Jaguar joins the smart wagon crowd

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Station wagon-like vehicles are fashionable again, especially among the high-dollar crowd.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Saab, Volvo, Lexus and Audi all have some version of what was formerly known as a station wagon. Many of these pricey contrivances now come with such monikers as Sportcross, Avant quattro and sport wagon. Dodge even has a wagon that they call a wagon. Whatever you call these vehicles; these premium-brand conveyances have five doors including a rear hatch. They are all attractive and aerodynamic with slightly sloping roofs that look more tied together design-wise than their sedan siblings.

They hold more stuff. And many are set up to mimic the sports-sedan performance we’ve come to expect from European thoroughbreds.

All that being said, it was still a shocker to see a Jaguar wagon parked in the lot a few weeks ago. Jaguar and station wagon are somehow incongruous. But there it was, a Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon. And this shocking realization comes after having driven the Sportwagon several times including at its posh Palm Springs introduction. Just seeing it in the real world gave us pause.

Is this a fish out of water or should we have figured that parent Ford would have eventually developed a wagon for the U.S. considering the popularity of wagon/hatchback type vehicles in Europe. Nothing should surprise us, not even a Jag wagon.

The X-Type is Jaguar’s entry-level car, which debuted as a 2002 model to much fanfare. It’s as sleek and good looking trying to capture the look of  the vaunted flagship XJ, albeit slightly scaled down. It has the rounded quad headlights, leaper hood ornament and the Jaguar-style grille. And the Sportwagon is as classy looking as the sedan.

Unfortunately good looks have not sold this car in the U.S. And whether the addition of a wagon to the model lineup will bolster sales is problematic. Jaguar has its problems and the declining sales of the X-Type are one of the reasons. Year over year – year to date (thru April) X-Type is down over 40-percent according to J.D. Power and Associates April 2005 Sales Report. And that is a real shame. It really should be noted that in the rest of the world the X-Type is doing quite well.

The X-Type was a hit in its first year here. Sales should have gone up from there, but they have slumped, despite the addition of the wagon and other upgrades to the lineup. Is it a marketing fluke or what? Everything about the vehicle, which is not without a few flaws (like everything out there) is pretty first rate and from fine lineage. If you have an answer, bottle it and maybe you can find a buyer at Jaguar marketing.

We must say here that we like the X-Type. We liked it in 2002 and we like it in 2005.
Even with direct competition from such popular nameplates as the BMW 330i, Acura TL, Lexus ES 330, Lexus IS 300, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, there seems little reason why the X-Type has failed to gain some sort of a foothold in the entry-level luxury market in the U.S. It is a real anomaly.

And consider that the X-Type has such standard features as all-wheel drive, side-curtain airbags and antilock brakes with Brakeforce distribution it is stranger yet. This is safety stuff that should sell cars.

For the sporty driver, both of the engine choices can be paired with a manual transmission. That should be good for a few more sales.

The interior is adorned in real wood trim, leather seats and one-touch windows. The center console is a replica of the horseshoe style made famous by the bigger and pricier Jag. And that should be an incentive to own a copy of the historic English nameplate at a bargain price.

Additionally Jaguar has achieved a remarkable success in the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) released last week in the U.S. The brand has improved to second its position overall in the survey and is the highest-ranked European nameplate. 

This major achievement for Jaguar was led by the X-TYPE, which improved 37 points in the study, a 35 % leap over last year's results. The J.D. Power Study ranks new vehicle quality after 90 days in the hands of customers.

The Sportwagon is more upscale than the base 2.5 sedan with a 3.0-liter V-6 pumping out 227 horsepower as standard equipment. Most people will opt for the 5-speed automatic. And with that comes more than adequate performance for more than most entry level drivers

The ride is smooth, and the car has more of a family flavor than a sports sedan demeanor meaning that the small Jaguar is not particularly at home carving up the back road twisties, but gets through them without much sweat at a mild mannered pace.

The wagon offers 50 cubic feet of storage space with the 70/30 rear seatbacks folded forward. A relatively flat load floor is created without the need to remove the headrests.
While storage is a bit on the short side, it is considerably more than the sedan’s 16-cubic foot trunk. But incredibly it is a third smaller than the compact Focus wagon, also manufactured by Ford, which has a capacity of 74 cubic feet.

A big bonus is the added 1.3-inches of rear-seat headroom created by the station wagon design. But unchanged from the sedan are tight quarters for rear-seat passengers who must jockey with the front-seaters to gain adequate legroom.

The Jaguar has a handy rear tailgate that can be opened as one piece or by using the separately opening rear window. A pair of gas-filled struts makes for smooth operation. A retractable tonneau cover keeps items stored in back from prying eyes.

We found the switchgear fairly intuitive and easy to use. One upgrade for 2005 that we enjoyed was the rotary thumb wheel controls on the steering wheel for cruise control and audio settings. The cruise control speed can be adjusted simply by rolling the thumbwheel on the right side of the steering wheel; it’s a neat idea.

The X-Type Sportwagon is not inexpensive. Base price, which does include a lot of good stuff as noted, plus 17-inch alloy wheels, moonroof, wood and leather steering wheel, and a hidden storage compartment with a 12-volt power supply, is $36,995 including destination charge. The expected automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD entertainment system, and a power driver’s seat are to be found as well. Our test vehicle with a couple of extras including $595 worth of metallic paint had a sticker price of $39,450.

If you see value as we do and you want to join the classy Jaguar family in a practical family way with a car that looks like a Jaguar both inside and out, the new 2005 X-Type wagon may be the car for you. We’re sure your local Jaguar dealer, all things considered, will be happy to deal.