Many cars that history remembers as great were in reality only almost good when they left the factory. What made them great was the fact that they left their purchasers enough spare change to release their surprising potential. Other cars, the truly great ones, were nearly perfect just the way they were built. Such cars are premium products and justify a premium price. This Jaguar needs to work harder, smarter or maybe both to be worth its cover.

Observer's reactions to the Jaguar ranged from "Oh, a Taurus..." (yes, we editors know it's the Contour platform, not the Taurus) to "This is a really nice car!" The latter was, for the record, far more common. Personally, I was unimpressed before I ever drove it. In the photo we ran of this car for its introduction, looking at it out the door of an old milking barn, the right-hand headlight washer cover was held in place by gravity. It had fallen off some time before and came off again at that shoot. The cover is still in the glovebox, leaving the rough, unpainted white edge of the cutout in the bumper. Few economy cars do that today, and the car I use to illustrate my belief that there's a price below which it doesn't make sense to build a new car never actually had parts fall off.

Our X-Type frequently gives the impression of a car costing $10,000 less. If it sits in the sun, one is greeted with what a friend at Nissan calls the "Japanese fish-leather smell." The aroma goes away soon enough, but it speaks of an aspirational Honda, not polished English walnut and grace. The vinyl on the center armrest is losing its grain and feeling rubbery at 7,300 miles.

The seating arrangement suggests the car was built for women. Though the roofline is reasonably tall, the driver's seat can't be lowered far enough to keep my hair from brushing the headliner around the sunroof, and I have to duck to see most traffic lights if I am at the front of the line. The view out the top of the windshield is optically distorted, shrinking text on road signs vertically and causing my eyes to work harder as they try to adjust.

The touch-screen control panel in the dash is intuitive and capable, but the distribution of some functions between the screen and conventional buttons definitely carries a learning curve. The stereo sounds quite good.

The six is louder and lacks the high-rpm smoothness of those offered by BMW and Audi, and the sensation of power seems dependent on air temperature almost to the same degree as a turbo engine. At night, the Jag satisfies, but on an 80F afternoon, it's unremarkable.

The car's biggest problems, though, are with its rubber bits. Frankly, in their efforts to make the platform quiet and Jaguar-smooth, the engineers relied too heavily on this worthy material. Driveline lash is annoying, making throttle tip-in feel sudden and jerky. Combine that with dramatic acceleration squat, and driving elegantly requires real concentration. The shifter is not the world's best, but is much better than the one in, say, a Saab 9-3. I have seen liquid-filled engine mounts, but suspect applying the concept to the front suspension bushings may be one step too far.

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