Ever since Ford took over Jaguar, purists have been scrutinizing every move the company makes in an effort to turn up some evidence of "Fording down" the illustrious British marque. The fact that the X-Type has a common ancestry with Ford's front-wheel-drive Mondeo (similar to the Contour sold in North America) really got their ears up. Can you imagine a front-wheel-drive Jaguar? No, and those dyed-in-the-green types at Jaguar couldn't either. Thus the X-Type has all-wheel drive - a happy state that would probably not have come about had designers started with a clean sheet of paper. In reality, only about 20 percent of the X-Type has any connection to the Mondeo.
The X-Type is clearly a Jaguar, which will delight Jaguar's many female fans. If anything, the X-Type might be a little too self-conscious in staking out its claim to Jaguarness with its abundance of family cues. It might clutter your vision at first look. The X-Type's appearance is more like the lordly XJ than the more retro S-Type, which was Jaguar's first (and successful) effort to broaden its customer base.
The problem facing the X-Type designers: Make a relatively short car look low and long. And by golly they did it, using lots of horizontal lines, body sculpting and a high-tailed wedge shape, though the wedge is more obvious in photographs than in person. Though the X-type is some seven inches shorter than the S-Type, the illusion is generally successful. It looks big on the road.
The front view is broadened with two sets of side-by-side round lights flanking Jaguar's traditional horizontal split grille. The design of the grille and headlamps with fluting that sweeps back over the hood make the X-Type look like a baby XJ. It looks more conservative than the S-Type with its unique round grille. This aspect of the X-Type looks particularly auspicious when seen in a rearview mirror. Riding the hood is the traditional bounding Jaguar known as the "leaper." (Such hood ornaments are outlawed in Europe, so the X-Types there will make do with the flat, full-faced Jaguar known as the "growler.")
The visual stance of the X-Type is not affected by the all-wheel-drive system. This is a ground-loving vehicle that makes the eye believe it is longer and lower than it is and bigger as well. What seemed to me at first to be a busy-ness about the indents, many horizontal lines and visual cues of Jaguarness faded with on-going exposure into acceptance and even appreciation. Anyway, the car looks better on the road than it does in a showroom. Or in pictures. Moral: don't cling overlong to first impressions.
This is a real Jag on the inside, too. Jaguar's leather and bird's-eye maple are done as well as it was in the days when those luxury touches were not added to every model on the road. The wood in the Sport package has a distinctive grayed darkness, rather like weathered wood; it is genuine bird's-eye maple that has been pre-stained a gray color.
The standard seats are quite good, supportive and comfortable, and they can be adjusted every which way. Aggressive side bolstering is added with the Sport package, which is appropriate for more aggressive driving. Side bolstering requires more effort when getting in and out of the seat, however, so the Sport package is best left for those who love spirited roadwork. We had no trouble flinging the car around with the standard seats.
The cabin has a spacious feel with outward visibility enhanced by the slimness of the pillars. With the elevation of the driver's seat easily adjustable, drivers of varying heights have an excellent forward view over the hood. The rearview mirrors are particularly generous in size. I like this large exposure aft ward, but at city intersections the mirror can hide a pedestrian stepping down from a curb. Diligence and a little head movement are called for. All the switchgear operates intuitively. Only one cup holder is provided, however. Lots of stowage adds to the convenience, but the center console is small.
In addition to dual-stage frontal airbags, the X-Type features front and rear side curtain airbags, the first Jaguar to do so. In the vernacular one might say that "Jaguar intenders skew heavily female." That means the woman buyer figured early in planning the ergonomics of the X-Type. Not that there is any evident "feminization" but rather such things as placing all the controls within easy reach and providing a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, allowing her to adjust perfectly to the car. Many different body types will find a comfortable home in the X-Type. There's plenty of headroom unless you're wearing a helmet in a car equipped with the sunroof.
The design of the X-Type isn't all about style, either. The trunk is big, something that can't be said for all Jaguars. With 16 cubic feet of trunk space, the X-Type can carry more cargo than the big XJ sedan. The X-Type's boot is comparable to the impressive trunk on the Audi A4 and vastly superior to the trunk on the BMW 3 Series. Pull one or both of the small handles in the trunk and you can flip the rear seats down for carrying longer items. That makes this a practical Jaguar.
The optional navigation system did a great job of locating our destination after we had to detour to avoid an accident. To reduce the chance of driver distraction, destinations cannot be programmed while underway.