Matt Joy reviews the new Jaguar XE. Can it rival the likes of the BMW 3 Series?
If you haven’t heard about this car yet then congratulations on hiding under a rock for so long. Jaguar’s XE represents the new entry point into the range and is designed to compete head-on with the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 – the most crucial sector for any premium brand. Not only that, the XE needs to sell and sell well; alongside the forthcoming F-Pace SUV it needs to be the big volume seller for the brand.
We drove the 2.0 Diesel version in 180PS guise with a six-speed manual gearbox – likely to be one of the most popular choices – in top Portfolio spec. As tested it costs £33,675.
Blink and you could mistake the XE for the larger XF, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The XF is only being replaced this year and first arrived in 2007, so its looks have held up well. When you look a little closer the differences become more apparent.
Ian Callum and his team have put as many sporty cues into the shape as possible, such as a really short front overhang and rear lights that echo those on the F-Type sports car. SE and Prestige models have smaller wheels and are a little more discreet, whereas R-Sport and S versions are the ones for those with a sporty outlook.
It’s clearly a Jaguar, is a refreshing change from the norm and in the right spec is the best-looking car in the class.
Buying a compact premium saloon means you’re paying for the drive, the quality and the badge; anyone wanting MPV practicality should go buy one of those. But the XE is at the very least up with the class leaders in most respects.
Up front it’s very easy to get comfortable. The seats are supportive, the steering wheel has plenty of adjustment and the space on offer is good. In the rear it’s a little tighter; with a reasonably-sized adult up front you can fit another one in the back, but anyone over six foot will be better off sitting in the front seats. Boot space is a healthy 450 litres, with another 5 litres if you ditch the spare wheel.
Performance & handling
With a reputation at least as sporting as BMWs and more so than Mercedes and Audi, the Jaguar needs to deliver on this front to make good on its promises. Happily the news is good.
The new Ingenium diesel engine is impressively quiet at a cruise and far from raucous when stretched. Peak torque is available from 1,750rpm but in practice the real shove seems to arrive at around 2,000rpm, where there is pleasingly rapid and fuss-free acceleration available. The six-speed manual gearbox does a decent job, but the eight-speed auto is the one to go for.
But it’s the rest of the driving experience that really marks out the XE as something special. The electronic power steering, a first for a Jaguar, is excellent. It may not have the outright feel of a hydraulic set up – no system has – but it is superbly weighted, responds sharply and accurately to drive inputs and is deliciously free from any kind of slack. Nor is it hyperactive, meaning the XE can be calm and easy-going as well as fun.
The suspension really takes the gold medal however, blending excellent bump absorbency with first-rate body control. It’s a real pleasure to hurl the XE through a series of challenging bends as it grips well, remains balanced and undisturbed by bumps and is happy to play.
Economy & environment
Jaguar has stolen a march on the key rivals with the Ingenium diesel engine, a newly-developed unit designed to power Jaguars and Land Rovers into the future. In its most-efficient 163PS guise the 2.0-litre diesel XE claims 99g/km of CO2 and 74.3mpg combined, the only car in the segment to duck under the 100g/km barrier – for now.
In 180PS guise it’s a still healthy 109g/km and 67.3mpg, while the most efficient petrol version delivers 200PS and 37.7mpg combined. Jaguar says part of this efficiency is down to the XE’s lightweight aluminium structure, although in truth it is no lighter than its key rivals.
Equipment & value
It may be a tempting buy for private owners but it’s a big car for fleets too, so the standard spec needs to be healthy. The entry SE model comes with climate control, cruise control, electric seats and 17-inch alloy wheels which is pretty generous for the class, but move up to this top-spec Portfolio model and you also get leather seats, aluminium trim, bi-xenon headlights and the impressive Meridian audio system.
On the options side there’s the usual mix of useful and wishful thinking. The cold weather pack adds heated seats, washer jets, steering wheel and windscreen for the bargain price of £525, whereas the head-up display system is good but far from essential yet costs £1,000.
The standard safety kit on the XE is also impressive with every model getting autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitoring, as well as the usual elements such as six airbags, stability and traction control. The XE has yet to be tested by EuroNCAP but a five star rating is a safe bet.
When a car is built up so much ahead of its launch it’s easy for the end product to be a letdown, but it is a testament to Jaguar that the XE still manages to deliver. It’s not perfect; boot and rear space could be better and some trim elements can look a little cheap in the wrong colour.
But that’s pretty much it. It drives with genuine verve, right down to the more humbly powered models which will be as much fun to steer as the top models. It’s comfortable, very well-equipped and in diesel form should cost relative peanuts to run. Spec it right and it looks great too.
BMW’s 3 Series is the closest rival and good though it is it can’t quite match the XE’s driving brilliance and for the moment at least it’s fuel consumption. The Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class aren’t as good to drive either although the quality is a fraction better. On balance however, if driving is your thing then the XE should be your first choice.