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First Oz drive: Jag's Gen-Xer

Little car, big job: smallest Jag will be biggest seller

Jaguar's new X-Type is an accomplished British compact prestige sedan alternative

19 Sep 2001

THE smallest Jaguar ever built will go on sale Down Under from October 1, representing a stylish, well packaged and accomplished British alternative in the already crowded compact prestige segment.

Indeed, after driving X-type on home turf for the first time at its Australian launch, it seems Jaguar's first small sedan may even have the performance and handling credentials to cause concern for the established German market leaders.

X-Type represents a number of significant advances for the rejuvenated British marque. As the least expensive Jaguar ever, it's also the first to employ all-wheel drive, as well as the first to use a transversely mounted engine.

As such, the packaging benefits are enormous. From the driver's seat X-Type remains cosy and intimate in typical Jaguar style, but truth is the smallest cat offers enough interior space to rival that of the Mercedes-Benz C-class.

X-Type's wheelbase is shorter than that of both the C-class and BMW's market leading 3 Series - as well as a big 44mm shorter than the front-drive CD132 Mondeo with which it shares the same basic platform and 20 per cent of its under-body componentry.

Yet it still offers the biggest Jaguar boot ever at 452 litres (bigger than the S-Type's) and is easily the longest car in its class thanks to luxuriously long overhangs at both ends. Word is the X-Type cabin would have been even more spacious if not for fears of making its larger siblings look silly.

And if X-Type feels big on the inside - almost as big as the S-Type - it looks big enough to dwarf even the 3 Series on the road. It's as big as it is distinctive in the metal too: the XJ sedan-based quad-light front-end is easily recognisable in rear-view mirrors as a Jaguar, while its profile clearly echoes that of the S-Type and its rear-end follows the XK coupe themes.

Engine performance is spirited in 3.0-litre V6 form, and though power and torque are both down from the similar Cleveland-built AJ-V6 powerplant used by entry-level S-Types, Jaguar modifications still give 3.0-litre X-Types a class leading 172kW. A correspondingly strong 284Nm of torque is available at a relatively low 3000rpm, and there's a raucous exhaust burble all the way to 6800rpm.

X-Type has a substantial kerb weight of 1555kg to haul in manual V6 guise - some 70-100kg more than the equivalent C-class and 3 Series, and just 75kg lighter than the S-Type. Nevertheless, Jaguar claims a class-competitive 0-100km/h acceleration figure of just seven seconds, or 7.5 seconds with the 40kg-heavier, Jatco-sourced JF506E five-speed auto with J-gate (there is no sequential manual shift function).

Acceleration is appreciably more sedate in 2.5-litre X-Types, which weigh the same as their more powerful counterparts but employ a small-bore version of the same Ford Duratec alloy V6, also with continuously variable intake valve timing. The result is 145kW at 6800rpm, with peak torque of 244Nm available from the same 3000rpm. Jaguar claims 0-100km/h acceleration of 8.3 seconds (8.9 for the auto), with the most noticeable difference being a sparsity of bottom to mid-range enthusiasm.

Of course, much of X-Type's bulk is a factor of its sheer size, along with careful attention to body rigidity and the dedicated use of what Jaguar calls the Traction-4 permanent all-wheel drive system, which accounts for a full 80kg.

Engineered for the X-Type exclusively by Jaguar, the system comprises a viscous-coupled centre differential that directs 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions. Weight bias is the exact reverse (60/40 front/rear), producing a well balanced chassis that behaves predominantly like a rear-driver.

The set-up is attached to a Mondeo based suspension system that was comprehensively adapted for use on X-Type. Both the estate-sourced multi-link rear-end and twin-tube MacPherson spring-strut front-end are mounted to subframes for increased refinement. Meantime, the top strut mount up front is aided by a more rigid two-bearing set-up to further isolate the torque forces from the ZF-made variable-ratio, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering.

Of course, much attention was also paid to spring, damper and anti-roll bar selection, with extensive Nurburgring testing resulting in the specification of firmer, shorter-travel suspension and more heavily weighted steering. The braking system, including the surprisingly effective single-piston front calipers, are a direct Mondeo lift, as is X-Type's extensive use of fibre-optic cabling.

But that's just the start of X-Type's electronic wizardry. An impressive new optional DVD-based satellite navigation system based on the Lexus LS430's Denso system goes a step further by incorporating sat-nav, audio, climate control and optional TV ($1700 at launch), telephone ($2000) and voice activation ($1500) controls via a seven-inch LCD touch screen, which Jaguar claims is an industry first.

