Curbside Classic: 2001-09 Jaguar X-Type – X-Typecast

Let’s take a step back to a particular point in time. Jaguar has a fairly wide range, offering three separate sedan lines. Unfortunately, two of those aren’t meeting sales targets, one of them being afflicted by ungainly, retrograde styling. Actually, this exact scenario has occurred at two different points in Jaguar’s history: first in the 1960s and then in the 2000s. The X-Type was one of Jaguar’s sluggish-selling sedans of the 2000s.

Jaguar’s sales had been plunging and the British brand was racking up huge financial losses by the turn of the century. Under Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, Jaguar was expected to rapidly expand and become a full-line (or close to full-line) luxury brand. The company hadn’t offered more than one sedan line since the 1960s and by the early 2000s it had three: the X-Type, S-Type and XJ.

No discussion of the X-Type can be had without addressing the most common criticism of it. Yes, it used the platform of a Ford family sedan. But this is hardly a sin as egregious as Cadillac chroming a Cavalier and christening it Cimarron. Furthermore, it’s puzzling that the X-Type has been so castigated for being a Ford Mondeo in Jag drag when the first-generation Audi A4 used the same platform as the Volkswagen Passat.

The second-generation Mondeo platform was a fundamentally good one, too. Yes, in a perfect world the X-Type would have been rear-wheel-drive like the S-Type, XJ and XK above it. But the Mondeo was one of the best-handling cars in the European D-segment – regarded as better, in fact, than the A4-related Passat – and Jaguar engineers made further modifications to it to make it more “feline”, if you will.

Ford had no choice but to use the Mondeo (CD132) platform. There was nothing else suitable in the corporate lineup, the S-Type’s DEW98 platform not scalable to the smaller size required for the X-Type and an entirely new platform out of the question due to profitability considerations.

The X-Type’s engine lineup initially consisted of two transverse-mounted V6s: a 2.5 and a 3.0, both derived from Ford’s Duratec V6 which resided under the hoods of the Ford Mondeo and Taurus, Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type; the Jaguar AJ V6 engines, as they were known, used an aluminum block and variable valve timing. A third V6 was made available in most markets shortly after the X-Type’s launch, displacing 2.1 liters but marketed as a 2.0 and producing 154 hp and 145 ft-lbs. Jaguar also introduced 2.0 and 2.2 diesel four-cylinder engines as was expected for the European market.

The X-Type’s multi-link/trailing arm rear suspension was from the Mondeo wagon instead of the sedan and hatch, while the wheelbase was shrunk by 1.7 inches. A sophisticated viscous coupling all-wheel-drive system was available which, by default, split torque by 60% to the rear wheels and 40% to the front to provide more neutral, balanced handling. Later X-Types were available with front-wheel-drive although all North American models came standard with all-wheel-drive. Not only did all-wheel-drive better suit the X-Type’s market positioning and help bridge the gap from FWD family sedan to sport sedan, it also provided a key point of differentiation from the FWD-only Mondeo. Jaguar claimed the X-Type only had 20% parts commonality with the Mondeo.

The most marked difference between the Jaguar and its progenitor, however, was the styling. There’s no way to tell the X-Type’s humble origins from its looks. The X-Type’s styling isn’t as controversial as that of its big brother, the S-Type, but there are two schools of thought on it. On one hand, it’s instantly recognizable as a Jaguar and manages to incorporate numerous design cues from the flagship XJ on a compact body without looking awkward. Besides, retro designs were enjoying a surge in popularity – witness the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Volkswagen New Beetle – and the swinging sixties, in particular, were in vogue.

On the other hand, this was the new entry-level Jaguar aimed at attracting new, younger buyers to the brand. Instead of offering a fresh take on what a Jaguar should look like, the X-Type followed the same design language the company had been using for years. And although the Sport models were monochromatic and, well, sportier-looking, other X-Types were dripping with chrome.

Inside, the debate raged on. With its clubby interior, available with lashings of real wood trim and absent any Ford switchgear, the X-Type was unmistakably a Jaguar. But Jaguar’s traditional interior design had advanced little over the years, but for the addition of new technology, and it was out of step with what most compact executive sedans looked like inside.

