Trompe Le Mondeo (Part 1)

Driven to write looks back at Jaguar’s ‘much-loved’ X-Type and asks whether it was it simply a Mondeo in drag or something a little more nuanced?

Jaguar X-Type. Image uncredited

It’s probably accurate to say that the X-Type essentially bankrupted Jaguar. Certainly, the Ford-owned carmaker never recovered from the losses incurred by the X400 programme. According to a study carried out by financial analysts, Bernstein Research, Jaguar lost €4600 on every X-Type built – a net loss amounting to over €1.7 billion. Allow that to sink in for a moment.

Given that it remains the best-selling Jaguar to date with 362,000 produced over an 8-year lifespan, the reasons behind the X-Type’s failure and subsequent pariah status remain a matter of often intense debate, despite being widely viewed at the time as a well-engineered, broadly credible attempt at a compact 3-Series fighter.

But the difficulty one faces when discussing Jaguar of course is the heel of history – the unbearable weight of heritage. Jaguars have never been ordinary cars and if the buying public are a reliable arbiter, there remains little appetite for such a vehicle. Because viewed from the perspective of utility – fitness for purpose even, the X-Type was entirely ordinary.

The problem it faced was market perception, which was that of an ordinary car with ideas above its station. An unpardonable error, and ultimately damning, yet one which seems to have been etched into the X-Type’s being from the outset.

01geneva xtype x-type
A Wayne Burgess X400 render dated 1997. Image credit (c) AROnline

As an independent entity, Jaguar had no plans for such a compact model line. X400 came about for one simple reason. Having massively overpaid for it in 1989, Ford needed to recoup their investment fast. The storied marque turned out to be in far worse shape than they had been led to believe, so a new business plan was hastily cobbled together in the dark days of 1992, central to which were new models, aimed at making Jaguar a viable rival to the German marques, in prestige, quality and crucially, volume.

Chairman, Sir Nick Scheele bullishly informed journalists in 1998 that volumes of over 200,000 cars per annum was a realistic aim for the new generation of Jaguars, the bulk of this coming from X400, the model code for a compact saloon aimed at the lucrative junior executive market dominated by BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

Jaguar’s engineers had little experience of producing a world class rival to BMW’s state of the sector 3-Series and neither for that matter did Ford. Nor was there a suitable rwd platform. The result was a compromise, a fudge. Without a rear-drive architecture, a rear-biased four-wheel drive chassis was derived from elements of the contemporary Mondeo’s CD132 fwd platform. However, neither the lengths, widths nor wheelbases were shared, nor indeed was any visible interior or exterior component.

The V6 engines available at launch (of 2.5 and 3.0 litre capacities), were based upon existing Ford Duratec units, themselves believed to have been based upon a Porsche design. Cylinder heads and engine ancillaries were unique to Jaguar. However, one unfortunate consequence of X400’s architecture would be the fact that it couldn’t accommodate Jaguar’s larger displacement engines, whereas rivals offered larger capacities and considerably more power.

Fears of diluting the brand by use of mainstream four cylinder Ford-sourced engines would further compromise the car’s prospects, especially throughout Europe, where most junior executive cars were fitted with engines of 2-litres or less. There appeared to be no consideration of diesel power units, despite their growing popularity in European markets; Ford’s US-centric attitude to product planning ensuring that X400 was tailored almost entirely to American tastes.

To read the full article, click the link here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Trompe Le Mondeo (Part 1)”

  1. Oi, Eoin! This won’t go down well with the Jaguar Third Owners’ Crowd. Prepare to have your scalp ever so slightly caressed by sharp (Sheffield-made, of course) knife…

    It’s an interesting sidenote that Wayne Burgess seems to be among those members of the Lawson-era Jaguar design staff who has actually benefitted from Ian Callum taking over. Personally, I’d bet money on him taking over once Mr C decides to devote more of his time to grandchildren and questionable retromod projects. Maybe this career perspective is why Burgess declined Ulrich Bez’s offer to head Aston Martin’s styling department.

