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Click for pictures“Test drive the 3.0-litre
  X-Type Estate and
d swear its even
  more of a driver’s car
  than the saloon...”

BEHIND ALMOST EVERY car purchase made is the all-important 'C'-word. Credibility. Like it or not, what you drive defines how the world perceives you. And long gone are the days when being seen behind the wheel of an estate car marked you down.

Nowadays, so-called lifestyle estates are not only important players in the designer-labelling and image-management game, but they're also practical lifestyle enhancers that offer more functionality than an ordinary saloon or hatchback ever can. More importantly, there are those fine examples that actually score higher in the beauty-stakes than the saloon siblings upon which they're based.

It's time to mention Jaguar's X-Type Estate. An engineered evolution of the X-Type saloon, it's new from the B-pillars back with major changes involving virtually every panel. The roof is completely different, not only because it is much longer than on the saloon but also because it dips much more gently towards the rear. The result is particularly pleasing, with first impressions of its understated 'British-ness'. Nothing wrong in that.

Viewed from any angle, there's no mistaking the Jaguar DNA. Obvious brand styling cues include the quartet of oval headlights, the pronounced contours running the length of the bonnet and the deft curve closing off the third side window above the rear shoulders. Overall the look is elegant, the clean lines nicely defined by the long flowing roof, neat roof bars and deftly truncated tail. And that's enough to stand scrutiny alongside its smartest competitors.

The market for stylish estates is a vigorous one, appealing to a younger ownership with lifestyles that involve participation in some sort of sport — the kind of people who do not want to compromise on the driving experience they get from their car and who will make good use of both the X-Type's core driving dynamics and the additional versatility and space.

A range of engine options embrace both petrol and diesel. There are three V6 petrol engines available with a choice of 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0-litre; and two turbodiesels in either 2.0 or 2.7-litre. Jaguar's all-wheel drive comes as standard on the 2.5 and 3.0-litre petrol models. We chose to review the 31,165 3.0-litre V6 Sport Premium fitted with the 5-speed manual 'box.

For that you get 231bhp and 209lb ft of torque, a top speed of 144mph and zero to 60mph acceleration in an invigorating 6.9 seconds. You can also expect a combined fuel consumption of around 27mpg.

Naturally, the estate enjoys the same generous equipment and cabin ambience as its saloon sisters. Standard items include an Alpine sound system with 6 speakers and a 6-disc CD autochanger, a heated front windscreen, automatic climate control with pollen filter, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and powered and heated door mirrors.

There's also a handy trip computer — range, average consumption, average speed and two trip distances are all displayed on the driver message centre integrated in the speedometer and accessed via the button on the column indicator stalk — plus four one-touch open and close electric windows as well as front fog lamps, powerwash headlamps, smart twin-arm, 18-inch cast alloy wheels and Sport suspension. Oh, and the all-important full-time 4WD system.

Slide into either of the 8-way electrically adjustable sport-style front seats and you'll be sitting in one of the most comfortable and supportive chairs to be found in any car. The driver gets a three-memory recall for personal seat and door mirror positions, while both driver and passenger enjoy two-stage heated seats. Look around and you'll find a balanced mix of trim materials — handsome all-black in our test car — that blends well with the leather and Alcantara seat upholstery. Subtle chrome highlights can be found on the door handles, cupholder rims, air vent controls and gear lever collar.

Ousting the traditional wood for black carbon-fibre introduced an agreeable contemporary feel to our test car's attractive fascia, with logically laid out switchgear and major controls. The pedals are thoughtfully positioned to facilitate heel-and-toe changes for drivers keen to wring every last drop of performance from their X-Type.

The four-spoke leather-clad multi-adjustable steering wheel adjusts for height and reach and — thanks to the perforated key grip sections — really feels the business. Four attractive silver-bezelled dials — large speedometer and rev-counter, smaller coolant and fuel — sit in the binnacle ahead of the driver, with crisp white-on-black graphics.

The 7-inch touch-screen display that dominates the centre console controls the audio, climate control, DVD-based SatNav and the telephone with a delightful simplicity that makes it a pleasure to use. Once you've experienced touch you never go back! There's also voice control of the same functions.

The estate's lengthened and gently re-profiled roofline has increased the saloon's already plentiful rear headroom so two adults will be perfectly comfortable in the rear, sharing a wide and well-padded central armrest with cupholders. The tall rear doors offer very easy access but if you need to seat three in the back it would be better if they're not large adults.

The X-Type estate's load bay is far too accommodating to be called a mere 'boot'. Access is excellent and another trump card is its sheer size. Bigger than that of any comparable rival, it swallows an impressive 445 litres of baggage with the seats up and a substantial 1,415 with both rear seats folded forward. Its tailgate is similar to that of the Range Rover in offering something most of its competitors don't: an upper rear window opening independent of the metal lower half for easy loading. The tailgate can be opened either by the remote key fob or by a concealed electrically-operated lock button.

A simple latch in each seatback releases the 70:30 split rear seats, which fold virtually flat without removing the headrests. You also have the option of carrying one, two or three rear-seat passengers depending on the luggage requirements of the moment.

The load bay is trimmed out in high quality materials: fully-fitted carpeting up to the interior waistline and four spring-loaded, chrome-finished D-shaped tie-down rings anchored into the floor. Nice touches include the sturdy retractable load cover with a built-in 'dog guard' and two deep storage trays accessed by lifting the hinged boot floor — where you'll find a 12-volt power point that's ideal for recharging a laptop while you're on the move. There's also a useful cargo net which can be attached to either the roof-lining or the boot floor D-rings.

Jaguar has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about driver convenience. Gas-filled struts make opening and closing a hands-free operation, and there's little chance of banging your head because the tailgate opens to a wide, almost ninety degree, angle to the sloping rear pillars. Access is made even easier by a low bumper height and completely new rear light units that, to minimise intrusion, are wrapped around the rear body sides.

Fixed black roof rails are fitted as standard, designed to accommodate additional carrying systems such as roof boxes and ski clamps. And when it comes to reversing, the standard-fitment rear parking sensors take away the hassle. A slim spoiler fitted along the tailgate's top edge and the chromed oval tailpipes at each rear corner are clues that the X-Type Estate is not just for ferrying any old cargo around.

Fire up the 3.0-litre V6 and pull away and the estate immediately feels competent. Very competent. And it has an appeal that grows with every mile you drive. So, whether you're getting home on a dark winter's night or enjoying an invigorating blast at day's pink dawning, there's always a palpably secure feeling of traction — courtesy of the permanent four-wheel drive system.

For a so-called 'baby' Jag, this is a particularly rapid machine. En-route to its 144mph maximum, the 3.0-litre will bolt to 60mph in 6.9 seconds. The sweet, all-aluminium 2,967cc V6 delivers strong performance across the rev range, revving cleanly all the way to the 6,500rpm red-line.

The standard 5-speed manual 'box is a good partner for the mechanically-refined 231bhp V6. The gate is well defined, the shift action crisp and, whatever gear you select, the V6's meaty 209lb ft of torque ensures that when you press down on the accelerator it responds instantly, pulling heartily until you lift off. All of which makes it an exceedingly easy car to drive — slow or fast. And, thanks to a smooth driveline and sweet engine, the 3.0-litre is also very quiet. In top gear with 80mph showing on the speedo you'll see 3,000rpm on the rev-counter.

Official fuel consumption figures are 19mpg urban, 27.3 combined and 36.4mpg extra urban. As usual we didn't spare the horses on the way to clocking up 640 test miles, and we averaged a useful 26.6mpg overall. With a 13.5-gallon tank, most owners can expect a safe touring range of close to 450 miles.

The V6-powered X-Type stops with the same eagerness with which it accelerates. Pedal feel is good and the discs-all-round (ventilated at the front) anti-lock brakes are highly-effective at both resisting fade and hauling the car back down.

In estate guise the X-Type throws up a few pleasant surprises. First and foremost, it's only when you're on the outside looking in that you know you've been driving an estate because from the driving seat, unless you look in the mirror, there's no indication of it at all. On paper the estate weighs in at 65kg heavier than the saloon and comes with a 44mm-longer body, but dynamically, due to an able chassis, excellent body control and a well-fettled sports suspension set-up, you'd never know it.

What melds it all together so harmoniously is the X-Type's beautifully weighted, speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion steering. At the wheel you'd be hard pressed to guess it's a four-wheel driver — the feedback through the wheel is blatantly that of a rear-wheel drive car. The rack is sharp — just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock — and responses to the helm are precise.

Driven with verve, it's the uninterrupted flow of information about road surface and grip reaching you via the communicative steering that makes it so easy to make the most of the car's considerable capabilities on the road. The result is authentic driving entertainment and, whether you're powering along flowing A-roads or twisting B-roads, it remains marvellously composed and as sure-footed as a mountain goat.

Remarkably, the Sport model's 18-inch forged alloy wheel and firmer suspension combination don't appear to hurt the ride quality one jot — in fact the faster you drive the better it becomes. Not only does the X-Type's ride serve up just the right balance of roadholding and suppleness, but it has an uncanny ability to glide smoothly over the roughest of surface imperfections.

Jaguar's Traction-4 all-wheel drive system is an impressive bit of kit. Working through a centre viscous coupling with a 40:60 front-to-rear torque split — the rearward bias giving much of the handling balance of a rear-drive car and underlining the estate's driver-focused, sporting character — it can send up to 100 per cent of the power to either the front or the rear axle depending on the available grip. Not only does this bestow the X-Type with startling traction and usable agility in the dry, but its wet weather composure is not far short of amazing, simply dismissing abysmal conditions as if they weren't there. A stability control system (DSC) is fitted as standard and it's very much on the ball, deftly catching slides before you're aware they've even begun.

Worthy, too, of praise are the 225/45 Pirelli P Zero tyres. Not only do they grip well but they manage to be both forgiving and quiet. There's loads of safety gear that includes occupancy-sensing adaptive dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and side-curtain airbags for both front and rear occupants. The front seat belts have pretensioners and load-limiters and in the back there are adjustable head restraints with three, three-point seat belts.

Other safety enhancing features include a collapsible pedal box, superb Xenon headlights, audio/telephone/voice control and cruise control buttons mounted on the multi-function steering wheel and the excellent touch screen stereo and SatNav system. Anti-lock brakes are standard as is Dynamic Stability Control with Emergency Brake Assist.

And while Jaguar's Traction-4 system provides more on-road safety — particularly at high speeds — it also permits a degree of off-road ability that's sure to come in handy if you wish to tow a caravan, horse trailer or a speedboat.

The highest praise you can lavish on the X-Type Estate is to mention that everyone who got behind the wheel confirmed that it drove just like the saloon — as Jaguar fully intended. To say it's an estate that thinks it's a saloon is not quite giving you the whole picture. Because, if anything, and especially in Sport specification as tested here, we think the estate just has the dynamic edge on the four door model upon which it's based.

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Jaguar X-Type Estate 3.0 V6 Sport Premium | 31,165
Maximum speed: 144mph | 0-60mph: 6.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26.6mpg | Power: 231bhp | Torque: 209lb ft

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----------------------------------------------------------- Jaguar X-Type Estate