Trompe Le Mondeo – Jaguar X-Type – part 1

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?

Jaguar-X-type_2794124b

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.

01geneva xtype
A Wayne Burgess X400 render dated 1997

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.

2004-jaguar-x-type-interior-photo-66457-s-1280x782

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.

Quotes/sources/photos:
Automotive News/Bernstein Research/AROnline/Practical Classics/Jaguar World/Autoweek

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Trompe Le Mondeo – Jaguar X-Type – 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.

  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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s