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?
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.
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.
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