Driven to write looks back at Jaguar’s reviled X-Type and asks whether it was it simply a Mondeo in drag or something a little more nuanced?
The X-Type almost bankrupted Jaguar. According to a study carried out by Bernstein Research, the (then) Ford-owned car maker lost €4600 on every X-Type sold; a net loss amounting to over €1.7 billion. Lets allow that sink in for a moment. Given that it was the best-selling Jaguar to date with 362,000 produced over an 8-year lifespan, the reasons for the X-Type’s failure and subsequent pariah status remain a matter of intense debate, even though it was widely viewed as being a well-engineered, broadly credible attempt at a compact Jag.
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 the perception of an ordinary car with ideas above its station. An unpardonable error, and ultimately a damning one, yet one which seems to have been etched into the X-Type’s being right from the outset.
The X-Type hadn’t initially featured in Jaguar’s plans. Ford needed it for one simple reason; having massively overpaid for the marque in 1989, they needed to recoup their investment fast. Jaguar 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. Ford-appointed Chairman, Nick Scheele bullishly told 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-wheel 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 were any visible interior or exterior component.
The V6 engines available at launch were based upon existing Ford Duratec units, themselves reputed to be based upon a Porsche design. Cylinder heads and engine ancillaries were unique to Jaguar. Engine choice however, would ultimately be limited by the car’s architecture. X400 couldn’t accommodate Jaguar’s larger displacement V8 engines where rivals offered larger capacities and considerably more power. Lower down the price range, sales would be further compromised by fears of diluting the brand with the overt use of mainstream four cylinder Ford engines, despite the fact that throughout Europe, most junior executive cars were fitted with engines of 2-litres or less. There appeared to be no initial consideration of diesel, despite the popularity of such units. Ford’s US-centric attitude to product planning meaning X400 was tailored almost entirely to American tastes.
X400’s styling was overseen by Jaguar’s Geoff Lawson and is attributed to current Studio Director, Wayne Burgess and Simon Butterworth, who created a stylistic homage to the large XJ saloon – specifically its X350 iteration, then in development. This styling execution was the result of a lengthy series of reviews where rival proposals were debated and rejected in favour of something rather tepid and ‘safe‘. Current Director of Design, Ian Callum recently told a journalist he was shown the X-Type’s styling by Lawson before its launch and was ‘disappointed‘ by it. He expanded upon this view in Jaguar World magazine, saying; “Because the X-Type was on a front-drive platform, the overhang was quite large and the wheel to dashboard measurement very short, so you sensed it was not quite as powerful-looking;” X400’s structural hard points dictating some rather less than desirable visual compromises which Jaguar’s stylists failed to successfully mask.
The fact that Ford executives demanded an entirely old world aesthetic can only have tightened the cord around Burgess and his colleagues. In effect, what could have been a handsome, if conservative shape became fatally compromised by its fwd stance, retro elements, canopy to body ratio and fussy graphics.
Styling isn’t confined to exteriors and X400’s interior was intended to appeal to a younger generation of customer. Jaguar again shot themselves in the foot with a conservative interior style that slavishly aped its larger brethren and used some cheap-looking plastics in conspicuous locations. So while no item of trim or switchgear was shared with the Mondeo it was mechanically derived from, X400’s interior, especially in basic trim looked more downmarket and certainly more old-fashioned than Ford’s own design. The X-Type’s interior should have highlighted the advanced engineering underneath, but instead alluded to the English Heritage exterior styling. As a means of attracting a younger audience, it illustrates the level of misapprehension both Jaguar and their Ford paymasters were under regarding X400 and its target market.
In part two, Driventowrite examines X400’s gestation, the X-Type’s initial reception and its rapid fall from grace.
Automotive News/Bernstein Research/AROnline/Practical Classics/Jaguar World/Autoweek