Jaguar's X-Type Sportwagon is not quite the cat's meow

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Reitzle was the hard-driving, blunt-talking former BMW exec who was brought in a few years back to round up the stray elements at Ford's Premier Automotive Group and turn them into a cohesive, profit-making unit.

Reitzle believed the Jaguar name had the cachet to compete head to head with BMW. He had set out on a bold plan to reorganize the brand and dramatically improve quality, while adding many models to fill niches corresponding to BMW's offerings.



A handful of media members who got to see the advance plans were nearly drooling with anticipation.

But Reitzle, after a reported disagreement with Ford's bean counters about whether or not one has to spend money in the luxury car business to make money, suddenly quit the company - and went off to make forklifts.

Reitzle's successors scaled back his grand plans, cut back on planned models and looked for ways to make the remaining cars for less money.

One of those surviving models was the much-anticipated X-Type "BMW 3-Series fighter," released three years ago. The X-Type went on to sell 62,652 copies worldwide its first year and improved upon that with 65,995 last year.

It's probably the biggest-selling Jag of all time, not to mention the best-made - out-selling all other Jag models combined.

But Ford considers the X-Type something of a failure - and makes no bones about saying so publicly. That's because Ford had decided that the X-Type was going to help boost Jaguar's sales over the 200,000 mark.

When the division fell well short of that, Ford started firing workers, closed a storied Jaguar plant and started denigrating Jag as its "problem" division. That's regrettable, because the true problem here is Ford's original sales projections and revenue needs.

Taken in a more pragmatic and realistic context, the X-Type is actually a success story, and the arrival this spring of a handsome Sportwagon version ought to be cause for more celebration.

In creating the X-Type Sportwagon, Ford - er, Jaguar - tried to come up with something competitive with similar models from Mercedes, BMW and Audi, without spending a lot of money on it.

Cost-cutting is most evident in the interior, where it looks as if designers borrowed heavily from the Ford parts bin - although a Jag spokesman told us we were wrong when we claimed elements of the gauge cluster, switchgear and electronics were identical to those in a European Ford Fiesta.

"Broadly similar," we were told, but not identical.

Inside and out, the Jaguar is evocatively styled, but materials, particularly the harsh leather seats, don't seem up to luxury levels.

The Sportwagon is imbued with a lot of popular standard features, which are high-cost options with competitors, such as a powerful V-6 engine, all-wheel drive, a roof rack, sunroof, leather seating surfaces and essentially up-rated wheels and tires.

But it also lacks some basic features that lower-priced rivals do offer standard, such as stability control and brake assist (a $525 option), or heated seats ($500), or headlight washers.

Some got-to-have features aren't available at any cost: dual-zone HVAC with rear seat controls, a rear window wiper, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, or second-row seat belt pretensioners.

From the B-pillars back, the Sportwagon is different from the sedan. Its raised roofline is supposed to provide for extra headroom and storage. Yet it is still notably cramped inside.

In fact, it has the segment's largest exterior dimensions but its smallest interior dimensions. How'd they do that?

The Sportwagon has second-row seat backs that fold flat, without having to remove the headrests, and a power liftgate that opens via either the whole hatch, or just the window glass. Handy, but not exactly a luxurious feature.

Jaguar says the Sportwagon's 3.0-liter, 24-valve, V-6 engine, a carry-over from the X-Type sedan, has the most horsepower in the segment and does zero to 60 fastest, at 7.8 seconds. The only transmission, a five-speed automatic, interfaces well with the V-6.

But the Sportwagon also gets the segment's worst fuel mileage, and its smallish gas tank gives it the shortest range, and it's not particularly environmentally friendly.

Jaguar claims a clear advantage on price, "comparably equipped," with its MSRP of $36,995. Currently, there is no competing wagon by Mercedes or BMW, but there are credible wagons by Volvo and Audi.

Jaguar says the Sportwagon's intended audience is "affluent newlyweds," which if my kids are any model, would seem to be a contradiction in terms, and a microscopically small market.

Ford set out to tame Jaguar's exasperating personality and unreliability record when it bought the company in 1989.

To a large extent, it has succeeded.

Jaguars are now known for their style, elegance and quality. Sadly, at the same time, the Jag's lovable idiosyncratic side seems to have undergone personality bypass surgery - perhaps as a side effect of trying to imbue them with mass-market appeal.

The future of the X-Type line is uncertain at best. Ford says it has no money or plans to redesign it before 2009, at the earliest. I don't expect Jaguar to sell a lot of these wagons, but not because they aren't decent vehicles.

They have their strong points. But it would seem there have been some questionable cost-cutting decisions here by Ford that may turn off discerning luxury buyers.

ROLL ON VOLVO

In June 1915, the name Volvo was officially registered by Svenska Kullagerfabriken, a Swedish manufacturer of bearings.

The new company - SKF - quickly focused on supplying the automotive business and started a special subsidiary. A creative manager came up with the name Volvo.

"Volvere" is the infinitive form of the verb "roll" in Latin, the company explained in a media release. "In its first person singular form, the verb 'volvere' becomes 'volvo,' or 'I roll.'"

Another bit of Volvo trivia explains the logo.

The first cars (1927) used a unique typeface for the Volvo badge, held in place by a diagonal band running across the radiator, from top left to lower right. The band was a technical necessity to keep the chrome badge in place, but it gradually developed into more of a decorative symbol.

Volvo, celebrating 90 years as a brand, came to the United States in 1955 and brought three-point safety belts as an innovation to its cars in 1959.





Jerry Garrett is a freelance motor journalist and contributing editor to Car and Driver magazine.

© Copley News Service



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