    Anyway, it would be most interesting to hear the thoughts and memories of someone who’s experienced both Jaguar’s Floridian dentist years and the current, more enlightened era. Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to wait some 20 years before he’ll be able to make such candid comments. If ever.

  2. My own take on the X-Type is that, as a one time V6 Mondeo driver, there was no reason why the ‘humble’ platform couldn’t make an excellent base. Just as with the S-Type, hearing Top Gear Bar Bore Boys saying “It’s only a Ford” isn’t enough. Had they backed it up with (hypothetically) “only 80 spot welds per metre” or “they used lower grade AHSS”, then I might have been interested. Otherwise it’s just snobbery from the ignorant.

    That said, speaking as someone who fitted within Ford’s demographic for a Jag at the time of launch, I would never have considered buying one when they were current because of the horrible, pompous, distorted XJ design. I did consider one later on, a secondhand 3.0 litre Sport Estate. From inside I couldn’t see the styling and it was blessedly devoid of ye olde woode off Englande. But it seemed a bit cramped and the idiotic garage wouldn’t let me test drive it without a commitment to buy. Stupid, because a drive was the one thing that would probably have sold it to me. Despite my disinclination to spend my own money on one, had I worked for someone who had offered me a new X-Type or an Audi A4, I would certainly have chosen the Ford over the VW because it would have undoubtedly been the better drive.

    But the fact that Ford managed to lose more that £4K on each one sold proves that Ford weren’t well rid of Jaguar but vice-versa.

  3. I remember being amazed by the Bernstein figures a while ago, when I first saw them. One obvious advantage for using the Mondeo as a starting point is that you’d save development costs. But what if your parent company charged you over the odds for their input in development as well as for all the components sourced from them. Accountancy is a grey area when part of it involves figures between inter-related companies.

    1. This is likely to be the truth of it. Corporate accounting shenanigans

  4. I am mystified why people hate this car so. It could have been even better with its own platform, yes, but it was very capable and nicely appointed. It has for me the appeal of an English Lancia in its more opulent versions. And the estate had a handsome character. The truth is perhaps the car fell foul of a certain British and virulent modernism, an attitude stretching back to Adolf Loos and John Ruskin but devoid of the social reforming character that justified (or tried to) their antipathy to the classical and to decoration.

  5. Richard, In my case, it’s not a love of modernism for its sake. I like certain modernist statements, but also the traditional. And the quirky. I nearly bought a Bristol 412 at the time I looked at the X-Type. I’ll even concede that, given the brief and the proportions, Wayne Burgess did a good job. And, yes, the estate is the better looker. My problem is the sheer blatancy of it. I’d like to think that people’s superficial preconceptions of me don’t matter, but the X-Type really shouts ‘Little Englander Who’d Like To Have The Big One But Can Only Afford The Small One’. It’s rather pretentious, like a VW Beetle with a Rolls Royce grille, but lacking the irony. As I said, I have no problem with the Mondeo connections, save that they underline the Mondeo’s honesty and the X-Types hypocrisy.

  6. The problem with the X-Type is now, was then and will always be its styling. Look at how Alfa Romeo managed to balance modernity with a respect for and honour of its heritage with the contemporary 156 – a car, lets not forget based on a Fiat Marea platform. Like Ford, Fiat allowed Alfa develop their own suspensions and steering gear – the resultant car, like the X-Type bore little of its ancestry and again like the Jaguar, drove very well. However, Alfa Romeo’s stylists were given the freedom to produce one of the prettiest saloon shapes of its era while the X-Type drove straight through pastiche, doing several laps of the retro roundabout before getting stuck in the cul-de-sac of parody.

    1. You’ll have to find one that isn’t rusty underneath. Ever so prone for it. Having said that I don’t think it was rubbish but the road tax on the 2.5 v6 is heavy when compared against some other competition… I seem to recall. I sell lots of leather colour for the seats in the x type and to foreign parts including Germany and France. It is popular as a slice of England.

  7. No. Rust? On a car of that age? How dissapointing.
    These cars look much better in a Continental setting, by the way. All Jaguars develop a charm in Europe. And in the US they look worse than in Essex.

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