Words by Wayne Gorrett
Model tested: ‘Portfolio’, 2.0-litre Td, 180PS, RWD, Automatic
Not too long ago, Jaguar was stuck in a traditional, leather-and-walnut rut, producing large cars that consistently harked back to its history and heritage.
The firm’s target audience was undeniably men of a certain age and even in the ‘90s when the company finally grew a pair and expanded its line-up with smaller models like the reborn S-Type, and X-Type, they continued to retain the old school Jaguar look.
Many have justifiably pointed a finger at British Leyland’s grossly inept management of the marque in the 1970s and ‘80s, or subsequent owner Ford’s heavy-handed approach through the ‘90s and noughties, but it’s only over the last 10 years, under the refreshingly hands-off ownership of Indian automotive giant Tata, that Jaguar has finally chomped on a flurry of bullets and taken a genuinely fresh approach.
Jaguar’s line-up now includes the stunning F-Type sports car, XE, XF and XJ saloons, the ground-breaking F-Pace SUV and the all-new E-Pace compact SUV revealed only last week. Jaguar will also dip its toe into the all-electric automotive waters with the imminent I-Pace compact SUV. It’s all good stuff and a truly remarkable transformation in Jaguar’s style and fiscal fortunes.
The Jaguar XE I’m driving this week is indicative of that change. Beautiful in a contemporary, ‘Made Great in Britain’ kind of way, more gender-centric in its appeal and an affordability calculated to give its Germanic rivals something to ponder over.
The Jaguar XE was revealed at the 2014 Paris motor show and is manufactured at Jaguar Land Rover’s Castle Bromwich facility along with the XF, XJ and F-TYPE model lines.
The Designer’s Work
The new Jaguar XE is a compact executive sedan that wouldn't be out of place in the company parking lot next to the legions of BMW 3-Series and Audi A4s that tend to be the wheels of choice within the up-and-coming executive class.
On the outside, Jaguar has sculpted this sedan along the lines of the larger and successful XF saloon. The XE is distinctive looking, even slightly more dynamic across the body than Audi’s updated A4 and is easier on the eye. It’s a handsome car with a sharp, purposeful design - a job done right. I am a fan of the XF’s clean design and the XE’s smaller package and lighter price tag are mere icing.
‘Portfolio’ Trim and Equipment
As you would expect, the Jaguar XE is very well equipped throughout the five-model trim range which kicks off with SE, Prestige, R-Sport and Portfolio grades, while the current flagship is the omnipotent V6 S.
Standard XE kit includes a touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and parking sensors and Prestige models upwards have a high-class feel, with leather upholstery, heated seats and brushed aluminium in the cabin.
The penultimate Portfolio trim (as tested) adds Jaguar Drive Control, 10-way electrically adjustable front seats, cruise control with automatic speed limiter, all-surface progress control, bi-function HID xenon headlights, electric parking brake, 380W Meridian sound system, traffic sign recognition and intelligent speed limiter, autonomous emergency braking, hill hold and of course a DAB digital radio.
Engine, Drivetrain and Performance
At the heart of the Jaguar XE is the in-house designed, engineered and manufactured Ingenium range of petrol and diesel engines. JLR’s investment in powertrain autonomy is about improving engine performance and holding true control of its own engine destiny.
The 180PS 2.0-litre turbodiesel in the XF test car offers adequate every-day power, pulling eagerly from low revs and is my pick of the XE diesel engines. An all-wheel-drive version of this diesel is also available, but do think very carefully about whether you really need this, because the rear-wheel-drive car is less expensive, more efficient and has sweeter steering and lower running costs.
Go for the automatic gearbox if you can – it's far more relaxing and infinitely better suited to the car’s dynamics than the six-speed manual.
Ride and Handling
The XE is one of the most aluminium-intensive cars Jaguar has ever produced, with a claimed 75 per cent of the car’s body shell composed of the lightweight metal. In its most svelte form, the XE tips the scales at an impressive 1,475kg.
Such weight consciousness enables the XE to win you over once you turn its rotary transmission selector to Drive. While many cars, including the vaunted BMW 3-Series, have moved toward being more comfortable and isolating, the Jaguar XE doubles down on driving dynamics. The steering is exceptional, delivering consistent weighting and providing an impressive amount of feedback. You can feel what the car is doing.
Jaguar also knows how to tune a suspension, managing to maintain control around corners and feel perpetually composed yet still deliver a well-damped ride that soaks up bumps and never punishes you for its cat-like athleticism.
The 2017 Jaguar XE is a worthy player among premium compact sedans, a segment dominated by the German marques for many years. The XE has the advantage of being designed and engineered from the ground up, lacking a model legacy to hold it down while still being able to draw on Jaguar's rich history.
Ultimately, the XE feels as good as a driver's car as the BMW 3-series and the Jaguar badge on the grille carries British panache that will make it stand out from the Germanic crowd.
Fast Facts : 2017 Jaguar ‘Portfolio’, 2.0-litre Td, 180PS, RWD, Automatic
Engine : Four-cylinder, 2.0 litre ‘Ingenium 4’ turbocharged diesel
Maximum power : 178 bhp
Maximum torque : 430 Nm
Transmission : ZF 8-speed automatic
Acceleration (0-60mph) : 7.4 seconds
Maximum speed : 140 mph
Combined mpg : 67.4
Carbon dioxide emissions : 111 g/km