► Entry-level Jaguar XE driven
► We test the lower-powered diesel
► Would you? Should you?
Can the new Jaguar XE really be good enough to dislodge the BMW 3/4-series and Mercedes C-class, essentially our compact executive class favourites for as long as most of us can remember? Has the decade-long wait for a small Jag been worth the wait? Or has the new compact exec from the Midlands just been ‘very well launched’, a flurry of PR activity and helicopter stunts in London clouding the motoring media’s collective judgment?
We’re about to find out, for a new XE 2.0 D 163 has graced our offices in the UK this past week, with no mileage constraints, no minders and no restrictions on what we can do with it. There’s been a clamour for the saloon’s keys each night, as CAR magazine staffers have sought the answers to these questions, and more besides.
Jaguar XE: the lower-powered diesel on test
Ours is the entry-level diesel XE, powered by the popular 2.0-litre turbodiesel in lower-powered 163ps spec (equivalent to 161bhp imperial ponies). Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, this is the version that breaks the magic 99g/km of CO2 mark, but ours has the eight-speed ZF automatic pushing that figure to 108g/km.
We’re testing it in R Sport spec, which is the middle of five trimlines available on the XE. R-Sport brings a sportier bodykit comprising a more aggressive front airdam, subtle rear lip spoiler, side skirts and chrome detailing, plus very comfortable leather sports seats and bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights. All in, ours costs £34,075 and Jaguar reckons it’s in the sweet spot where the majority of sales will lie. The cheapest XE on sale starts at £26,990, remember.
The new XE saloon doesn’t half look like big brother, the XF. The two are all but indistinguishable from many angles, but its smaller footprint, different taillamps and sharper detailing become apparent the more you look. Design director Ian Callum tells us this is a deliberate strategy, the better to reinforce what Jaguar is in a wider world which doesn’t really understand the brand on account of minuscule sales to date. They hope the XE will change that, reinforcing what a Jag saloon should stand for.
It’s a neat-looking car, although extremely conservative in its outlook. But that’s the market norm and we can’t begrudge Coventry’s more cautious approach to a sink-or-swim £1.5 billion investment. Besides, spicier versions are waiting in the wings, and it won’t be too long before we see the supercharged XE-R and likely even hotter performance versions.
As it is, our R-Sport model looks rather meek on its standard, balloon-like 17-inch 205/55 Continentals.
Inside the Jaguar XE cabin
You’ve got to admire the keyless entry system developed by Jaguar: unlike on rivals’ set-ups, you literally just tug the door handles and you’re in, with no double-checking or tapping required. Slide into the comfy leather pews, admire the wraparound ‘gunwale’ like on the XJ and the starter button pulses like a heart beat; that classic Callum handshake again (although the air vents are fixed this time).
This is a modern, very well thought through dashboard, with just the right balance of physical buttons to virtual ones. It’s difficult to stress how much better the 8in touchscreen is than what went before, although they’ve curiously padded the screen with quite a lot of dead space around the perimeter in some views. A roster of eight hard keys around the monitor make it a cinch to enter different menus and all ventilation duties are carried out by physical buttons low down the dash. Class cabin honours still sit with Mercedes, to these eyes, but this is a great place to sit.
Passenger space in the front is fine, but don’t go expecting the XE to be roomiest in class: it’s pretty cramped in the rear compared with the largest rivals and the well-shaped boot stands at a competitive 455 litres (with a compressor and no spare wheel, or 450 with). Interestingly, there’s an AdBlue filler reservoir in the boot - a reminder that those clean emissions are enabled only with exhaust after-treatment.
How does it drive?
Thumb that glowing starter button and the 2.0-litre Ingenium turbodiesel comes to life with a gravelly thrum. It’s a little noisier than rivals, but refined enough, hushing further when warmed through. Jag’s stuck with the pop-up rotary gear selector, freeing the centre console of any obstructions. Swivel to D and we set off.
And what a first 200 yards those are - the XE’s major controls sporting an oleaginous, well damped precision. It steers sweetly and Jag’s first electric rack is a smash hit in these hands: there’s a linear response, nice weighting and enough feedback to tell you what’s going on at the front axle. It’s accompanied by a deft suspension set-up: those 17s might look puny, but they deliver a fabulous ride with enough taut control to make this feel like a Jaguar, with suppleness in spades too. If only all Jags rode like this...
The 2.0 D has a gruff grumble at low-throttle openings that never quite goes away; class refinement honours go to Audi, BMW or Lexus, but performance from the Ingenium four-pot is well judged. That the slowest XE can beat 8.0sec 0-60mph is impressive enough and few will feel undersold on the oomph available in this entry-level model. Everything’s hushed at a cruise, the engine ticking over at just 1600rpm in top gear at 70mph, wind easing over the four-door body’s slippery 0.26 drag coefficient.
Motorway reps, be warned: Jaguar fits different size fuel tanks to each model. On account of the 2.0 D 163’s impressive economy (75mpg manual, 72mpg for this auto), a teeny 47-litre reservoir is present, throttling effective range. Higher-powered diesels come with 56 litres and petrols get 63. Sneaky!
Where’s the chink in the armour?
After a week pounding the roads of Britain, we’re honestly not sure there is one. Everyone in the office who drove the XE came away impressed: the reassuringly Jag feel of the controls, its sublime steering feel, the way it goads you into having fun when you switch off the motorway and the original design quality of the cabin. And this from the lower-powered diesel in the range.
It’s not perfect. Your fingertips inevitably stroke Jaguar’s flimsy plastic paddles, an advert for Lego build quality (note you can upgrade to metal shifters). Although the physical dials are beautifully crisp and clear, there’s a mismatch between the three digital read-outs (8in touchscreen Retina-sharp to your left; think pixellated 1984 Outrun for the smaller panel between the speedo and tacho; optional £1000 head-up display in front of you glows orange, with a different font again). And we found annoying reflections from the piano black trim on a sunny day - as well as from the HUD panel, which ironically reflects in the windscreen too much. Oh, the irony…
We conclude that Jaguar has a smash hit on its hands with the new XE. The lower-powered diesel is brilliant to drive, feels special as an ownership proposition and has a degree of pizzazz lacking from rivals. It’s a company car or private purchase we’d heartily recommend on many levels.