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New Vehicle Review

Road Impressions:

Jaguar's new X type

Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide

If ever a road test came under the "it's a tough job but someone has to do it category."- this was the one. Yes, it was something very special, partly for sentimental reasons.

Just five years ago my wife and I were en route to Monaco to get married. On the way we stopped at Chateau Chailly, a rather fine establishment more or less in the middle of France. That is where Jaguar were launching their XK range, successor to the venerable XJS series. This time we returned in an XK. Not any old XK but in an XKR-R which is more or less the same as the Silverstone edition. Supercharged V8 engine and seriously quick. Perfect for two people. As always, we took the Shuttle beneath the Channel, surely the only way to travel these days. The check-in is quick and painless and the departure hall is now full of some excellent shops such as Pret a Manger-probably the best and freshest sandwiches made in Britain. Plus cameras, film, maps, plugs, just like one of the better airports around the World. 35 minutes later we were on the French autoroute to Chailly. Has to be better than waiting for a ship, being occasionally seasick and just hanging around for the unloading to begin. The French shop incidentally is just as good with lots of cheeses and wines. All in all a very professional operation. The Jaguar people have always been a breed apart-very good at their jobs whilst retaining a certain British sense of humor. They certainly needed it with me around as at one point during the question and answer session I suggested that maybe the world-wide sales and marketing director ( a very dear old friend) had a face-lift. The Jaguar people were all on the was of course a joke but not one I would have attempted at a Mercedes-Benz presentation.

As for the X-type-well, I would say it is 95% there. Where I hear you ask? In the automotive world "there" has to be BMW. For years and years now they have been the pinnacle of what a great car should be. Every specialist magazine writer the World over will agree that the 3 series is what it is all about. Get near it and you have a serious chance of success. Jaguar certainly mean business. They've completely revamped a somewhat ancient factory in Hailwood, near Liverpool in England and are aiming at 100 thousand sales per annum.

The X type is just going on sale in Europe with the US to follow shortly. The company received 4000 advance orders in the UK alone and indications from overseas are that Jaguar have a winner on their hands. There are two versions-both V6, the 2.5 liter and the 3 liter. We went out in the 2.5 liter first to get a feel for the car. Initial impressions- it was clearly a Jaguar. There wasn't a moment's hesitation- it is a Honda, a Toyota or a Nissan-the sort of thing that occurs all too frequently these days. No. It was, without a shadow of a doubt the little brother of all the Jaguars I have been driving over the years. Having stepped out of a 96 thousand dollar Jaguar and into a car costing one third the feeling of familiarity was immediate. As was the feeling of luxury. The beige interior was particularly soothing after the rather teutonic black and dark grey interiors one often finds in Audis for instance. The seats were excellent as was the instrumentation. The steering was a sheer delight, I could sense the input by Richard Perry-Jones, one of the best automotive engineers on the Planet and that of his hard-working team who managed to hang on to that rather special Jaguar feel which could have been lost in the Transatlantic translation . After all, when it is all said and done the bosses of Ford Motor Company in Detroit-holders of the Jaguar purse-did have the final say. Thank God they left well alone!

Interestingly enough Jaguar did a Ferrari when it came to engine/exhaust sounds. Just like the boys in Maranello with the 360, the Coventry team tuned the sounds which, at least to my ears sounded just right-purposeful but not painful. I did not do tire-burning 0-60 figures, I was far more interested in whether the X type would dent 3 series sales in New York or San Francisco. My feeling is that it will. I doubt if too many customers will know or care about the fact that the car has permanent four-wheel drive-apart from those anxious to take it to the Sierras- but it certainly works and will help drivers, especially under difficult conditions. Having had a chance to drive both the manual and the automatic there is no doubt in my mind that the auto is a far more pleasant proposition. Whilst the clutch and the gearbox are OK, I would not put them at the top of the tree whilst I thought the auto worked like a charm. Even the 2.5 liter had plenty of go, certainly enough for any country I can think of. 140 miles per hour will suffice for most of us and those needing even more speed (I wonder where?) can wait for the "R" version. Talking of versions there is a diesel on the way and lots of other variants. Whilst diesel and Jaguar may sound strange in the same sentence may I remind you that this time last year Britain's young Grand Prix star Jenson Button was stopped in France doing 135 miles per hour in his BMW turbo diesel. Diesel is very much a no-no in the States at present but European automakers have made huge improvements in emission control of these oilburners and the trend, especially in view of the huge difference in the price of fuel between petrol/gas and diesel is so vast that every manufacturer wishing to survive has to offer a diesel alternative. Not forgetting the fuel consumption of course which is also vastly better.

Dislikes? Well, as these were pre-productions cars some of the seals were not quite 100% resulting in some wind noise. Also, personally I would have preferred brakes with instant bite. The delay is probably a fraction of a second but I do prefer that instant grab which the XKR offered. Jaguar really went to town on safety features. Apart from the obligatory airbags there are side airbags, curtain side airbags, even a front passenger seat weight sensor but frankly unless you are very unlucky and get T boned by a maniac jumping the red lights you should be able to avoid accidents thanks to the excellent dynamics of the car. I am not particularly good at multimedia systems but the people this car is aimed at-30somethings-will be able to juggle with the touch-screen display system, the JaguarNet telematics system (whatever that might be) and voice activation for audio, phone and a myriad of other things. The one that really matters to my mind is the hands-free telephone, something that is bound to become mandatory in view of the number of people smoking, eating, phoning and driving-after a fashion- all at the same time! Prices: well, in the UK the X type kicks off at around 22 thousand pounds which at the current rate of exchange translates to about 30 thousand dollars. I don't yet know what US prices will be but take it read that there will be very little between the 3 series, the Mercedes C class and the X type.

Jaguar had some serious problems with quality some 20 or so years ago and it took the reliability of the "S" type to eradicate it from suspicious minds. Judging by the success of that car I would be very, very surprised if the X type turned out to be anything but a success.

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