Jaguar symbolises motoring of the old school - leather, wood and an air of superiority.
So a few years ago thinking you could buy a Jag for about £20,000 would have been unheard of. Well, you can with the new entry-level front-wheel drive X-type 2.1 which goes on sale in March.
With the X-type, Jaguar is now competing with the established names in the junior executive category - namely the BMW 3-series.
We have opted to test the X-type in 2.5 V6 guise, the current entry into Jaguar motoring, offering four-wheel drive and a silky V6 engine for £22,000 on-the-road.
The 3-series is the Jag's obvious rival and we have chosen to pit it against a 2.2-litre 320i SE (a 325i would be a more appropriate rival but it is only available in SE spec and costs £23,950 on-the-road). The third rival is a fellow all-wheel driver in the shape of the Audi A4 1.8T quattro Sport, costing £22,100 on-the-road.
All have a desirable badge and project the right image for a thrusting young executive, but which one makes the most sense from a fleet point of view?
Well, you could argue that all three do. Compare the front-end prices of the three models featured here and they are within £2,000 of a top-spec Ford Mondeo 2.5 Ghia X saloon.
But thanks to the Mondeo's residual value forecast, it costs 39.67 pence per mile to run over a three-year/60,000-mile operating cycle. All three junior executives here cost about 35ppm over the same period.
Of the three, the Jaguar is the cheapest to run, costing 35.41ppm. It is helped by having the best residual value forecast from CAP Monitor, estimated to retain 45% of its cost new after three-years and 60,000 miles.
This translates into the lowest depreciation costs of our trio, and the Jag also boasts the lowest service, maintenance and repair costs.
The only area where it falls down is on fuel costs — having the largest engine capacity here means it records an average fuel consumption figure of 29.5mpg.
The Audi betters that by recording 30.4mpg on the combined cycle, although its more expensive SMR costs and the lowest residual value prediction mean it cannot challenge the Jag for outright honours, costing 36.24ppm.
Which leaves, perhaps surprisingly, the BMW 3-series in last place. It is the car of choice for young executive types and BMW sells plenty of them (it is the 13th best-selling fleet model in the country, even outselling the Volkswagen Passat).
Yet it still manages to record an impressive residual value forecast — CAP estimating it to retain 44% of its cost new after three-years/60,000-miles.
But with the highest front-end price here the BMW's challenge is dented by the highest depreciation costs and the highest SMR costs, although its fuel costs are the lowest here.
In terms of monthly rental, the Jag wins — costing £414 a month compared to £445 for the Audi and £455 for the BMW. However, the Jag's downfall comes in terms of its carbon dioxide emissions and the amount of benefit-in-kind tax a driver would have to pay under the new emissions based regime due in April.
With CO2 emissions of 234g/km the Jag falls into the 28% band in April for the next tax year, compared to the 26% band for the Audi and 24% band for the BMW.
The Jaguar X-type has got the badge and the brand reputation behind it to make it a winner in the junior executive sector.
It is also the cheapest car here to run over a three-year/60,000-mile operating cycle. A healthy residual value, competitive front-end price and the cheapest monthly rental make it the winner here. It seems as though the time has come for the BMW 3-series.
Behind the wheel
I AM left with one abiding memory of driving the X-type — the throaty growl from the 2.5-litre V6 engine nestling under the sleek bonnet.
With 194bhp on tap you would expect the baby Jag to be a real flyer and the quoted performance figures suggest it is. But on the road the rather lazy nature of the V6 means you don't really get the impression of performance.
This is not helped by the annoying long-throw gearbox which doesn't seem interested in providing quick shifts.
With full-time four-wheel drive, the X-type has plenty of grip, meaning you can be quite forceful when cornering, helped by a stiff body structure which eliminates most of the body roll.
Aside from the aforementioned roar from under the bonnet, there is no noticeable wind noise or tyre roar, meaning you can enjoy the engine note and relax in the well-designed cabin.
Our test model was the entry-level version, meaning it does without the natty TV screen mounted in the dashboard housing the multi-media system.
But there are still plenty of toys to play with and the quality of materials on our test car were, in the main, very good.
Inside, this Jaguar doesn't have the gentleman's club lounge feel of the larger models in the range — our test model came without leather seats although we did get some rather ghastly looking maple veneer facings on the dashboard. I would far prefer to see some metal or carbon fibre.
The dashboard and fascia are well-designed and simple to use and have provided the template for the refreshed interior of the larger S-type.
The advertising campaign for the X-type focuses on trendy young things called the new Jag generation and this car has been designed with young people in mind.
The X-type is far removed from the traditional Jaguar image of a large luxury saloon gliding along in leather and wood-lined luxury. Instead, it is focused on providing the Jaguar brand to a much wider audience. In this it will certainly succeed, although driving-wise I prefer the much harder and more direct feel of the Audi A4 quattro.
I SEEM to have a love-hate relationship with the X-type. All the ingredients are there to make it succeed — fine pedigree, strong performance and classic styling — but for me it just doesn't gel.
Jaguar cannot be criticised for trying to move away from its stereotyped image with a new dashboard design, and if some of the switches are carried over from the Ford Focus, who cares as long as they work?
But the quality of the plastic in the centre console of our test car just didn't feel 'premium' enough. Rover has done a far better job with the interior of the 75 than Jaguar has done with the X-type.
The car drives well, long-throw gearchange and crashy suspension aside, but I just wish Jaguar would be brave enough to offer electric rear windows as standard, rather than follow the stingy lead set by the BMW 3-series and Audi A4.