It’s a strong contender.
So, what’s it like? Sporting certainly. You sit low in contour-hugging seats in front of a chunky sports steering wheel that, like the deeply-cowled instrument dials, is borrowed from Jaguar’s F-TYPE sportscar. It’s a driver’s environment, a place to do business with the road, with the raised centre console adding to the cockpit-style feel. Stab the pulsing start button and if, like most potential owners, you’ve opted for automatic transmission, the brand’s trademark rotary drive selector rises up into the palm of your hand. You’re ready.
Set off and you get to experience what Jaguar’s engineers call the ’50 metre feel’ – the all-important first impression that any vehicle conveys about the way it will drive. This one feels sharp, purposeful and, from the very start, beautifully composed over our country’s terrible tarmac.
That’s down to an immensely feelsome electric power steering set-up. And a sophisticated Integral Link suspension system that gives a class-leading ride and handling balance able to give some credence to Jaguar’s claim that this is now the driver’s car in this class. It’s certainly the nicest car you could choose to ride in. Engine-wise, mainstream models get 2. 0-litre power, either a Ford-derived petrol unit exclusively mated to an 8-speed auto gearbox and developing either 200PS or, as here, 240PS. Or an all-new ‘Ingenium’ diesel unit, offering a choice of either manual or auto transmission and developing either 163 or 180PS. The only other choice is a supercharged 340PS 3. 0 petrol V6 borrowed from the F-TYPE sportscar, there to power the XE S super saloon variant.
As its predecessor the MKII model was in the Sixties, this XE is unmistakeably a Jaguar, its upscale proportions delivering the kind of dynamic and purposeful look needed for success in this segment. It’s unmistakeable a modern Jaguar too, so there are few of the retro touches that have so characterised and maturely pigeonholed some of the brand’s other modern era designs like the S-TYPE and the X-TYPE. Instead, the XE echoes the styling approach first established by its larger XF showroom stablemate, with an aggressive grille, a strongly-sculpted bonnet, a steeply raked windscreen and a rising waistline. The resulting shape catches the eye - and cleaves the air like no Jaguar before it, registering a phenomenally low 0. 26 drag coefficient.
It’s not afraid to be different either, not only in how it looks but also in how it’s made. This is the lightest and stiffest car the brand has ever built, thanks to the fact that over 75% of its structure is fashioned from aluminium, a proportion far higher than you’ll find in any other rival in this class.
Time to take a seat at the wheel where you sit low, cocooned by a deep centre console that creates a cockpit-style feel. There are interesting touches too, like the smart metal-finished airvents that extend the fascia to nestle into the door casings – and of course Jaguar’s trademark rotary automatic gearshifter that glides up into the palm of your hand on start-up.
The dished three-spoke leather-stitched wheel is also distinctive, if slightly over-buttoned, with cruise control functions fitted on one side and switches for driving information adjustments on the other. Also attempting to deliver cabin clarity is the feature that dominates the centre console, the colour touchscreen that lies at the heart of the XE’s latest-generation ‘InControl’ infotainment system.
It not only deals with the expected audio, climate, telephone and navigation functions but also allows access to a whole suite of ‘InControl’ connected-car technologies.
Time to take a seat in the rear. Initially, the high rear deck makes it appear to be a little claustrophobic but get yourself comfortable – maybe fold down this centre armrest with its twin cupholders and stretch your elbows out a bit – and you’ll find that it’s a little more spacious than it first appears. Even if you’re a six-footer sitting behind a front occupant of
similar stature, you should still have an inch or so of legroom to spare, thanks in part to the deeply-scalloped seatbacks.
Here’s an area in which this XE simply has to be on the pace. Business buyers rightly often feel there’s little to choose between the key contenders in the compact executive market segment and it’s therefore not unusual for final decisions to be almost entirely based on things like fuel and CO2 readings, depreciation and overall running costs
The British-built 2. 0-litre ‘Ingenium’ diesel unit is now the joint efficiency class leader in this sector, matching the best that BMW can manage with its ‘Efficient Dynamics’ technology in its super-frugal 320d ED model and fractionally improving on the showing of a rival Mercedes C220 BlueTEC. With manual transmission, the 163PS 2. 0D XE variant was the very first car in this segment to dip below the significant 100g/km barrier, with a 99g/km showing that’ll see retail customers paying no road tax and business users qualifying for the lowest 10% BIK company car taxation rate. This derivative was also the first car in this class to approach 75mpg on the combined cycle, with a 74. 3mpg showing that’ll see you travelling between three to four miles more on every gallon than that Mercedes rival I just mentioned.
Bold, innovative, forward-thinking and able to level with the class best, this XE is the most credible Jaguar sports saloon we’ve seen since the Sixties. It chases bigger sales but unlike some of its predecessors, hasn’t diluted crucial elements of brand credibility.
In short, this is a car that’s been worth the wait. BMW, Mercedes and Audi have had it too easy for too long. With the XE, Jaguar could well gatecrash the party in style.