A Sheep in Cat's Clothing
2004 Jaguar X-Type 3.0 Sport

The temptation is to embrace stereotypes and say the British are bereft of passion.

But that lie is betrayed by the existence of the remarkably sensual Jaguar XK8 convertible and the equally stunning Bentley Continental GT sports coupe.

So, what then is the problem with the 2004 Jaguar X-Type 3.0 Sport?

It is a good-looking, all-wheel-drive, compact sedan of classic Jaguar styling. There are the four elliptical headlamps with contoured eyebrows. The car's hindquarters rise, displaying a kinetic muscularity befitting a predatory cat.

Yet, for all of that, after a week and hundreds of miles behind its wheel, I am left with the feeling that the X-Type 3.0 Sport is little more than a work of artifice. It looks seductive, but does not seduce. It invites you to believe, but offers little to justify faith.

In the end, it is just a pretty car with a Jaguar badge, something akin to a pretty date who knows more about Chanel, Prada or Gucci than she does about people, or even herself.

This is disappointing.

I was infatuated with the Jaguar X-Type car in my initial test-drive of that model in 2001. It, too, was pretty, and it drove well along France's rain-slicked roads, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. I was impressed.

It was a Jaguar for less than $30,000! I was intrigued, so much so that I willingly excused the rear end that closely resembled the backside of a Ford Taurus. As for the ride of that 2001 X-Type, it seemed okay, mostly because there was little with which to compare it at the time.

But the calendar and interim experiences have a way of changing perceptions and minimizing initial praise, if not dismissing it altogether.

Consider the notion of passion. BMW's Mini Cooper and 3-Series cars have it. These are automobiles that beg you to drive; and once you're seated, they hold you captive behind their wheels. Ditto the delightful Mazda3, the superbly smooth Acura TL, the spirited Nissan Altima 3.5 SE and the totally-in-your-face Cadillac CTS-V. These are cars with attitude.

By comparison, the X-Type 3.0 Sport comes off as an uptight wimp. Though it looks like a Jaguar, it seems unsure of its heritage, strained by pretense. Perhaps that's because it's really a Ford -- that is, a vehicle built on the Ford Mondeo global platform.

Ford Motor Co. owns Jaguar, just as Volkswagen AG owns Bentley. But although Ford managed not to corrupt premium Jaguar cars such as the XK and XJ models, it seems not to have served Jaguar well with the X-Type 3.0 Sport. There is far too much compromise here.

For example, the interior is attractive, but the materials feel cheap. They are the automotive equivalent of costume jewelry.

The X-Type 3.0 Sport's ride, in relationship to all of the entry-level luxury automobiles and premium smal l cars that have come along since 2001, is marginally pleasing at best. It is fine on smooth roads, but it is upsetting on many winter-ravaged and construction-tortured urban streets.

The car's 227-horsepower, 3-liter V-6 delivers adequate oomph. But adequacy is not what you want from a car brand that bespeaks hedonism and vows to fulfill your wildest automotive fantasies.

In short, it is not so much that the thrill is gone from the X-Type 3.0 Sport as that it was never there. If you can live with that in return for a Jaguar badge, so be it. But I'd rather move downscale, or sacrifice prestige to hang with a car that can get down and boogie.

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Enough said.

Upside: The Jaguar X-Type 3.0 Sport is an attractive car. The all-wheel-drive system works well. In terms of image, the car allows you to fake it until you make it. Had it been featured on a TV "reality" show, it would have appeared on Donald Trump's "The Appr ntice."

Ride, acceleration and handling: The X-Type 3.0 Sport gets decent marks in all three categories. But there is nothing at all outstanding here.

Body style/layout: The X-Type 3.0 Sport is a four-door sedan with front engine and all-wheel-drive.

Engine/transmission: The car has a 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 227 horsepower at 6,800 revolutions per minute and 206 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm.

Capacities: There is seating for five people. Maximum cargo capacity is 16 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 16 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 22 miles per gallon, mostly in highway driving.

Safety: Four-wheel disc brakes, vented front and solid rear; four-wheel anti-lock system; side and head air bags.

Price: Base price is $33,330. Estimated dealer invoice price on base model is $31,000. Price as tested is $37,065, including $3,070 in options and a $665 destination charge.

Purse-string notes: Jaguar is offering price breaks on this one. Compare with Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS and CTS-V, Infiniti G35x AWD and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.