Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and consider its legacy.
In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.
To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.
Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first confront the the heel of history – the unbearable weight of heritage.
Jaguars might have been many things, but prior to Ford’s 1989 takeover they had not been ordinary. Jaguar existed in a slightly rarefied position – neither as expensive nor well wrought as their predominantly German rivals, more of an indulgent, individualistic, aesthete’s choice. But if we are to judge the X-Type against this definition, its case must appear gossamer thin.
Because despite being a well-engineered, broadly credible attempt at a compact 3-Series fighter, the X-Type as it was first offered simply lacked sufficient allure. Worse still, the widespread perception of it being an ordinary car with ideas above its station stuck fast. An unpardonable sin, especially for a car bearing such a storied nameplate.
X-Type was primarily a consequence of the Ford Motor Company’s takeover of Jaguar in 1989. Having spent a tech baron’s ransom on the purchase price, Ford, whose senior executives are said to have ignored warnings of their profligacy, were required to justify the decision, especially in the wake of a brutal 1990 recession which saw the blue oval having to pump $millions into Browns Lane just to keep the lights on.
Two years later, following a massive re-organisation, and the infusion of large numbers of Ford personnel, a plan was enacted to expand Jaguar’s operations massively, more than trebling their annual output, pitching right into the heart of the junior-executive car market, in direct competition with the German big three.
Ford’s product planners were amongst the best in the business, but in retrospect they do seem to have made a number of crucial errors. One of which being that they seemingly believed what their customer data was telling them, because not only was there no precedent for one, but also as they would later discover, little real appetite for a junior-Jaguar.
Nor was there much enthusiasm within Jaguar themselves for that matter. As an independent entity, there were no plans for such a compact model line. Around 1994, the decision to proceed with the X400 programme was taken, necessitating the largest investment in the company’s history, yet failure seems to have been baked into it being from the outset.
Several significant and damning errors took place as X400 entered the scoping phase. Firstly, having ruled out a downsized version of the S-Type’s DEW98 platform owing to cost and packaging issues, and lacking another rear-drive platform to draw upon (widely regarded as a prerequisite in this class-riven sector), the result could only be a fudge.
Consequently, a four-wheel drive base was derived from elements of the second-generation Mondeo’s CD132 front-drive platform. However, despite claims that neither the lengths, widths nor wheelbases were shared between cars, this would become the stick with which the resultant car would be beaten time and again. But like most shibboleths, it contains more than a grain of truth. For although there was nothing fundamentally amiss in employing such a layout, the rationale which underpinned it seeded the ingredients which contributed to the car’s downfall.
Jaguar’s product strategists had discerned a growing market in the United States for compact sports sedans of the BMW 3-Series ilk, meaning that the initial exclusive use of larger-capacity V6 engines was not considered an impediment – especially since it was envisaged that at least half of X-Type production would be sent across the Atlantic.
Strategists are said to have feared diluting Jaguar’s image by the use of four cylinder engines, which would by necessity be sourced from within the blue oval ranks. Given the vast improvement in Ford’s (petrol) engine offerings by the turn of the millennium, this ought not to have been an intractable issue, but sensitivities were such that they were ruled out, ignoring the fact that throughout Europe, most junior-executive cars were chosen with engines of 2-litres or less.
The two engines available at launch were V6 units (of 2.5 and 3.0 litre capacities) based upon existing Ford Duratec units. Cylinder heads and engine ancillaries were unique to X-Type, said to have much in common with the larger AJ-V8 unit. The 3.0 litre version of the compact Cosworth developed V6, employing variable valve timing and inlet tracts developed 240bhp and 221lb ft of torque. However, nothing larger than the AJ-V6 would fit.
Meanwhile, creating a car which met the requisite packaging benchmarks was further complicated by the knowledge that X400 already encroached upon the more expensive S-Type model – itself uncomfortably close in dimensions to the flagship XJ series – the latter a car which had not been benchmarked by Ford in dimensional terms. By consequence, X400’s version of the CD132 platform went under the knife; 44 mm being shorn from the wheelbase (against its Mondeo equivalent), some of this taken from that all important dash-to axle dimension, but despite the rather drastic remodelling, X400 still managed to offer more rear legroom than an S-Type.
