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A Jaguar Worthy of Aspiration

The 2002 Jaguar X-Type

by Denise McCluggage

They are called “aspirers” in the industry and when it comes to Jaguar, women make up a large number of them. In daily language that means women have this “thing” for Jags.

And now with the advent of the 2002 Jaguar X-Type (the so-called “Baby Jag”) more aspirers than ever will be able to scratch where it itches. The entry X-type is tagged at $29,950.

That’s an every-inch-a-Jaguar for under $30,000.

The base price buys the 2.5 liter 194 horsepower V6. Truly serious aspirers can choose the X-Type with the 3-liter V6 (231 HP). Add the Sport and the Premium Package and a navigation system and you can easily add $10,000 to $12,000 to the bottom line.

But cost is not the story, value is, and the X-Type at every level delivers value. Hold out your fingers and count the ways: standard all-wheel-drive (!); wood and leather interior as only Jaguar does it; five-speed manual (after a long absence) or five-speed electronically controlled automatic (with the quirky J-gate); excellent brakes and probably the largest trunk in Jaguar history.

The X-Type also must have the largest exterior mirrors of any sedan on the road, which no one seems to mention but everyone appreciates. The reason usually given for women taking to SUVs is the high, over-traffic view the style offers but I think that the oversize rear-view mirrors in SUVs play a part in that affection as well.

The X-Type comes into the Jaguar family with a burden of expectations. It is meant to help increase Jaguar sales worldwide to 200,000 by 2004. That’s more than double the 2000 figures. This is Jaguar’s first toe in the crowded waters of the entry-luxury market and brings direct confrontation with some fine mounts: the BMW 3-series, the Audi A4, the Mercedes-Benz C-class, the Lexus IS 300.

Ford has owned Jaguar for the past decade and its introduction of modern manufacturing techniques and the advantages of scale saved the British company’s life. Yet people keep looking for indications that Ford is “ruining” the British marque and eviscerating it of its very “Jaguarness” with platform sharing and the like.

Fear not. Ford has demonstrated a particularly deft hand at resuscitation without corrupting the essence that explains Jaguar’s allure. The X-Type handles remarkably well, stops with assurance (particularly with the sport package) and simply begs to be taken for sprightly drives.

Anyone can see Jaguarness in the X-Type from every angle whether it is approaching in the rear-view mirror or sitting one car over at a stoplight. The idea was to make the car appear as long and low as possible while the facts kept it more than seven inches shorter than an S-Type.

This effort at illusion has been successful with round lights side by side in the front broadening the brow and the strong horizontal lines on the sides stretching that view. All this, and the preponderance of Jaguar family cues, made the body seem a bit too fussy to me when it was unveiled at the New York Auto Show, but that impression largely faded when the X-Type was seen outdoors on the road.

No, head-on the X-Type is not as smoothly elegant as the S-Type which harks back to the Jaguar sedans of the 50s for its “Jaguarness.” The X-Type favors the current XJ line. But in either case the signature “leaper,” that agile replica of the namesake feline, springs from the hood.

Grasp the steering wheel of the X-type (and grin back at the “growler,” the full face snarling view of a Jaguar, in its center.) Look through the panoramic opening to the handsome instruments - large, round of face and outlined with just the right assertiveness of chrome. The instruments’ design was influenced - we are told - by the Spitfire, the aerial star of the Battle of Britain. (Could these two British constructs have a similar purpose - to shoot down the Germans?)

The wood in a Jaguar is real and not a superficial afterthought. It is a deeply grayed bird’s-eye maple with the Sport Package, a dark brown in the other. I am tiring of wood in cars, but in a Jaguar it still seems right. The seats are supportive and comfortable (those with the Sport Package have more side bolstering, greatly welcome with more vigorous motoring.) The front cabin feels roomy though knee-room in the rear is scant if those riding in front are not cooperative about seat adjustments.

But perhaps the true pleasure in the X-Type is its surefootedness on any road in any weather. And it seems to belie the need to choose between a tight suspension for secure cornering and a comfortable ride over tar joints and rough pavement. The Jag’s ride is one of ease but the car’s sense of connectivity to the road is never adversely affected. The suspension tuners got it right. The X-Type is a natural athlete and is up to spirited runs over swooping roads. And it has the brakes to deal with surprises. How fun that is.

And then again there’s that cavernous trunk, suggesting some serious mall crawls with lunch at a place where you can admire the leaper from a corner table. This is a Jaguar still worthy of aspiration that can actually become a part of, and enhance, the real world of many more than ever before. If Ford made that possible, then smile a thank you to Dearborn.
[Details on the X-Type]