It's called "The Iron Chef," a Japanese cooking show with an especially interesting format. The competing chefs are all given similar ingredients with the goal of beating the network's Iron Chef--the challenge is whipping sometimes common foodstuffs into something extraordinary.
In my opinion, that is the ultimate test of a cook. While most competent culinary artists can steam Maine lobster, sear ahi tuna and throw together a decent abalone ceviche, turning 4 lb of ground sirloin, a bag of pasta and a few spices into something special is an art.
And so it goes with the Jaguar X-Type, a car created in Jaguar's competent, well-equipped kitchen with relatively common ingredients. The "ingredients" include bits and pieces from the Ford parts pantry, mostly from its Mondeo, the massive manufacturer's World Car that feeds a great many of its people. The concept of platform and component sharing has done great things for the likes of Audi and BMW, and they benefit the X-Type as well. The Jaguar's ubiquitous 3.0 Ford motor has fine low-end grunt that extends deep into its midrange. Merging into freeway traffic has routinely left the X-Type tickling triple digits. It does get a bit strained near redline, but so what--pick another gear. Though difficult to hear through the well-insulated cabin, fellow drivers have said the Jag has a fine, roarty growl. Moreover, it (the engine) appears to have the reliability of a framing hammer--I've had this thing in 120*F heat just outside Needles, Calif., and the temp gauge never varied, even while the A/C blew frosty cold.
Very tasty so far.
The X-Type's 231 bhp is funneled into an awd system with a 40/60 front-rear split. It has sweet balance between its ends and, due to new and ingenious twin-bearing top front suspension mounts, torque steer is virtually non-existent. The Mondeo/Contour chassis responds beautifully to this setup--I've driven several fwd SVT Contours (the U.S. Mondeo equivalent) and done nothing but smoke the tires during 1-2 shifts. The X-Type hooks up big-time, and it's every bit as entertaining as Audi's vaunted quattro system, maybe even more so because of the rearward bias. The optional X2 sport suspension with 7x17 wheels and 225/45ZR-17 Continentals provides an exceptionally smooth, quiet ride, the type you'd expect from larger touring cars. Even 500-mile stretches are no problem in the X-Type. Twistier stuff doesn't bother the X-Type, and the steering is great, but it needs more control from the rear suspension--it allows the car to move more than I like, and while it never loses grip, it needs to settle down. Ultimately, it appears Jaguar has settled for comfort rather than sport.
At 6 ft tall, I fit the X-Type just fine. The electronically controlled (eight-way adjustable) sport seats are superb--both comfortable and hugely supportive. Taller drivers have complained their heads rub against the headliner--the optional glass moonroof certainly doesn't help. It would be nice if the seats sat lower--nice for tall people and nice for the view in general. The seating position tends to compromise upward visibility, especially irritating when stoplights loom overhead. Rear legroom is just okay and tall folks will suffer.
Our X-Type was equipped with the optional navigation system and although I hated it at first (too many imbedded function maps), I can't imagine a luxury car without one. Virtually all the controls (save headlamps) can be operated through the touch-screen. It takes a few minutes to learn but is an otherwise good system. The Jaguar's DVD maps are well detailed but there needs to be more information--such as street and freeway names--more often. I often find myself scrolling in for small streets and way out for highways.
The proportions of the X-Type are damn near perfect, certainly more aggressive than the previous S-Type, and the car garners a good share of looks. There's no mistaking the X-Type for anything else than a Jaguar--which is the way it should be. And I must admit, I dig the Jag emblem on the nose--it's so very cool. If there were two things I would change, it would be the gearbox and some interior trim bits. Getting smooth 1-2 shifts is difficult--there's the impression lots of gears are moving lots of things as the Jag launches. And the shifter itself lacks precision. However, the harder it's driven, the smoother it gets--go figure. I've driven the X-Type for nearly two months and have found it a willing and reliable playmate. It's lugged camera gear up muddy slopes to Gorman and graced the entrance to my high school reunion, and I felt good pulling up in such a car.
There are certain restaurants where people want to be "seen." I've never played that game, because sometimes a hot location and fabulous decor can mask mediocre food. I don't mind paying top dollar for a great meal, but it better be damn good.
The X-Type is both.