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2003 JAGUAR X-TYPE - Review

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2003 JagUar X-Type

SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide


By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. VP & Co-Publisher

I remember once seeing a new Jaguar XKE in the early 1960s, when my family lived in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Seeing an XKE parked on the street in that neighborhood was a momentous event. It was the topic of discussion in school that day. Thinking back on it, it must have been owned by someone in the Mafia, and if you’re familiar with Canarsie, you’d agree. Of course the guy that owned it probably didn’t live very long, or have it very long, because Mafioso weren’t supposed to be too showy, it would attract too much attention. But who else could have owned it? Who else would have had enough money in that neighborhood? It sure was a spectacular looking car.

And so, I began the auto-enthusiast part of my life as a Jaguar lover. I really grew to love the big Jags, like the Mark VIII, which looked like a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud (both designed by Vanden Plas). I lusted after them when I was in high school. “Oh man, if I had one of those,” I thought, “I’d own the school.” The problem was that in 1969 the cheapest Mark VIII I could find was about fifteen hundred bucks. So I had to settle for an MGA for $150. Ahh, those were the days!

By the time I could afford a Jag, they weren’t worth owning; quality problems made them much more an object of ridicule than an object of desire. In 1996, The Auto Channel had a unique opportunity to help launch the all new XK8. As the leaders in the then nascent science of streaming video, we were commissioned to provide a live Internet video broadcast from the Peterson Auto Museum in Los Angeles. On Thursday, October 3rd, by the skin of our teeth, we pulled off a minor miracle. We broadcast the very first live Internet introduction of a new vehicle, beating the Buick Regal Internet intro by two months (it was also one of the first, if not the very first, live video broadcasts on the Internet).

As I worked the video camera at the Peterson Museum, I was excited. Not just because of the historical impact of the broadcast (hopefully future generations will appreciate the consequence of that moment), but because it involved the car marque of my youth, my first automotive love, and the XK8 was to represent the new Jaguar, the return to excellence Jaguar.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later at a journalist press event that I had the chance to drive this new object of my desire. Funnily enough, I had not driven a Jaguar since high school, and I sort of skipped right over owning a Mark VIII when I bought a Bentley S1 in 1984. Based on my experience driving Rolls, Bentleys, Mercedes, and some other up-market vehicles, I was salivating at the chance to drive the XK8. I was expecting a rich, creamy, buttery experience. It was a brand new Jaguar, how could it be anything less?

Unfortunately, instead of butter, I thought I got margarine – and not a good brand either. I don’t know how else to describe it, but the car felt loose, almost wobbly, as if the wheels weren’t being held on by lug nuts. The leather was nice. The wood veneer was attractive. The exterior design was sleek and sexy. But I imagined myself lying in a ditch on the side of the road because the wheels had fallen off. I asked the other journalists about the sensation and none expressed the same concern. They all said that that was how Jaguars feel. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “No wonder people are still buying Mercedes!”

Yeah, I know that’s a low shot, and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the new X-Type. Well, the point is that every time I test drove another Jaguar since that time, including the XJR and S Type, I thought the same: “The wheels are ready to fall off this sucker!” By comparison to a Mercedes, BMW 5 or 7, Q45, Lexus, or even Cadillac, there was no comparison.

Then along came the all new X-Type, the first “Ford Jaguar,” or at least the first all new Jag built under the new ownership regime. And it’s the first popular-priced Jaguar, to boot. I was skeptical, but hopeful. I originally had some misgivings about Ford’s takeover of Volvo, thinking that Ford might find a way to mess up all the great new improvements that Volvo had been making in recent years. Seeing how Ford seemed to have very little impact on Volvo, I figured it would be interesting to see what they’ve done, or didn’t do to Jaguar.

The day of reckoning came at last, and the evaluation car was delivered to my office. By the time I drove out of our parking lot and into the street, I had my answer: the wheels were not falling off – at least not from whatever seemed to be the problem in the previous models. After several minutes on the highway, I had a different appreciation for the X-Type. Although it didn’t drive like a Mercedes or a big BMW, it had its own distinctive feel; a feel much closer to my Bentley or my MGA, what I would describe as a British feel.

I felt that the X-Type passed the crucial loose wheels test, and that was good. The problem, however, was that from the first time that I stopped the car, on-lookers often mistook the X-Type for a new version of the Ford Taurus. More than once I was asked why my Taurus was sporting the leaping cat statuette on its hood?

Perhaps the answer lies partially in the X-Type’s price. In trying to build an economical Jaguar, I guess you have to find some ways of minimizing costs. I’m not saying that the X-Type uses any body parts or the Taurus platform, and certainly everything I’ve heard from both Jaguar and Ford decries that assumption. But there are some striking similarities between the two cars that don’t benefit either Ford or Jaguar. And since Volvos haven’t yet taken on the appearance of a Ford, which shows that Ford subsidiaries don’t have to all look-a-like, it’s a shame that the new X-Type doesn’t have a more original design.

The bottom line is that I always liked driving a Taurus, and for a number of years the Taurus and Sable were among America’s best selling vehicles. So maybe having lots of similarity to the Taurus is not too bad. Furthermore, as long as you position the car so that women primarily see the leaping cat, then you can still derive some benefits from Jaguar’s chick-magnet appeal.

The starting price for the basic X-Type is around $30,000. This gets you a 2.5-liter V6 engine matched to a five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is optional. If you jump up to the 3.0 model with its 3.0-liter, 227-horse V6 and standard automatic (a manual is optional at no cost), it’ll cost you an additional $6,000. If you add in all of the options that are available the X-Type gets close to $50,000, which then becomes a rather pricey Taurus, even if it is a chick-magnet.