The system will be available from launch as a $5000 option, but the six-model sedan line-up's standard equipment list does include all the usual prestige car fare like automatic climate control, eight-way power front seat adjustment, single-CD four-speaker sound system, four power windows each with auto up/down, power/heated wing mirrors, center armrest, a height/reach adjustable and leather wrapped steering wheel, cloth/leather upholstery, ABS, front and side airbags for front seats, side curtain airbags front and rear, two-stage unlocking, auto locking and remote central locking.

X-Type pricing starts at $68,150 for the 145kW X-Type 2.5 Sport manual, plus an extra $2600 for the optional five-speed auto version. At launch that was $750 more than equivalent versions of its closest BMW rival, the 141kW 325i.

The 3.0 V6 Sport, which is identical in spec to the 2.5 Sport, is priced at $77,950 in manual guise, while the auto's $80,550 asking price is line-ball with Audi's forthcoming A4 3.0 V6.

"Special Equipment" (SE) models differ from Sport models visually in their use of chrome touches on the dash, bootlid, bumper blades and window surrounds, plus different 16 x 6.5-inch alloys (interestingly, the less expensive Sport models wear different 17 x 7.0-inch wheels and a subtle bootlid wing).

At $70,350, the auto-only 2.5 SE also adds cruise control, a trip computer, steering wheel controls and leather upholstery (instead of the Sport's cloth/leather trim) to the equipment equation, while the range-topping 3.0 SE throws in an electrochromic interior mirror and in-boot six-CD stacker.

The latter's $84,450 sticker price is well beyond the Lexus IS300's bargain price and almost identical to the quattro version of Audi's new 3.0 A4. And, though well short of the 330i ($90,400) and the Mercedes-Benz C320 ($99,990) on price, the 3.0 SE still has host of optional extras like metallic paint ($1475), sunroof ($2550), Xenon headlights/washers ($1820), reverse park control ($920), Dynamic Stability Control ($2550), heated seats ($1210) and even footwell mats ($330) and a 70/30 split-fold rear seat ($285).

First thing you notice about the X-Type is the overriding feeling of solidity. Not simply the vault-like sound the doors make when slammed shut, nor the vibration-free interior, but the way the small Jag feels like its hewn from solid billet as it thumps through diagonal gutter crossings or meets bumps at the same time as corners.

Indeed, Jaguar claims torsional rigidity was one of the X-Type engineers' primary goals and the result is a chassis that betters all of its rivals (including the class-leading C-class by some 30 per cent!) with body stiffness of 22,000Nm per degree.

Put simply, a rigid chassis returns high levels of quality and refinement, and aids handling by maintaining more constant suspension geometry. It's hard to call in isolation, but X-Type certainly feels like it has the structural integrity to at least match the engineering feats achieved by BMW's 3 Series and Mercedes' C-class.

Jaguar also made much ado about the precision of X-Type's variable-ratio steering, and it's true this compact sedan offers the best Jaguar steering ever. But that's no great feat and although there is a good compromise between low-speed assistance and high-speed weighting - and the Sport version is vastly better weighted overall - one can't help feeling the front-end remains hampered by the drive it must transfer.

It's a compromise we'd gladly accept, however, because X-Type's excellent four-wheel drive system plays an outstandingly successful balancing act between delivering limpet-like grip without dulling the driving experience. For most intents, X-Type feels like a rear driver, with none of the front-end understeer associated with traditional 50/50-split systems. In what's quite probably the best of both worlds, X-Type is both less prone to tail-out oversteer than 3 Series and to front-end push than C-class.

Elsewhere X-Type delivers the attributes to which we've come to expect from Jaguar. Tyre noise on course chip surfaces is the only detraction from an otherwise superb ride/handling compromise, but it has to be said that SE models deliver a far softer, more luxurious ride than Sport models, which itself probably lies somewhere between C-class and 3 Series in terms of bodyroll.

It will take some convincing for some to part with 3 Series money for a Jaguar, and in many cases the choice may revolve around X-Type's traditional, love-it-or-hate-it styling. But while the smallest ever Jag maintains the core values associated with the marque, X-Type is also very un-Jaguar in that it delivers a totally ergonomic interior and unprecedented levels of chassis solidity, grip and balance.

With supply limited to just 450 cars this year, Jaguar Cars Australia has conservatively targeted just 1000 annual X-Type sales from next year - similar figures to those achieved by Alfa's successful 156, VW's Bora and Swedish offerings from both Volvo and Saab, but well shy of Audi's A4, the IS200/300, the Benz C-class and BMW's popular 3 Series.

X-Type will need to rely heavily on conquest sales to achieve those figures, but at least at that rate the exclusivity of this accomplished British alternative won't be in danger.

GoAuto can help you buy a new X-Type

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