The new Jaguar X-Type is a very nice car, one that immediately must be included on the shopping list with the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 if you're in the market for a near-luxury sedan that wears a European suit.

But I quickly must add that I haven't driven the car that Jaguar hangs its hat on -- the $29,950 one that accents the brand's advertising campaign. That's right, Jaguar now sells a car with a suggested retail price, before adding in the $645 handling charge, of less than $30,000.

But the loaner car that I drove cost nearly $10,000 more than that. And, if you throw in a few options like the Sport Pack package or a navigation system, you can easily build and buy a $45,000 X-Type.

Because the cars that I test drive come right from the manufacturer, you might have thought that Jaguar would have been proud to show off its new $29,950 baby, but that wasn't the case. Mercedes-Benz, in contrast, also has a more affordable addition to its family, the C-Class coupe. That car is priced from about $26,000, and the one I test-drove had a window sticker of about $27,000.

So, while I liked the Adriatic blue X-Type I drove, I'm withholding final judgment until I drive the real thing.

The X-Type makes a great first impression with its signature Jaguar styling cues -- four round lights and the leaping hood ornament -- and its aggressive profile. From the front and side, the car looks small and lean and fast. From the rear, it looks solid and substantial. While certainly not a piece of road art like a vintage E-Type or a modern XK8 coupe, the new X-Type feels both fresh and familiar. The previous new Jaguar, the 2-year-old S-Type sedan, already is beginning to seem a bit too last-year's-trend to me.

Compared with the bland Japanese entries, the predictable offerings from European competitors and the odd and off-putting 2003 Cadillac CTS, the X-Type is the beauty-show winner in the near-lux class.

On the inside, the car seems a bit small. It's based on the platform of the European Ford Mondeo, a version of the car once sold here as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. According to EPA measurements, the X-Type is a compact car, the same as the Audi A4, Lexus IS 300 and Volvo S60.

Still, there are no readily apparent compromises inside the X-Type's cabin. There's lots of leather -- on the seats, steering wheel and shift knob -- and wood (bird's-eye maple) trim, too. Seats are firm, and give good support during strenuous driving.

In fact, the sand charcoal interior on my test car was light and inviting, and much less overly formal than in some previous Jags I have driven.

On the road, the X-Type neither drove as aggressively as a 3-Series nor as softly as an ES 300. Steering is very precise, and this car's handling exceeded my expectations. The permanent all-wheel-drive no doubt will add some stability in rainy or worse weather, but during a su nny week in Northern California, I couldn't detect its presence.

(While I'm harping on price today, I should note in all fairness that BMW and Audi, to name two, charge a premium for their all-wheel-drive models vs. their rear-wheel-drive counterparts. Jaguar presents the X-Type just one way, with all-wheel-drive on all models.)

Jaguar thinks the arrival of the X-Type will double its worldwide sales to 185,000 cars in just two years. Of those 93,600 X-Type sales, about 27,000 will be to U.S. buyers. Obviously, the company hopes the X-Type will attract younger buyers.

That much-mentioned $29,950 car is the X-Type 2.5, as it carries a 194-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6. The X-Type 3.0, the one we drove, comes with a 231-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6. Either can be had with a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic, with the manual standard on the 2.5 and a no-cost option on the 3.0, while the automatic is standard on the 3.0 and a $1,275 option on the 2.5.

Still, at the end of the day, the question remains whether you need to add $10,000 or more to a base X-Type to get it to feel like a real Jaguar.

Those buyers won't worry about the price. Instead, they'll be happy with the size and sophistication of this new Jaguar.

Others, who come in after digesting the magazine and TV ads, might be a bit disappointed that they can't get it all for less than $30,000.