Jaguar has been in the news recently, some of it promising, such as a consumer quality study that pulled the Coventry cat up to third out of some 37 other manufacturers. The downside was the announcement that Jaguar will no longer be participating in the Formula One World Championship after this season. The team and facilities are up for sale, and management hopes to secure a buyer for what had been a misguided effort from the start. Jaguar already had a strong image that should have been strengthened through continued efforts in touring and sports car racing, not single seaters.
The order from Ford HQ is for Jaguar to strengthen the production side of things, get costs under control and improve the overall quality of the brand name. This is usually the wish of any manufacturer, and Jaguar has made great strides in the quality department.
The X-Type has been improved steadily in quality from its initial arrival in 2002. A series of nagging little problems resulted in sluggish sales toward the end of year one, but Jaguar stayed with the program. The 2004 model was considered a huge advance over the previous editions. Surveys of previous and current owners have stated that the greatest improvements were in the exterior, interior and dash area. Interestingly, few found little to fault in the choice of powerplants or drivetrain. For 2005, the choices will remain the 2.5- and 3.0-liter aluminum-block V6s that output 192 and 227 bhp, respectively.
Jaguar arranged for european car to have a European-spec 3.0 X-Type Sportwagon before the official launch. The unsolicitated comments are interesting. Southern California is at best and worst, a what-you-drive status land. There are probably more Lexus's and BMW's per square mile here than anywhere else-except their home factories. Having a Jaguar "Shooting Brake" for a week simply proved Jaguar will sell a lot of these-initially. The long term outlook will require some adjusting in the marketplace.
The arrival of the new Sportwagon from Merseyside is aimed directly at the Benz and Bimmer side of the garage. One would do well to toss the offerings from Volvo into the mix as well. That said, the folks from Subaru or Audi won't give the arrival of the cat wagon much thought-their buyers are of a different mindset and profile all together.
In an market where all-wheel drive is becoming a standard way of life, the Jaguar Sportwagon is a capable performer. Another 40 to 50 bhp from the 3.0 wouldn't overtax the suspension and would make the Sportwagon truly stand out from its competitors. As long as I'm wishing, let's be generous and make it an even 300 bhp.
I recently made use of the catwagon's all-wheel-drive abilities by driving on mostly two-lane blacktops to get from Monterey to the base of the Grapevine. For those interested in my route, a map of central California-from Monterey to Bakersfield-will show you some real driving-pleasure treasures. One route was from San Miguel to the small town of Parkfield (population 17), which is known in geological circles as the place where the San Andreas fault rocks. The short bridge that crosses the fault has two signs: one states you are crossing to the North American plate and the other, the Pacific. A few days after visit, the place was rocked by a major earthquake and photos splashed around the world.
The Sportwagon is just firm enough on back-roads to solicit complaints from passengers-seeming almost track prepared in its stiffness. In reality, the chassis setup is just about right. Thankfully, the X-type's all-wheel-drive system doesn't install the false confidence that causes some to think awd can overcome anything-even stupidity. Simply put, the Sportwagon has a stable platform that makes the awd system a part of the whole package-and not feel like an option.
The five-speed automatic's shift points are well mapped, but I would like a chance to push the shift it myself (translation: lose the J-gate). The Bosch 5.7 ABS braking system is up to the job of pulling the leash on this cat.
The overall ride of the Sportwagon is better than the sedan and has a remarkably good balance. The interior and seats rate high marks. The overall look and sound system is a step up from the competition. The final proof will be just how many of these catwagons pop up at soccer games and back-to-school nights.