Jaguar's new X-type estate has enough sexy curves to bring the cad out in anybody, says Sean O'Grady

"Don't worry, girls, you can have a lift in the Jag." I've always wanted to say those words, with their faintly sexist, vaguely racy Leslie Phillips tone. At any rate, my two colleagues looked suitably impressed. Chauffeured to a party in a Jaguar. What a treat. But when they clapped eyes on the Jaguar X-type estate, they were disappointed. "It's a bit suburban... we were expecting something a bit bigger." Eventually, they agreed that it was better than walking.

So here it is then: the Jaguar Heresy 2.0D, as we may unofficially call it. It is the first big cat to be fitted, as a mainstream production model, with estate bodywork; the first to be fitted with diesel power; the first to have four cylinder power; the first to be driven by the front wheels.None of which mattered that much to me, as it's a perfectly acceptable combination. I'm not upset by the "it's a Mondeo underneath" jibes, usually uttered by people driving an Audi that's really a Skoda under the skin. The Mondeo is a well-engineered car, and its diesel unit is smooth, powerful, economical, and only a little bit clattery. Even Peugeot and BMW - masters of the diesel universe - are sharing diesel technology these days, so I don't see why anyone should get het up about a bit of common-parts sourcing.

The fact that this Jag departs from the old orthodoxy of rear drive, and the more recent practice of all-wheel drive is of no consequence. It might not have the precise 50/50 front-to- rear weight distribution of the best BMW designs, say, but the X-type was well-balanced and poised all the same. Besides, an estate is supposed to be about roominess, and front-wheel drive is usually the better configuration for that. Indeed, the old Jaguar slogan of "grace, pace, space" was only two- thirds true of its rapid but somewhat snug products; at least this one really does have the promised space.

The estate bodywork has been nicely executed by Jaguar's legendary design chief, Ian Callum. It doesn't look too "bolted-on", but then again, it doesn't look that special, either. It is, as my colleague said, "a bit suburban". In the right colour, perhaps, and maybe with some huge great wheels, it might look a bit more of a sports estate. The interior, all dark wood and black leather, is tasteful, but some of the gaps on the dashboard look uneven in a £22,000 car.

The most interesting thing about this X-type, though, is what it tells us about where Jaguar is coming from and where, hopefully, it will be going.

The firm's travails have been well rehearsed, and it is fair to say that they have been bound up with the relative sales failure of the X-type. Some 250,000 have been made since its launch in2001, a vast volume by past Jaguar standards, but nowhere near what the company needs to secure its long-term future.

The lack of diesel - a fast- growing sector - and estate variants across the range hasn't helped, and it's good to see Jaguar now getting its act together on those fronts. The other fault may lie in those traditional lines, picking up design cues from the original, very beautiful XJ6 of 1968.

The X-type, like its bigger S-type and XJ brothers, is gloriously retro and distinctively curvaceous, to my eyes, but obviously too much of an "old bloke's motor" for those self-consciously thrusting types whose default choice always "has to be German", as one such put it to me (even if it's made in South Africa or the US, or shares its engines with Skodas and Seats).

What on earth can Jaguar do in the face of such obduracy?

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