Jaguar's decision to bring a wagon to market rather than a beefy, gas-guzzling SUV might have had nothing to do with the threat of rising gasoline prices.

After all, the British automaker made the decision to go ahead with design of the all-new X-type wagon about four years ago, when gasoline prices were at least a dollar a gallon lower than they are now.

And rarely does anyone at Jaguar think much about economy of operation when going about the business of designing a new vehicle for the company's luxury-car lineup. After all, some of the company's most-expensive models are notorious gas hogs.

But in light of the recent huge spikes in gasoline prices and the concerns that consumers -- including many who usually don't worry about such things -- have begun to show about fuel economy, introduction of a Jaguar wagon with decent mileage ratings might be quite timely.

Most automakers are now adding wagons to their lineups as consumers, weary of high fuel consumption in their big SUVs, are moving back to wagons or the so-called crossover sport utilities or "sport tourers," which are really just puffed-up station wagons.

Granted, EPA ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway aren't quite as high as the mileage of a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, whose average ratings are in the 30s.

But a Jaguar wagon isn't exactly a Civic or a Corolla, either. It's a Jaguar, through and through, giving the buyer a vehicle that not only bears a legendary trademark, but that also is quite fun to drive even if it is a somewhat practical family-hauler.

With a price beginning at $36,350 (plus $665 freight), it's not cheap. But then one could pay that much or more for a rather thirsty big SUV that isn't even a luxury brand --such as a Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe -- and still have to worry about shelling out $75 every two or three days to fill the huge gas tank.

There's no way to get 24 mpg out of a full-size or even most midsize SUVs. The Expedition's EPA ratings, for example, are 13 city/17 highway. The best the Ford Explorer can do, even with the V-6 engine, is 16 city/21 highway.

So unless you're someone who just has to have the extra roominess of a big SUV, then a wagon such as the X-type, with its Jaguar-style luxury, might be a viable alternative, considering the extra costs of operating those larger vehicles.

I'm not the kind of consumer who lusts after expensive luxury cars, and probably would never consider spending $70,000 or even $50,000 on a car -- even one as nice as a Jaguar.

But with the bottom-line sticker price of $37,590 (including freight) on our test vehicle, the 2005 X-type wagon, I could be tempted to buy my first Jaguar.

After just a few minutes behind the wheel, I was hooked. I have also driven the X-type sedan, and I can tell you that there is truly no difference in how the wagon handles compared with the sedan. You don't have to give up anything in the way the sedan rides or drives to have such a practical vehicle as this wagon.

For its first wagon, Jaguar chose the platform of its compact X-type sedan, which allowed for the creation of a premium compact wagon in the same size and class as the Audi A4, Volvo V50 and Mercedes-Benz C-class wagons, among others.

Introduced earlier this year as a 2005 model and continuing this fall as an '06 model with no changes, this vehicle is powered by the same 3.0-liter V-6 engine used in the X-type sedan.

The driving experience was very Jaguar-like even though this is the company's lower-priced entry vehicle. It is based on the chassis of the European Ford Mondeo (which also was the basis for the now-discontinued U.S. Ford Contour and Mercury Cougar). In spite of that heritage, this car is nothing like a Mondeo, Contour or Cougar.

At a starting price in the low-$30,000s, even the X-type sedan looks and feels like a real Jaguar. The company, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., introduced the X-type sedan three years ago to give those on a budget a chance to own a Jaguar.

The rest of the Jaguar line runs from $45,000 up to nearly $90,000, so a price in the $30s is quite a bargain.

The X-type wagon costs a bit more than the base sedan, which lists for $31,495 with five-speed manual gearbox, $34,995 with automatic. But if you need a wagon and can afford the extra money, you won't be disappointed.

Of course, there is no third row of seating, so if you have more than five people to haul around, you'll still need a minivan or an SUV that offers three seats.

But the X-type wagon does have a tall cargo area behind the back seat, and the seat can be lowered to extend the cargo compartment to the back of the front seat.

Jaguar has aimed this vehicle at active young couples who often have sports equipment and other such things to carry around.

The company hopes that the wagon will bring younger, less-affluent buyers into showrooms -- people who later on will have more money to spend, and will then choose to spend it on more-expensive Jag models.

The wagon seems to have the same quality built into it that can be found in the more-expensive Jaguars, even if power and amenities are limited. Since being taken over by Ford in the mid-90s, Jaguar has come a long way in establishing itself as a manufacturer of quality products.

The company this year was ranked second overall in initial quality among all automakers by J.D. Power, just behind the leader, Lexus.

The company was ranked No. 1 in sales satisfaction by J.D. Power -- for the second year in a row -- tied with Lexus. And Jaguar was judged to have the best pre-owned sales program in the luxury car industry.

And the X-type's initial quality, as judged by a separate J.D. Power survey, has improved 32 percent since its fall 2001 introduction.

While the X-type hasn't sold as well as Jaguar had expected, the company has totaled more than 100,000 sales of the car in North America and 250,000 worldwide since introduction. That is fairly impressive considering that some Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes and Audi vehicles in the same class haven't done much better.

Originally, the X-type sedan came in two versions, based on engine size -- either the entry-level 2.5-liter V-6 or the uplevel 3.0-liter V-6.

For 2005, though, the base engine has been dropped. Now only the 3.0-liter V-6 is offered, and that's the one that comes in the wagon. It's rated at 227 horsepower and 206 foot-pounds of torque.

With the standard five-speed automatic transmission, this engine can power the car from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds

Here's a plus: Full-time all-wheel drive is standard on every model. All-wheel drive is hot right now, even in Sun Belt states, because it offers the best traction on all road surfaces and in all weather conditions, wet or dry.

Jaguar expects the wagon to account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the X-type's total annual sales.

Although it is styled similarly to the sedan and carries the same drivetrain, the wagon has 420 different parts and 58 new body stampings, including unique rear doors and roof. The wagon comes with a split tailgate and functional roof rails, and has a structure that is 8 percent stiffer than that of the sedan, Jaguar said.

Even with the back seat in place, there is 50 cubic feet of open cargo space, as well as four cubic feet of hidden space under the cargo floor.

Included in the carpeted cargo compartment are chrome cargo tiedowns and a 12-volt power outlet that allows for recharging of a laptop computer while it is concealed in the under-floor storage area. There is a removeable cargo-area cover as well.

Safety features include standard side-curtain air bags for front and rear occupants, along with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

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At a Glance: 2005 Jaguar X-type wagon

The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, V-6, rear-drive, premium wagon.

Highlights: The first affordable Jag in decades, the X-type, got a wagon version for 2005, introduced in the spring. The wagon looks and handles like a real Jaguar, and has decent fuel economy as well.

Negatives: No manual transmission is offered in the wagon, even though it is available in the X-type sedan. The manual would give the car a sportier feel.

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 227 hp./206 foot-pounds.

Length: 185.5 inches.

Curb weight: 3,671 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

EPA fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon city/24 highway.

Fuel capacity/type: 16 gallons/unleaded regular acceptable.

Major competitors: Audi A4 wagon, Volvo V50, Mercedes-Benz C-wagon, Infiniti FX35.

Base price: $36,330 plus $665 transportation.

Prices as tested: $37,590, including freight and metallic paint ($595), the only included option.

On the road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, discounts and incentives, if any.