X400 was planned from the outset to employ all-wheel drive, it’s 60% rear biased layout developed with suppler, Visteon. But owing to the nature of its technical package, a great deal of componentry had to be shoehorned into a very confined space. One knock-on effect of this would mean the transfer box for the all-wheel-drive system was by necessity smaller than optimal, which would have repercussions later.
Design is the dress of thought, and a shapely exterior would do much to assuage any of X400’s architectural deficiencies. Jaguar’s Design Director, Geoff Lawson had many fine qualities, and while he had sufficient vision to recognise that Jaguar design could not look backwards indefinitely, the cars he is most associated with were in the main retrospective, and somewhat tentative. In this he was encouraged by Dearborn’s senior management, for whom it seems, cats could only leap sideways.
With X400, Lawson’s team at Whitley found themselves working to a somewhat restrictive brief. Lead designers, Wayne Burgess and Simon Butterworth tried a number of different treatments for the new model; Burgess latterly displaying some of these on social media, a number of which combined frontal aspects inspired by the X100 XK model, and one which harked back to that of the XJS. Also rendered were proposals for coupé and convertible versions.
What these renders do illustrate was a degree of uncertainty as to how a compact Jaguar should look, suggesting the lack of a clear, unambiguous theme from their director. Jaguar had never built a car of this ilk, meaning there was no meaningful heritage to draw upon. In its absence, and with all due credit to Burgess et al, it seemed to be a case of trawling the visual back catalogue to see what could be repurposed to suit.
While it is unclear what (if any) external designs formed part of X400’s visual moodboard, two designs in particular, illustrating how to successfully combine relative compactness with an elegance of line ought perhaps to have concentrated minds at Whitley.
In 1992, Mazda introduced the Xedos 6. This elegant upmarket four-door sports saloon, based on Mazda’s mainstream Capella’s underpinnings, was clothed in a body of surpassing grace, one which managed to successfully mask its front-drive architecture with a body style which led many to (quite understandably) draw comparisons to the leaping cat.
Five years later saw the advent of Alfa Romeo’s 156. Created using elements of the Fiat Marea platform, yet justifiably regarded as an acknowledged styling classic, the 156 was a superbly realised marriage of tradition and modernity.
It is highly likely that Jaguar’s stylists would have preferred a more progressive approach (designers usually do), but not only were they hemmed-in by the weight of history, the dictates from above were for something immediately recognisable as a Jaguar, which in Dearborn parlance meant traditional looking.
The selected theme emerged very much a direct reference to the upcoming X350 XJ saloon, then in the early stages of development. The fact that X400’s engineering hardpoints were so compromised can only have tightened the cord around Burgess and his team. In effect, what might have been a handsome, if conservative shape became hobbled by awkward proportions, cab-forward stance, retro applique, unhappy canopy-to-body ratio and fussy graphics.
Intended to appeal to a younger demographic, X400’s exterior style presented something of a contrary statement, but the feeling was that a conservative style, à la BMW was where the market was gravitating. Likewise X-Type’s cabin; reflective of a style intended to suggest that of the more expensive Jaguar models, the execution erred a little too far towards the past. And while both trim and switchgear were unique to Jaguar, X400’s interior too would disappoint.
Producing a world-class rival to BMW’s state of the sector 3-Series was perhaps the most onerous task that could be asked of an engineering team who were not only undermanned, but for this manner of vehicle, lacking in direct experience. As indeed were Ford themselves, unable to realistically offer much, apart from the services of chassis guru, Mike Cross.
But with optimism high and X400 a priority project, the full might of the blue oval was provided to expedite development. Extensive use of computer-aided design slashed gestation time and prototypes were sent to far-flung outposts from Timmins in the Canadian wastes to Cobar in Australia and the high-speed Nardo circuit at the heel of Italy.
A further headache would be locating a suitable site to build the car. Browns Lane was out of the question; Ford’s intention being to shift mainstream production out of Jaguar’s aged, cramped and increasingly hemmed-in home. With Castle Bromwich the favoured plant for Jaguar’s existing model lines, the feeling was there simply wouldn’t be the capacity for the X400 volumes envisaged.
