Ben Griffin reviews the Jaguar XE S, the range-topping version of the mid-sized saloon that has the daunting task of taking on the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.
For the uninitiated, the XE is a mid-sized premium saloon, which basically means it’s Jaguar’s answer to the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. It sits below the larger XF and the larger still XJ in the range. None of those cars will be easy to beat.
But let’s not forget that in recent years Jaguar has gone from pipe and slippers to trendy and the British-designed, British-built XE looks like it has all the right ingredients to continue the momentum.
At the top of the range is the XE S, the most sporty version money can buy until the XE R arrives (whenever that is). We spent a week living with the car to see if you should consider ditching the German competition.
Read: 2017 Jaguar XE S review
The XE S uses Jaguar’s new lightweight monocoque, which is made from 75 per cent aluminium. That means it’s light and very strong, which in turn means it’s nice and rigid for cornering duties, more fuel efficient and safer in the event you hit a tree.
There’s more than a passing resemblance to the XF, it must be said, but that’s by no means a bad thing. The daytime running lights and rear lights are of an F-Type flavour, while the 19-inch alloys and dual-exit exhaust give it a meaty look.
In S form the XE also gets a body kit made up of a sports front bumper, side sills, boot mounted spoiler, red brake calipers and various S badges inside and outside the car.
The new Mercs are a touch fresher to behold, but the 3-Series certainly gains less attention than the XE, predominantly because the latter is a less common sight on UK roads. It must be said, the lack of stigma surrounding Jaguar is a plus when it comes to ownership.
Inside there’s less of the lovely wood you would associate with Jaguars of times past, but the black leather and white contrast stitching in our test car looked the part. By no means is it lavish, but Jaguar’s understated approach has paid off and it’s good enough to keep you from being too critical.
Should you want a bit more luxury, you can spec some wood or carbon-effect for around the gear selector and the section of dashboard that sweeps past the windscreen and ends where the front doors start, and choose from various leather colours, including a sporty red.
Despite being smaller than the XF, the XE is surprisingly spacious. Six-footers won’t have to tilt their head or remove their legs to sit in the back or front.
There’s 450 litres of boot space to play with so it’s smaller than its rivals, but that’s still room for golf clubs and shopping. In fact, it seems as if Jaguar has prioritised boot space over visibility as the rear window is rather small and high up.
Jaguar’s new advanced infotainment system lets you pinch and zoom and swipe like you would on a smartphone so it’s intuitive and fairly responsive.
Little details like the rubber that holds your drink still in the cup holder and a central storage area with a 12v socket and USB connection do their bit in making it more practical.
Performance & handling
Jaguar has borrowed the 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol from the entry-level F-Type for the XE S, which means it’s punchy to say the least.
A 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds borders on silly on UK roads and the rate the XE S gains speed is astonishing – although this is hardly surprising when it has 340PS (335bhp). Even if the standard eight-speed ZF automatic is being a touch lazy, the 450Nm of torque gets the car moving rapidly at any speed.
What really separates this car from its Germanic rivals is the engine note. The V6 and supercharger blows your speaker-enhanced German rivals out of the water, with only a very small portion of the rev range that sounds a touch flat. It makes you want to put your foot down at every opportunity.
There’s no real need to mess around with the various driving modes on offer, but spirited drives do go well with sliding the transmission into S mode, which holds the car in lower gears for longer for a sportier drive with far more immediacy.
There’s also an dynamic mode, which makes the dials go red, loosens the stability control to more playful levels, and further heightens the throttle response.
Dynamic mode somewhat undermines the XE S’s ability to cruise gently and quietly one minute and then surprise with devastating pace the next because it’s just too aggressive. The Normal and S mode combination more than suffice.
Where the XE S really scores points is in the suspension. Imagine a slider, where one end is a ride so firm you can hear your spine cry and the other is as comfy as a waterbed. Then completely forget that scale because the XE S plays by its own rules.
This is a car that feels delightfully agile and corners with unrivalled enthusiasm and ability but can also handle potholes very well.
At the risk of receiving something brown and sticky through our letterbox from a disgruntled BMW owner, we would go as far as saying the XE S is better to drive than the equivalent Bimmer. Certainly more involving.
Sadly there’s no option of a manual gearbox to add even more driver involvement, but if the XE S follows in the footsteps of the F-Type it could be just a matter of time.
Economy & efficiency
Stop and start helps keep the XE S relatively frugal, although you would be foolish to pick this over the much more efficient but less exciting Ingenium diesel if saving money is your main concern.
Jaguar claims an average of 34.9mpg. We never quite matched that, but the car did report us averaging around 31mpg on some journeys, which was pleasantly surprising.
This is partly down to Intelligent Stop/Start, which cuts the engine off when stationary, plus there’s an ECO mode for softening up the throttle so even the heavier footed are less wasteful. As for CO2 emissions, it pumps 194g per km, meaning a £265-a-year tax bill.
Equipment & value
Considering the entry-level XE starts from £29,775, the £44,865 XE S is hardly what you’d call cheap. But you do get a lot for your money, including 19-inch alloy wheels, 10×10-way adjustable seats, powered boot lid, keyless entry, HillStart assist and a multi-function steering wheel.
In terms of performance, its nearest competitor is the £39,645 BMW 340i M Sport with the Sport automatic transmission, which on paper is better on fuel and CO2 emissions, has the same amount of torque but is less powerful, slower and less well-equipped.
Meanwhile the fastest C-Class you can get for around the same money as the XE S is the C 350 e Sport Saloon, which takes 5.9 seconds to go from 0-62mph and is sub-300hp but its hybrid nature means just 48g/km of CO2 emissions and a claimed 134.5mpg.
Various features help the XE to be safe, including a head-up display that provides navigation directions and your current speed in the line of sight, so you can keep your eyes on the road.
It also has Dynamic Stability Control, which tries to correct any over-zealous driving, Emergency Brake Assist and lane departure warning. It can even detect and display the current speed limit so there’s less of an excuse to upset the boys in blue or be caught out by a speed camera.
We doubt the XE would fare badly in the event of a crash because of its aluminium monocoque and six airbags. It was given a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP test.
As our video review (above) shows, we find it very difficult to not heap praise on the XE S. There’s really nothing in its class that is as rewarding to drive while remaining comfortable and stylish.
Go for a spirited Sunday drive and you will return home with the sort of smile reserved only for the day your celebrity crush makes you an indecent proposal. It’s so good, in fact, we started comparing it to the £11,000 more expensive BMW M3 or M4, which are much faster but arguably less involving.
Ultimately, you buy a sport saloon because you want practicality and fun, but it needs to make you feel special every time you drive it. It’s the type of car you should go to sleep dreaming about. The XE S ticks those boxes.
So if you want a fast car with a marvellous soundtrack and a good-sized boot that can accommodate a family, you really can ditch the German competition. Plus you’ll sleep better knowing you are helping the British economy and manufacturing industry.