I couldn't wait to throttle the person who shrunk the $65,000 Jaguar out in the parking lot.

What? It's supposed to look like that. Oh, never mind.

This is the kind of thing the new-for-2002 Jaguar X-Type does to your mind. It's being called the "baby Jag," the "mini Jag" and even "Jag Junior."

The bottom line is that the X-Type is the smallest Jaguar ever built, and with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of around $30,000 on the base model, the X-Type is well within reach of households that normally wouldn't think of investing in a Jaguar model.

Ford, a mass-seller of cars to be sure, apparently wants to get a little something more out of the $6 billion it put up for British-based Jaguar a decade back. The American automaker expects the comparatively affordable X-Type to double Jag's worldwide sales to about 200,000 a year.

My test model was the Jaguar with the 3-liter V-6, a step up from the 2.5-liter V-6 power plant on the base X-Type. Happily, the 3-liter engine with 231 horsepower and 209 pounds/foot of torque made the tester perform like one expects a Jaguar to perform.

Off-the-line acceleration included the desired neck-snapping pop, and at speed, my X-Type whipped through traffic and up foothills with righteous enthusiasm. The X-Type sport sedan even included the prototypical sensation experienced in pricier performance Jags -- take your foot off the accelerator, and it feels like you hit the brake.

That takes some getting used to, but it will be old hat for veteran drivers of performance models. The X-Type can be equipped with a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic gearbox. The latter has the American market in mind, and it's a plus for those who have disliked previous experiences navigating a Jaguar stick shift, an acquired taste even among aficionados.

Best of all, the X-Type looks like a Jag from the outside. Only smaller, of course. It has the imposing four-light front beaming out from under a sweetly sloping hood. You can even get the big pouncing-cat hood ornament (the chrome one treasured by vandals far and wide).

Looks aside, the standard package is the real draw. Full-time all-wheel drive as well as elegant wood/leather interior trim are standard.

That is major news to anyone who has strolled onto a Jaguar lot, admired the machinery and then run away in a cold sweat after viewing the hefty bottom line on the sticker. The X-Type gives you real Jaguar luxury within the $30,000 ballpark. Hallelujah!

Be advised that both the 2.5-liter (194 horsepower) and the 3-liter X-Types can be dressed up with "Sport" packages. Upgraded performance and trim features come with the deal, with $2,000 added to the bottom line.

Although words such as "little" and "small" are being linked to the X-Type, the back seat actually can carry real human adults in relative comfort. The front-seating arrangement is functional and comfortable. Driver controls take just a little time to master, but it can be done without signing up for a six-week course.

Frankly, I liked the comparative simplicity of the X-Type. Having driven Jaguars that had too much that was too complicated, it was nice to drive one that simply performed and looked good doing it.

Jaguar purists -- and there are quite a few of them out there -- argue that Ford has "dumbed down" a classic marque with the addition of the X-Type.

Hogwash. Why can't drivers of more-modest means have a turn in a car that includes much of the flash and dash seen in Jags with stickers of $60,000 and up?

There is no reason, of course. And as long as Ford has put up a few billion to get into the game, it might as well come forward with an X-Type to compete with the likes of the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus IS 300/ES 300 models and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

2002 Jaguar X-Type 3.0.

at a glance

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, fo door, luxury/performance midsize sedan with all-wheel drive.

Base price: $35,950 (as tested, $42,045).

Engine: 3-liter V-6 with 231 horsepower at 6,800 revolutions per minute and 209 pounds/foot torque at 3,000 rpm.

EPA fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city; 27 mpg highway (estimated).

Transmission: Five-speed automatic with full-time all-wheel drive.

Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensitive feature.

Brakes: Power four-wheel discs with anti-lock.

Suspension type: MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar and gas-charged shocks on front, independent 3-link with stabilizer bar and gas-charged shocks on rear.

Interior passenger volume: 90 cubic feet.

Trunk volume: 16 cubic feet.

Fuel tank: 16 gallons.

Curb weight: 3,516 pounds.

Front track: 60.4 inches.

Rear track: 60.4 inches.

Height: 54.8 inches.

Ground clearance: 6.1 inches.

Length: 183.9 inches.

Wheelbase: 106.7 inches.

Width: 70.4 inches.

Tires: P205/55HR16 all-season tires.

Assembly point: Halewood, England.