► We drive make-or-break new Jag XE
► First compact exec Jaguar since X-type
► Driven here in big-selling 2.0-litre diesel spec
Even in the first few metres behind the wheel of the Jaguar XE, the signs are good. You sit relatively low behind a wheel that feels tight and precise immediately off-centre, the new Ingenium 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine’s easy torque is immediately apparent and, even on our test car’s R-Sport suspension and 19-inch alloys, the suspension calmly smothers small bumps.
It needs to be good, this car. There’s a storm of new Jaguar models at the moment, but none is more important than this one.
Why is the Jaguar XE such a crucial car?
Because it’s Jaguar’s second attempt at the vital D-segment (for which read mid-sized saloons), following the largely unloved X-type which slunk out of production in 2010.
It needs to be good, not only to exorcise those demons but to tempt buyers from the likes of the excellent new Mercedes C-class and class-leading BMW 3-series.
What has it got going for it?
An advanced three-quarters aluminium bodyshell, double-wishbone front suspension and a box-fresh diesel engine line-up with CO2 emissions that dip below the magic 100g/km mark.
To these eyes at least, it looks pretty good too.
We’re driving a pre-production prototype packing the 178bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, the more powerful of the two diesel options at launch. The lower-grade 163bhp diesel costs £500 less, starting from £29,775.
Four-cylinder petrols are on the way and there’s a V6 at launch, but they’re carryover units from elsewhere in Jaguar’s family rather than spangly new Ingenium units.
So, what’s the XE like to drive?
At low speeds there’s a grumbly mew from the four-pot motor but that vanishes once it’s spinning freely on the autoroute. A generous swell of torque whooshes the XE along so effortlessly it feels positively soporific at a three-figure cruise.
Off the motorway, the XE hooks into corners with confidence-inspiring stability and the suspension’s long-travel flow ensures mid-bend bumps won’t deflect it from its line. That stiff aluminium structure and double-wishbone suspension has paid dividends.
It’s comfortable, too. We stop to refuel after four hours and I bound out without a trace of back pain or stiffness.
As good as a 3-series? We’ll need a back-to-back drive to be sure, but gut-feel actually puts the XE ahead by a nose.
What’s about the practicality side of things?
Boot space measures 30 litres smaller than 3-series, A4 and C-class at a still-decent 450 litres. The curved roofline does necessitate a more pronounced duck of the head to gain entry and parents may find belting kids into child seats harder work.
There is room for six-footers in the back, although I’m 6ft 1in and my hair brushes the headlining and my knees touch the seat backs’ solid plastic centres. Still, I could sit there all day with only muffled griping.
Our biggest gripe is an interior that somehow lacks the sparkle of the new C-class's amazing cabin. The Jag's is a decent effort, but lacks the showmanship and glitz factor of the latest Mercedes cockpit, which also renders a 3-series yesteryear inside.
The most-important new Jag in decades is brimming with potential. Its competitors won’t be a walkover, but the XE feels ready to take on the world. A group test beckons…
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