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Jaguar X-Type 2WD
This is the car they said would never be built - a front-wheel-drive Jaguar. After the Midlands firm went to great efforts at the original launch of the X-Type to show how a four-wheel-drive chassis maintained the handling characteristics that Jag drivers expect, here's a car with the power fed to the 'wrong' end. Why?
Because most drivers won't notice the difference in handling, but will pay attention to the cost savings. Put simply, Jaguar had to make this car to take on the cheaper BMW 3-Series.
Priced from £19,995 - £500 less than a top-specification Ford Mondeo and £2,000 cheaper than the 4x4 X-Type - the 2.0-litre V6 machine driven here goes head-to-head against the Audi A4 1.8T and BMW 318i.
So should its arrival be greeted with anguish or joy? Before you start the engine, it's hard to tell that there's any difference between this car and the more expensive four-wheel-drive edition. There are no obvious features that will help you distinguish the two cars from the front or side. Only at the rear, where a restyled bumper hides the exhaust tailpipe, can the newcomer be differentiated from its brothers.
Inside, it's a similar story. Our Sport-spec test model comes with electrically adjustable leather seats, as well as satellite-navigation, electric windows and air-conditioning. The doors close with a reassuringly solid feeling, and the multi-adjustable driving position is impressively versatile.
Although entry-level machines will not be as well equipped, the overall feeling of luxury will be equally high. Fire up the 2.0-litre V6 engine in either model and you are guaranteed to be rewarded with an idle so hushed it can hardly be heard in the cockpit.
Based on the 2.5-litre motor, the new powerplant proves responsive to the throttle and seems smooth at high revs. However, with 'only' 157bhp on tap, compared with 194bhp of the larger unit, it feels as though it lacks the punch of its rivals from low revs.
The performance figures tell a different story, however, and the front-drive X-Type can accelerate to 60mph from standstill in only 8.9 seconds, making it as quick as its competitors from BMW and Audi. Top speed is 130mph.
Out on the open road, the 2.0-litre X-Type is nearly as impressive as the bigger 2.5-litre model, thanks to the front-wheel-drive machine being more than 70 kilogrammes lighter. It's clear that Jaguar has worked long and hard to ensure the new X-Type is as involving to drive as any of its challengers.
The steering is precise, the suspension supple and the brakes are progressive. Revised springs and dampers absorb mid-corner bumps with ease, as the sharp steering ensures you are fully involved in the driving experience.
With a new power-assistance system, the front-drive X-Type has a wheel that feels light in your hands. However, the car turns sharply into bends, offering impressive grip. If you do apply the throttle too early, the traction-control system gently intervenes to limit understeer. Yet although the Jaguar proves extremely satisfying to drive, it's the level of refinement that scores even more highly. There is hardly any road noise, and thanks to gearing which is suited to cruising rather than sprinting, long motorway journeys seem to melt away. In fact, there can be few more relaxing ways to travel for the price.
But the real benefit of the front-drive X-Type is one that no company car driver can afford to ignore. Because the car is lighter and has a smaller engine, fuel consumption is improved and exhaust emissions are down.
Official figures claim that the 2.0-litre V6 returns 30.7mpg and produces 219g/km of CO2. Assuming the driver is liable to pay the higher tax rate, he would be charged £165 a month under the forthcoming company car taxation scheme. If he had chosen the 2.5, that charge would rise to £203. But even the new model is not as pocket-friendly as its German rivals. BMW's 318i produces only 175g/km, saving £53 a month in tax. That'll be enough for some to kick out the Cat.
Value, performance and refinement combine in the new 2.0-litre V6 X-Type to create a model that's bound to attract compact executive car fans on a budget. Not only is it cheaper than the 2.5-litre V6 version, it's more fuel efficient and just as fast. Priced from £19,995, it also stacks up well against rivals such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series.
With a supple ride and precise steering, the change from four to front-wheel drive has not been as testing as Jag traditionalists may have expected. The car adds appeal to the range, but it's a shame it can't get close to rivals' tax-busting CO2 figures.
At a glance
* Front-wheel-drive Jaguar X-Type on sale next week
* Priced from £19,995
* New 2.0-litre V6 engine produces 157bhp
* 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds