Agnosia is a rare mental disability whose sufferers cannot distinguish objects -- hens from hammers, dollars from doughnuts, that sort of thing. The car market suffers a wicked case.
Under the category of "sport wagons," you will find vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4, Lexus RX 330, Buick Rendezvous, Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe, which is odd, given these vehicles' dearth of sport and essential wagon-ness. If these gawky moot-utes are sport wagons, what do you call the BMW 325xi wagon, the Audi A4 and A6 Avant or the coming-soon Saab 9-3 SportCombi? This last one sounds like the surf-and-turf at Hooters.
And, please, these are not "touring wagons" unless they appear on the bill with Weezer.
Nay, I say. A proper sport wagon starts life as a sport sedan and then grows a cargo hold. Consider the Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon. The wagon variant of the X-Type sedan, the Sportwagon is Jaguar's first wagon -- not counting the hearse conversion in the movie "Harold and Maude." The X-Type hasn't gotten much love in the U.S. market since it was introduced in 2002, and it is, truth to tell, a bit snaggled compared with the fresher German competition. I've always liked the car, but then, I was absolutely wild about the old Ford Contour SVT, which shared the X-Type's genealogy by way of Ford's global Mondeo platform.
Jaguar is bleeding from the ears right now, and it's an open question whether the X-Type -- a costly foray into the entry-luxury segment, a car that badly wounded Jaguar's elitist image, at least in the U.S. -- will be revamped at the end of its product life, which should be in 2006.
Still, I like the Sportwagon, in a shallow, it's all-about-looks sort of way. I like its compact, European feel, its clutch-purse elegance. To shore up its Coventry cat credentials, it retains the full complement of Jaguar cues, including lots of brightwork around the windows, grille and bumpers, as well as the fluted hood, quad headlamps and a big leaper hood ornament. The car is virtually identical to the sedan from the nose to the rear doors. The rising shoulder line, blacked out roof pillars and bowed roofline all help visually lower the car's rear quarter for a rakish effect. In terms of curb presentation, it's no contest: The Sportwagon is a far handsomer car than its sedan counterpart.
The interior is well intended but dated, reflecting a sensibility drawn from Jaguars of a decade before. The J-shape shifter, horse-collar central console, glossy swath of walnut dash paneling and quicksilver brightwork are steadfast reminders of earlier cars and days. Unfortunately, these upper-class materials have to mingle with the cabin's less savory elements of plastics and vinyl.
Powered by a 3.0-liter, 227-horsepower V6, a five-speed automatic and full-time all-wheel drive, the Sportwagon is agreeably competent when driven hard, but it feels its weight in ways the German cars don't. The interior twitters a bit when the car encounters rough pavement but not so much as to be distracting. The source of these signals in our test car seemed to be the rear fold-down seat backs, which flop forward to create a flat-floor cargo hold of about 40-cubic-foot capacity, the largest in its class.
Try as I might, I can't help liking this car. Buying one is another matter. A fully equipped X-Type Sportwagon with navigation and xenon headlamps will cost more than $40,000, which is a rough part of town. I know a bargain when I see one, and this isn't it.