Car reviews - Jaguar - X-Type - 2.5 Sport sedan
Handsome looks, sure-footed handling, good refinement, generous boot space
Room for improvement
Lacklustre engine performance, lack of standard equipment, instrument reflections
28 Jan 2002
By TERRY MARTIN
THE reincarnation of Jaguar shows just how far purveyors of fine motorcars will stoop to improve their bottom line.
To the horror of the traditional constituents, certainties such as a palatial interior, rear-drive chassis and prodigious admission fee have disappeared and showrooms are no longer the exclusive domain of the elite.
Indeed, X marks the spot where even members of the petite bourgeoisie are being courted. Shopkeepers, clerks, all manner of people from the lower orders of the middle class are now invited to consider the latest offering from the blue-blooded British brand.
And before long, even the great unwashed will be allowed in for high tea when a front-drive example of this new small sedan is brought forward with a 2.0-litre engine and a starting price of around $50,000.
For now, though, the all-wheel drive X-Type 2.5 V6 Sport priced from a shade over $68,000 is the lowest point Jaguar has reached.
It looks like a member of the club, with its "XJ" grille and cat-claw bonnet sculpting reminiscent of that other volume-seeking sedan in the range, the S-Type.
But whether the X-branded car does in fact live up to expectations as a true Jag is a question worth exploring. It is the first Jaguar car not to be rear-wheel drive, it's based on a Ford (Mondeo) platform and it skimps on standard equipment.
Yet it is handsome and distinctive to view, elegant and comfortable within and entertaining to drive.
As a Sport, this one differentiates itself from the plusher SE grade with its use of 7.0 x 17-inch wheels (as opposed to 6.5 x 16s), a subtle rear spoiler, sports bucket seats (albeit with a rich dose of cloth trim), handling-biased suspension tuning and a grey stain of bird's eye maple for the metre or so of bark across the dash.
Electric conveniences extend to the front seats, the entertainment unit has room for a single CD, an alarm is fitted standard and a strong showing on the safety front is made with the inclusion of anti-lock brakes, adaptive dual front airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags which extend along the front and rear windows.
We are astonished, however, that items such as cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a trip computer, ski-port and split-fold rear seat are relegated to the options basket.
There is no footrest for the driver. No front cupholders. Just the one zone is provided with the climate control system. Our test car had a temporary spare tyre. And despite all the fuss made over storage facilities, there is nowhere convenient on the centre console to store a mobile phone or a pen. (An integrated phone can be obtained for around $2000, just so long as Sir or Madam purchases a centre armrest as well!)
Further handicaps for the driver present themselves via terrible reflections on both the instrument panel and the thin green strip provided for temperature and clock readings.
For the additional dosh, the 2.5 SE gets the cruise, tiller controls, trip computer and that centre armrest, plus full leather trim, more chrome details inside and out and an equally lengthy options list. Furthermore, electric pew adjustment is downgraded at this $70,000-plus level to include just height rise and fall - and then only for the driver.
In essence, the interior feels solid, tight, refined and rather sentimental with the wood veneer, trip information in miles (if desired) and gauges backed in British racing green. The "galloping" indicators seem oddly appropriate in this context, too.
Good comfort and support from the Sport seats is evident, as is a beneficial driving position - aided with steering wheel height and reach adjustment - for average-sized adults. Long-legged individuals could do with more seat travel.
The (optional) touch-screen panel on our test car controlling aspects of the audio, climate and sat-navigation is easy enough to use after a breaking-in period, though it is mounted too low for ideal operation and pushes significant switches such as radio on/off and fan speed off to the far left-hand side.
Sound from the stereo is also no better than average, a description which equally applies to the amount of rear seat room in all directions.
Packaging priorities seem to have headed south into the boot - the biggest of its kind in Jaguar history we are told, which says more about the insufficient space in the S-Type than the roominess of this little kitten. As it stands, the X boot size is on a par with the excellent A4, it is fully lined, has a wide aperture, non-obtrusive boot-lid struts and useful luggage tie-down hooks.
Of the two Ford Duratec engines available, the smaller bore 2.5-litre version goes to work at this level. A 24-valve, quad cam V6 with variable valve timing, the engine produces 145kW at 6800rpm and 244Nm at 3000rpm - figures that do not augur well when a 1595kg kerb weight (in auto form as tested here) is factored in.
Though it is a smooth operator, the engine lacks pulling power from the mid-range down into the bottom end and as a result makes the task of shifting car and occupants more difficult than need be.
The optional five-speed automatic transmission does not cope with the weight at all that well, either, swapping ratios far too often whenever the terrain throws up a hill or two and often diving down two gears at a time to go in search of more torque. On other occasions, it is reluctant to drop a cog.
Some of these problems can be overcome with manual gear selection, however the Jaguar J-gate is not an appealing instrument to use and finding third gear requires a deft touch - or, so it seems at times, a degree of luck. The gate was also reluctant on our test car to slot neatly into park, often preventing key extraction from the ignition.
We were also not surprised to find that fuel consumption was on the high side, remaining above 13L/100km in urban driving and averaging 13.6L/100km across our wider-ranging test loop.
Where this particular car impresses most is in its sure-footed handling. In particular, the Traction-4 permanent four-wheel drive system - that beast which accounts for a full 80kg - delivers a superb amount of grip without impeding the overall driving experience.
With the torque split 40/60 per cent front to rear and weight distribution the reverse at 60/40, the chassis feels nicely balanced and the handling characteristics close to neutral. Some understeer can be found if one goes searching for it, however the high levels of adhesion keep the front end in check. If anything, the X-Type feels like a rear-driver - which is just what the chassis engineers would have been instructed to ensure.
Also impressive is the supple ride, delivered despite the stiffer suspension set-up of the Sport and excellent degree of refinement across the board. Coarse-chip bluestone was the one bugbear for the Continentals on our test car. The brakes also showed some signs of fatigue after a vigorous workout.
For its part, the quicker-ratio Sport steering is accurate and extremely well weighted, though it is afflicted with vibration and kickback during chopped-up corners.
For all the entertainment offered when a winding bit of road presents itself, a competent chassis, snug cockpit and elegant exterior just are not enough to endear us to this bottom-rung Cat.
Those with a greater need for performance and equipment will join us at the 3.0-litre SE level, where our expectations of wholeness and grandeur were closer to being met.
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