Jaguar is confident that the X-type, on sale from June, will take it into the mainstream executive car market. Ian Callum, Jaguar design chief, said the company was returning to its historic roots in a bid to lose its 'niche luxury' tag.
“Jaguar is seen as a luxury brand, but historically it was a sports car brand,” he said.
The X-type, pitched against BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class, will have permanent four-wheel drive on all versions.
“We probably invented the sports saloon, so having 'spirited performance' is not a problem,” said Mr Callum.
“In the future we will be pushing the sportiness of Jaguar much harder than we have done over the past 20 to 30 years.” Key to the X-type was to produce a car that was stylish and practical. “We can't continue to make cars that aren't practical,” said Mr Callum, who became Jaguar's director of styling after Geoff Lawson died in 1999.
“Fitting the Jaguar style and perception into something that is practical meant producing an exciting car that works well.
“A Jaguar is traditionally low and wide, but the X-type takes a different stance – a wedge shape which works well and gives drama to the car.”
The design is intended to meet the needs of increasingly demanding customers in the executive compact saloon sector. “The area into which the X-type fits meant that packaging had to be taken seriously – customers demand more boot space, more headroom and so on,” said Mr Callum.
“People are changing their attitudes to what is luxury – it is not just about quality and the choice of materials, it is also about ease of use.
“People buy an XJ for more emotional reasons – the XJ is a niche luxury car.”
Jaguar intends to build 100,000 X-types a year at Halewood, the former Ford Escort factory on Merseyside.
“With the higher volumes of the X-type we have to keep a lot more people happy and they are less prepared to put up with compromises,” said Mr Callum.
“We have a generation of people who know exactly what they want in life and the perception of what is wanted has changed. People are more aware of what is good quality, more aware of the finer details.
“Charm, elegance and practicality. That is the new attitude to the way we produce cars.”
He added: “I want to push it even further; we are far from conservative – we are a very daring bunch.”