Eventually, the newly decommissioned Escort manufacturing plant at Halewood in Merseyside was selected as X400’s home. However, the necessity to refit Halewood to the tune of £300m placed huge pressure upon X400 to perform. As costs escalated, the break-even point for the programme rose exponentially; volumes of over 100,000 per annum now becoming essential for X400’s viability.
Management believed they could achieve the bulk of X400’s volume through the US market, but there was trepidation too; Jaguar’s then US sales chief, Mike O’Driscoll telling Autoweek, “We’re in the risk-taking business guys. We’ve got hundreds of millions invested in this car and if people don’t like it we’re in trouble”.
The X-Type was officially introduced in October 2001. Advertising showed photogenic thirty-somethings smouldering at one another over an atmospheric Chris Isaak soundtrack. X-Type launched in saloon form only with a choice of two V6 engines, manual or automatic transmissions and standard AWD. Initial reaction to the car was broadly positive and early interest appeared promising.
What then of Jaguar’s rivals?
Alfa Romeo’s 156 was sensual, seductive and possessed of an abundance of verve, but as an ownership prospect, there were probably easier mistresses.
Audi was by 2001 at peak-Bauhaus, the B6-generation A4 a symphony of obsessively crafted minimalist rectitude, both inside and without. The only truly modern design of the group?
BMW’s E46 3er was also something of a pinnacle, insofar as it not only represented a final flowering of time-honoured Vierzylinder style, but also an object lesson in proportion and finely judged semiotics. The Bavarian carmaker never got as close to 3-Series perfection again.
Mercedes W203 C-Class was not their finest hour by any stretch, either stylistically or from a quality perspective, but the three pointed star on the bonnet covered a multitude, and that was enough.
Rover’s 75, while often cited in reference to Jaguar’s S-Type was really more of an X-Type rival, matching it more closely on engine capacity and price. Falling somewhere between both Jaguars dimensionally, the Cowley built Rover carried the retro card with a good deal more conviction and a lot more cohesion.
Considering its key rivals, the X-Type, given its nameplate and lineage ought to have found a comfortable niche in the market and held its own. How then did it all go wrong?
Part two will examine the X-Type’s downfall.
 Chairman, Sir Nick Scheele bullishly informed journalists in 1998 that volumes of over 200,000 cars per annum was a realistic aim for this new Jag’ generation.
 Despite the growing popularity (and sophistication) of the powertrain across most European markets, there appears to have been little consideration of diesel powertrains prior to launch.
 The design of the Ford (Cleveland) V6 is believed to have been originally the work of Porsche, who later sold the design to Ford/ Cosworth.
 The contemporary XJ saloon (X308) was a development of the 1986 XJ40, a car which was designed very much as a traditional Jaguar – in looks, feel and market position. It was however, notably snug within the passenger cabin, a matter addressed with its eventual replacement, which was very much a packaging design.
 X-Type’s wheelbase was 2710 mm, with an overall length of 4672mm, while the S-Type was 4905 mm in length, with a wheelbase of 2909 mm (larger than that of a standard length X308 XJ). At 2003 mm, the X400 was 57mm narrower than the S-Type.
 Given the likely timelines, it’s possible that Jaguar’s styling team wouldn’t have been aware of the Alfa 156 before X400’s style was frozen for production.
 Ironically, had Ford sanctioned a downsized version of the DEW98 platform, X400 could conceivably have been built alongside the S-Type on the same lines, obviating the need for the Halewood refit and saving the programme $millions.
 This appears to underline a statement attributed to Sir John Egan prior to Jaguar’s hostile takeover in 1989, which can be paraphrased as; “a larger business doesn’t take you over for your benefit, but for their own.”
One could also cite the Lexus IS 200 as an X-Type rival, but owing to a number of factors, it has been left out of this comparison.
Sources: Automotive News / Bernstein Research / AROnline / Practical Classics / Jaguar World /Autoweek. Sales data from Carsalesbase.com