Not for U.S. Sale: Jaguar X-Type 2.0 / Ford Mondeo ST220
In Europe, Jaguar peddles a car cleanly beaten by its Ford platform-mate
By MARK RECHTIN "AutoWeek"
The Jaguar X-Type 2.0 has a lowly 2.0-liter V6 engine that only powers the front wheels.
It’s a slippery slope that Jaguar and its Ford Motor bosses have been treading these past few years. Once upon a time, Jaguar resided in the wood-and-leather ghetto, with near-bespoke rear-drive luxury vehicles—with lousy quality control. Now Jaguar shares its underpinnings with (shudder to think) mass-market Fords, and sells far more vehicles with much better quality. Which is a worse thing?
The latest effort is the Jaguar X-Type, which shares a good chunk of its platform and component set with the European-market Ford Mondeo. Jaguar could defend itself by stating that the Mondeo is front-drive, while the X-Type was all-wheel drive. That makes for a big difference in handling, ride and general vehicle dynamics.
However, the need to hit sales targets has Jaguar offering a cut-rate version to the business-fleet buyer, a huge market in Europe. The problem with that model: The Jag has a lowly 2.0-liter V6 engine that only powers the front wheels. That’s the same, and in some cases a lesser, setup than what the Mondeo has. In fact, Ford of Europe has just released the Mondeo ST220, which costs slightly more, has better packaging and performs far better than the Jaguar.
So much for exclusivity. You’d have thought the Spanish Inquisition was in town, what from the purists’ deafening shouts of “Heresy!” directed in the direction of Coventry.
Perhaps the best part of the the Ford Mondeo ST220’s 3.0-liter quad-cam V6 is the snap in the neck one receives when flooring the throttle exiting a second- or third-gear corner.
Is it really so bad? Is a Jaguar any less a Leaper if it’s pulled—rather than pushed—down the road by a sub-par engine? Let’s take a look at the program.
As the adage goes, there’s no replacement for displacement, and two liters just isn’t going to make this cat howl, even in V6 form. Jaguar has given this little mill variable cam timing, which kicks with a lively jolt at 4200 rpm. Jaguar claims the 0-to-60-mph time is a hair under nine seconds, but given no one has been able to match the claimed acceleration times for the other X-Types, this boast is about as pure as the limescale-ridden London tap water.
Despite transmitting power from such a lightly powered engine, the clutch seems a bit grabby, especially on upshifts that catch and surge. The gearing is short in third, fourth and fifth, which makes for a busy engine at freeway speeds.
For an engine that has to rev so hard to make the car go, there is not much engine braking on deceleration. That can catch a driver out if he’s not ready, but fortunately the ventilated disc brakes are more than adequate to haul the X-Type down.
The Jaguar PR
wonks insist their suspension is completely different from that of the Mondeo, recalibrated to eliminate torque steer. Of course, with only 148 lb-ft of torque coming from the engine (actually 2.1 liters), there’s not enough torque to make the front end of the car judder or break loose.
Jaguar boss Mike Beasley brags he can’t tell the difference in handling between the front-drive version and the all-wheel-drive version. He’s no brand manager; he’s an engineer who should know. And truly, a lot of drivers—including many auto journalists—would have a hard time knowing in which car they are seated.
Up to 80 percent of the limit, the X-Type tracks with a linearity and neutrality that would come from any rear-drive performance sedan. It is responsive to mid-corner changes in steering and throttle. But at the limit, or when a driver overcooks a corner, he feels the natural front-drive understeer push the car wide. Hard mid-corner braking also tends to disrupt the car’s balance. You can only defy the laws of physics so much, after all, especially with a 61/39 weight ratio.
Jaguar retuned the rear suspension of the 2.0-liter X-Type to be soft; it almost feels disconnected from the car, but the point was to keep the X-Type from having any tail-happy tendencies. Changing to front-drive does nothing to correct the X-Type’s biggest weakness: a miniscule rear seat that is impossible for a six-footer to enter, let alone occupy. The X-Type’s wheelbase is three inches shorter than that of the Mondeo, all of which seems to have been taken from the rear passenger compartment.
So how does a hot-rod Mondeo stack up against the Jag?
Developed by Ford’s Specialty Vehicle Engineering unit in Dunton, England, the ST220 has more power, more brakes and better handling than the cheapo X-Type. It helps that the two bosses overseeing the ST220—Richard Parry-Jones and Martin Leach—are two of the finest hot-foots and dynamics engineers in the car business. And the ST220 reflects it. The ST220 (named for its horsepower rating) boasts a seven-second 0-to-60-mph time. It feels even faster.
Perhaps the best part of the Mondeo’s 3.0-liter quad-cam V6 is the snap in the neck one receives when flooring the throttle exiting a second- or third-gear corner, accompanied by a carnivorous engine snarl and exhaust roar. For all the force the engine generates, the clutch and gearbox are not nearly as grabby as one would expect. In fact, the five-speed gearbox has a notchiness and resistance that delights the tactile senses.
The big downside of the Mondeo is that the narrow-angle V6 Duratec engine is located far forward at the front axle. That means lots of push entering corners, and no matter how good the 18-inch Michelin or Conti tires perform, they still knuckle under when pressed hard.
The four-wheel independent suspension is stiffened considerably from the standard Mondeo, which has a feeling more in common with a VW Passat than a Ford Taurus. And so despite the ever-apparent understeer, the ST220 suspension’s firmness gives enough clues about the road situation to avoid cornering histrionics. Its stiffness can get old over a washboard freeway, however, with a jounce that is transmitted directly into the driver’s spine, despite the Recaro seats.
Braking is another example of the laws of physics. The weight shifts forward and the front brakes protest at all the effort demanded of them. You feel as though all of the car’s 3208-pound weight is in front of you. The brakes are massive and get the job done, but there isn’t a lot of confidence inspired in the process. The interior is pretty similar to that of the standard Mondeo, a fair approximation of the class benchmark, the Passat.
In other words, dimpled dashboard, big white-face gauges with upmarket fonts, brushed metal surrounds and Bauhaus simplicity. Nice.
Ford isn’t limiting the fun of the ST220 to sedan drivers, either. Five-door and wagon versions are available as well. And unlike the Jaguar, the rear seat is eminently habitable by a grown human. The trunk veritably yawns. The speakers accompanying the six-CD changer rock, though a bit brightly. There’s automatic climate control if you want it. Red leather seats, too. All for about the same price as the entry-level front-drive Jaguar.
So is the Jaguar badge really worth it over a hot-rod Ford? Perhaps to a brand manager. But to an AutoWeek reader with a wife and kids, there’s no reason why a Mondeo ST220 shouldn’t be in your garage. Except that the Feds won’t let you bring it in. Yet. Fortunately, Jaguar won’t send that fwd 2.0-liter X-Type your way, either.