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Car reviews - Jaguar - X-Type - 2.1 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, solidity, value, equipment, styling
Room for improvement
Engine performance, lack of a driver's footrest

30 Aug 2002

THE first front-wheel drive Jaguar is a reality, whether British traditionalists like it or not.

A front-drive X-Type - the car that flings Jaguar into the fast-growing compact prestige sedan arena for the first time - is a less expensive X-Type, thanks to the removal of the heavy and expensive drive to the rear wheels.

And a cheaper X-Type is precisely what the big cat brand needs if it is to attract a new group of younger buyers in big numbers, thereby ensuring ongoing profitability and the brand's very survival.

Besides, X-Type's basic all-wheel drive chassis is so good that we doubt potential 2.1 buyers will notice much difference. In everyday driving, we didn't.

But that's not to say we don't have reservations about the X-Type 2.1, a car that could have been even less expensive if not for the need to protect sales of larger capacity X-Types by spending money to develop a near-2.0-litre V6.

Call it a triumph of 21st century corporate survival strategy over automotive tradition, but the fact is this is probably the smallest displacement Jaguar ever built and, while X-Type flies the Jaguar flag proudly in other areas, it does nothing to perpetuate Jaguar's tradition of performance.

Put in context, however, at $53,950 (add $2600 for the five-speed auto) the X-Type 2.1 V6 is right on the money with its entry level four-cylinder prestige sedan rivals. Its 2.099-litre V6, among the smallest on the market, produces just 117kW at a revvy 6800rpm and there's a paltry 200Nm of torque available at 4100rpm.

That's 12kW more than BMW's highly popular 318i Executive, which happens to be the same price. Despite the 100cc capacity disadvantage, however, the four-cylinder BMW manages to extract the same peak torque figure, while X-Type 2.1 falls between Audi's four-cylinder A4 2.0 and 1.8T for price but is more powerful than both.

It is more powerful than Mercedes-Benz's entry level four-cylinder C180 Classic too, but line-ball for torque and about $2000 more expensive. In fact, the base X-Type was among the most powerful in its class, until Alfa Romeo's slightly cheaper, facelifted 156 JTS sedan arrived in August, 2002, with 121kW of peak power on tap from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

Of course, apart from the A4 and 156, the base X-Type will battle other front-drivers in the marketplace, such as Volvo's less expensive and more powerful S60 2.4 Volkswagen's larger, less expensive but less powerful Passat 1.8T the similarly priced, more powerful V6 Rover 75 Club Renault's much more powerful and cheaper 3.0-litre V6 Laguna Privilege Peugeot's similarly priced, more powerful 3.0-litre V6 406 SV and Citroen's well priced C5 sedan.

Then there's Saab's forthcoming 9-3 sedan and the slightly cheaper, slightly less powerful (rear-drive) Lexus IS200, just to name a few.

Like most entry level offerings in this crowded category, the X-Type 2.1 is far from a rocket ship.

Its V6 may stack up favourably against its four-cylinder rivals, with a healthy level of top-end power available at a lofty 6800rpm, but the 2.1-litre engine is not exactly a stump-puller and offers only a class-average 200Nm.

Weighing 1450kg in manual form, the 2.1 is 70kg lighter than the equivalent (all-wheel drive) 2.5 X-Type, and a massive 110kg lighter than the X-Type 3.0 Sport/SE. But it still gives away valuable kilos to the rear-drive prestige sedan leaders, negating any peak power advantage it had.

So the 2.1 still feels a heavy car to drive - certainly a lot of mass to be propelled by just a couple of litres.

It is no more unwieldy than either 3 Series or C-class, but combined with an engine that does not reward the use of revs like a BMW does, the 2.1 does have a leisurely, breathless feel to it.

Indeed, while the neat shifting five-speed Getrag manual is the cheaper option, the somewhat lazy five-speed Jatco auto - by far the most popular choice among potential customers - seems to work better with the somewhat flat torque curve.

Either way, there is little to be gained by using all of the 7000rpm available - the 2.1 rewards a more relaxed approach and riding the reasonable wave of torque available between 2000 and 3000rpm produces far more satisfying results.

If you change your mindset and use only the bottom half of the 2.1's rev range, it becomes an enjoyable - perhaps even rewarding - car to drive.

But the 2.1 X-Type needs to be more than just rewarding to gain the 3 Series and C-class conquest sales expected of it. And first impressions once inside the well-appointed cabin are that it suffers little obvious effects from its considerable price reduction.

In true Jaguar style, there's a full leather and woodgrain interior, with standard electric driver's seat height adjustment. Some hard plastics are used on the dashboard but otherwise there's little to detract from the high quality, oh-so-Jaguar interior ambience. That said, while the X-Type interior is more roomy and ergonomic than the larger S-Type (which even has a smaller boot!), it is still not as spacious or well thought out as its German counterparts.

The 2.1 does not skimp in the important area of safety with traction control, ABS with EBD, twin adaptive front airbags, twin front and side airbags and full-length side curtain bags all included as standard.

On the standard equipment front, the base X-Type offers a 120-watt Alpine sound system, air-conditioning, power windows and (heated) wing mirrors, multi-function leather steering wheel and front centre armrest with storage - something not all prestige vehicles offer at this price.

The X-Type 2.1 is also available in SE specification, at pricing closer to that of the six-cylinder BMW 320i. On top of the standard 2.1 equipment, SE customers get cruise control, automatic climate control, trip computer and extra wood and chrome touches.

Both models offer an array of optional extras, such as the highly intuitive touch-screen multimedia system, JaguarVoice voice activation system, DVD-based satellite navigation, 180-watt Premium audio, six-disc CD stacker, mini-disc player, Xenon headlights with washers, stability control, reverse parking sensors and sunroof.

Surprisingly, metallic paint, split-folding rear seats and floor mats remain optional on all 2.1 X-Types. We also found no sign of any cupholders and the absence of a driver's footrest is inexcusable and makes exuberant cornering and long hauls uncomfortable.

So, for the money, the entry 2.1 delivers a pretty reasonable level of standard specification, a well presented cabin and first-class noise suppression.

Apart from the odd suspension crash, engine noise intrusion at high revs and some tyre roar on coarse-chip back-roads, the X-Type's cabin is impressively quiet and serves to deliver an overall feeling of refinement and high quality.

The ride, too, is well sorted. There's a degree of bodyroll upon turn-in and large potholes will upset the X-Type applecart, but the chassis remains tight and composed at all times and is very un-British in its execution and body control.

Indeed, structural integrity feels every bit as accomplished as the Germans can offer.

Combined with slightly over-assisted variable-ratio ZF power steering that reveals not the slightest hint of torque steer - making it difficult to pick it is a front-driver in normal conditions - the 2.1 driving experience is on the whole a satisfying one. But while the cheapest X-Type is an above-average front-driver, it's grin factor is not in the same league as 3 Series.

Of course, there's that highly distinctive X-Type styling to go with it, but is all this enough to lure sales from the established market leaders? Perhaps not in big numbers, but the cheapest X-Type deserves to attract a solid band of customers willing to pay the right money for a stylish, refined and well appointed offering from Britain with better than average front-drive dynamics.

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