There are many Wisteria Lanes in America. At least, there are many streets and places named Wisteria.
For example, there is Wisteria Lane Lodging, a collection of resort log cabins, just north off Highway 23, near Eureka Springs, Ark. A private security firm, Festival Event Security Services, is on Wisteria Lane in Mandeville, La.
In my hometown of New Orleans, there is a street near Lake Pontchartrain called Wisteria. It was ruined by Hurricane Katrina, but that isn't the point here.
America's real Wisteria Lanes, like their famed fictional namesake, the neighborhood of ABC-TV's "Desperate Housewives," represent suburban angst. They are mixtures of love and lust, vice and virtue, altruism and ambition -- the homes of young, beautiful, upwardly mobile people and those who long ago settled down and are now preparing to move out.
Jaguar North America wants the fast, beautiful, young and affluent, the residents propelled by dreams of attainable luxury -- the new mini-mansion on the old suburban lot; the proper car, such as the 2006 Jaguar X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon, parked in the driveway.
"We want young, professional buyers to become much more aware of the Jaguar brand," said C.J. O'Donnell, vice president of marketing and sales for Jaguar North America.
It's a matter of image . . . and actuarial math.
The traditional concept of luxury -- that the things of wealth are rewards for a long life of talent, toil and ingenuity; or that they are the entitlements of old money -- has outlived commercial viability. Older people have only so many new-car buys left in them. Younger blood is needed to keep the assembly lines rolling.
Besides, six-figure incomes are now common in many young, professional households, especially those shared by two working professionals. But, still, those early careerists have many financial pressures -- mortgages, balances due on college and graduate-school loans, child-care bills and the overall costs of image maintenance. Most of them probably cannot afford a $91,000 Jaguar XJ Super V-8. But many probably could swing the $36,000, all-wheel-drive, X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon.
That's Jaguar's idea, anyway. To make it work, the company gave the X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon similar characteristics that have made Wisteria Lane, real and imagined, popular. The Jaguar marque itself appeals to lust. It has long symbolized motorized sensuality, kinetic elegance -- beautifully sculpted on the outside, fitted with the finest materials on the inside; but, above all, deliberately designed for speed and premium handling.
But the need to expand product availability in pursuit of corporate longevity -- "moving downscale" and "catering to the masses" in a bid to expand the customer base, some critics say -- requires compromise.
Look at the X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon. The beauty is there. The elongated, tapered body is very much Jaguar, an appearance enhanced by the company's decision to install on that entry-level model the same sporty wire-mesh grille previously reserved for Jaguar's R-series, high-performance cars.
But the interior, although pleasant, is reminiscent of a prefabricated mini-mansion. It looks rich but does not measure up to that appearance in tactile contact. There is something forced about it -- an attempt to do too much with too little.
Luckily, the X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon's performance is mostly Jaguar, especially at higher speeds where it handles with agility and precision. Lower-end torque -- the twisting power generated on the drive wheels when starting from "Stop" or when moving up through the lower gears -- seems a tad wanting.
But the wagon is loaded with rationality. That is, it comes sufficiently armed against attacks that it is a beginner's bauble for the barely wealthy. Wet road traction is superior. It has lots of useful and easily accessible cargo space. It is tightly constructed; and it has many standard safety features, such as head air bags.
The X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon has decent highway mileage for an all-wheel-drive automobile with a standard five-speed automatic transmission -- 24 miles per gallon. It also meets the nation's toughest clean-air standards, such as those that exist in the bedroom community of Wisteria at Windingwalk in Chula Vista, Calif.