account for 50 per cent of local sales next year, understandable considering that previously the cheapest Jaguar was the V6 S-Type priced at $88,000.

And that's the essence of the X-Type. While the likes of Audi, Lexus, Alfa Romeo and Peugeot struggle to attain prestige, Jaguar has it in spades.

It is literally descending on the compact luxury sector trying to present the company's combination of luxury and performance in an affordable package to a new and younger audience.

Kicking the range off will be the 2.5-litre V6 Sport at about $70,000, while the 2.5 SE will be priced around $2000 more. The 3.0-litre Sport should be set about midway between them and the close to $90,000 3.0 SE, which is the best equipped of the four cars.

Standard across the range, in a first for Jaguar, is all-wheel drive. Dubbed "Traction-4", it has a 40/60 front rear torque split, although a viscous coupling allows torque distribution to be redistributed if it senses tyre slippage.

The 4WD platform is suspended by MacPherson strut suspension up-front and a multi-link torsion control link system at the rear. The origins of the systems are from the Ford Mondeo medium car, along with some other componentry invisible to the driver.

The 2.5-litre AJV6 engine produces 145kW at 6800rpm and 244Nm at 3000rpm. Its big brother, already seen in the S-Type, produces 172kW at 6800rpm and 284Nm at 3000rpm. Both engines have double overhead camshafts, 24 valves and variable cam timing and inlet manifold length.

In another Jaguar first, these engines are mounted transversely across the engine bay.

Standard equipment on the Sport models is a five-speed manual transmission, sports suspension, leather and cloth sports seats, colour keyed exterior features, grey stained bird's eye maple interior, in-dash single CD player, 17-inch alloy wheels and a rear lip spoiler.

Cruise control and trip computer are unique to the SE, which also includes chrome-finished exterior features, 16-inch wheels and a full leather and wood interior. Exclusive to the 3.0-litre SE is an electro-chromatic rear view mirror, CD autochanger with six-disc capacity and power front seats.

The five-speed automatic transmission with J-gate shifter is standard on SE and optional on the Sport. It is expected to be specified in 95 per cent of Australian X-Type sales. Jaguar also forecasts 75 per cent of buyers will plump for the 2.5 V6 and 80 per cent for the SE.

The safety package is claimed to be the best offered by Jaguar and includes occupancy sensing front, side and curtain airbags and pretensioning front seatbelts. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution are standard and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is optional.

And DSC is one of a number of meaty and no doubt costly add-ons for this car. DVD-based satellite navigation, a touch-screen display system, TV, GSM phone and voice activation for audio, phone and climate control are all extra.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AS with any Jaguar, the first X-Type debate is going to be about styling. The X-Type is a conservative yet harmonious design that will engender little if any of the polarisation prompted by the S-Type.

There are more than a few hints of the classic XJ large car in the four-headlight front-end and touches of S-Type around the roofline and boot profile.

But there are also some indicators to the future, like the rising wedge line that places the boot high above the bonnet.

At 452 litres this is the largest boot ever attached to the rear of a Jaguar. But the passenger compartment remains as intimate - or cramped if you want to be critical - as ever. A big problem in the cars we sampled was the optional sunrooof, which restricted headroom significantly. Do without it if you can.

The interior presentation is clean and functional without being ostentatious, clearly something that is not cost-effective in a car of this category. Perhaps that is why there is so much dark vinyl/plastic.

But the sweep of wood is retained across the console, the front seats are like armchairs and the "plik-plok" sound and feel of the stalks is as good as ever.

The drive experience is similarly divisive. In Sport trim, where the steering rack ratio has been quickened off-centre and the dampers and springs firmed 10 per cent, this is an entertaining drive.

But the clean-revving 2.5-litre version struggles against the 1555kg kerb weight, even when mated to the firm, two-stage but clean-shifting manual gearbox.

But the 3.0-litre has the pulling power to excite and deliver real punch. The neat thing about the Sport is that the ride/handling balance is nicely compromised, body roll is kept to a minimum, the damping quells all but the harshest bumps, speed-sensitive power steering improves in bite as speeds rise and the AWD system is well sorted to provide near neutral handling characteristics.

The SE is less convincing. The softer suspension means more roll and fidgeting from the body and the automatic gearbox seems fussy when throttle positioning varies quickly.

Our 3.0 SE was also bedevilled by driveline shunt when powering on in low-rev situations - a disappointment that could be attributed to the test car being a pre-production model.

Our recommendation then? Go for the 3.0 Sport. It's the best X-Type, indeed the best of a promising first effort that, thanks to its competency and Jaguar's huge heritage, should be a success.






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