That’s not to say it was bad and, frankly, it was a breath (perhaps not so) fresh air in this segment. It also didn’t look completely outmoded, offering a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

Alas, rivals to the indomitable BMW 3-Series come and go, the Bavarian and its fellow Germans, the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, successfully fighting off interlopers. Alfa Romeo fielded two successive front/all-wheel-drive sedans, the 156 and 159, before withdrawing from the segment for a few years. Saab’s 9-3 was FWD as well, only introducing AWD as the brand breathed its last gasps. Even rivals that have followed the iconic 3-Series’ mechanical template have still lived in its shadow – see the Cadillac Catera and ATS, Lexus IS, Infiniti G and Q50, etc etc.

So it was that Jaguar’s sales targets for the X-Type proved almost embarrassingly lofty. Although the X-Type quickly became Jaguar’s volume seller, it never reached the 100-150,000 annual unit targets that had been mentioned and thus Jaguar wasn’t able to reach its overall target of 200,000 annual sales. European X-Type sales remained stable at the 25-30,000 mark for a few years before winnowing away after 2006; even in its best years, the X-Type was still outsold almost two-to-one by the Saab 9-3 and Alfa Romeo 156. German rivals were on another stratosphere entirely. And despite an emotive advertising campaign in the US that used Chris Isaak’s hit single “Wicked Games”, X-Type sales faltered – 33,018 were sold in its first full year of sale and just three years later the X-Type was only reaching a third of that number. In total, just 350,000 X-Types were produced during its eight-year production run.

An even more eye-watering number was the total loss per car figure. According to automotive analyst Max Warburton, Jaguar experienced a total loss per car of $6700 with the X-Type or a total loss of $2.42 billion. It was probably the disappointing sales of the X-Type and S-Type, along with Ford’s other financial struggles, that pushed the American company to cut Jaguar loose.

What had caused the X-Type to so badly miss its sales targets? While it was no class leader, it had plenty in its favor. The all-wheel-drive system afforded it terrific grip and thoroughly competitive handling, while even the 200 pound-lighter front-wheel-drive models were fine-driving vehicles. The 231 horsepower 3.0 V6 was one of the most powerful engines in the segment, matching the output of the BMW 330i although not matching the torque of the Bimmer’s straight six (210 ft-lbs vs. 221). Steering was well-weighted with plenty of feel.

There were flaws in the X-Type’s dynamic shine, however. Its manual transmission was often derided as cumbersome. The smaller V6 engines were somewhat weak. Low-speed ride quality in the Sport variants was widely regarded as mediocre; other X-Types rode more serenely but with more body roll.

There were other maladies. Cabin space was somewhat cramped. Some of the plastics weren’t up to the Germans’ standards, although this was less egregious considering the high quality of the leather and wood. There were no four-cylinder petrol engines as there were in rivals’ lineups and the X-Type’s V6 engines weren’t the most fuel-efficient. Car & Driver ranked it 5th out of seven rivals in a 2002 comparison test, then dead last in a similar test in 2004. At the same time, Australian magazine Wheels ranked it 9th out of 12. The X-Type was a good car but this was a viciously competitive segment.

Jaguar wasn’t willing or able to address all of the X-Types flaws and the car was mostly left untouched with few exceptions. A handsome wagon arrived in 2004, the first Jaguar styled by Ian Callum and thus offering more contemporary styling.

And at seemingly the eleventh hour of production, Jaguar introduced a facelifted X-Type for the 2008 model year that nicely tidied up and contemporized the styling.

By that point, however, the X-Type’s number was up. The range had been thinned over the years and UK buyers could only choose between the 3.0 V6 and the vastly more popular diesels; US buyers had only the 3.0 by the end.

While the X-Type’s Ford origins are often used as ammunition against this baby Jag, perhaps the real issue was the styling. In a market dominated by cleanly-styled, almost austere sport sedans, the X-Type’s throwback styling was anomalous. Another factor that’s impossible to ignore is Jaguar’s build quality and reliability record. These two factors are likely the root causes for the X-Type’s lack of commercial success.

It wasn’t all bad news, however. The X-Type likely did introduce new buyers to the brand and increased Jaguar’s overall volume. It paved the way for future compact Jaguars like the new XE which is more enthusiast-focussed (it so far sells about as well as the X-Type did early on but Jaguar has popular crossovers to soften that blow). And though it wasn’t a commercial success, it was both a small car and unashamedly a Jaguar at the same time.

X-Types photographed in 2018 in Spring Hill and Toombul, QLD, Australia, Union Square, NY, and by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1965 Jaguar 3.4S (S-Type) – Sir William’s Bastard Child

COAL: 2002 Jaguar X-Type 2.5 AWD – A Significantly Better Car Than The Internet Would Have You Believe