What is it? Jaguar’s answer to the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4.
Key features: Lightweight construction, efficiency, performance.
Our view: The Jaguar XE satisfies both your head and your heart like no previous Jaguar has ever done.
The launch of the new Jaguar XE saloon seems to have been one of the most drawn-out periods in recent automotive history. But after fashion-led unveils, technical descriptions and walkarounds, the car is at last arriving in showrooms and The Car Expert has driven it.
The hype is understandable – this is a very important car for Jaguar, the machine which the British manufacturer expects to take the fight to the premium fleet market’s biggest hitters, the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4.
Yes, Jaguar has tried this before, and those with memories will immediately mention the X-Type – a car built between 2001 and 2009 and derided by many as far too like the Mondeo of Jaguar’s then owners Ford, but which actually did quite good business for the brand of the big cat…
The Jaguar of today is a very different company – a major success story under its now owners Tata, and a brand with a very focused direction. The XE is evidence of that.
According to Jaguar UK product planning manager Damian Lawton, the brand’s customers are looking for a credible alternative to what he describes as great German competition.
“We are a sports car company, we thought it right to go back into this segment with a true performance vehicle with a great breadth of capability,” Lawton says.
And the XE fulfils that criteria. Appearing not long after the much-revered F-Type, the car is according to Lawton for those who want to drive the sports car but cannot justify it in terms of practicality. “There is a lot more F-Type in the XE than one might think,” he says, and having driven both on the same day we see his point.
Jaguar’s design team were tasked with giving the XE an instantly recognisable look. Whereas the X-Type was innocuous, one will be left in no doubt as to what is approaching when an XE looms in the rear-view mirror.
We described the XE in detail back in December 2014, but a recap is appropriate. Visually the first noticeable point will likely be the new and bold grille, which like so much of this car’s visuals is scaleable – the next XF, shown to us at the XE drive event, very much looks like this car’s big sister.
The bonnet bulge, a Jaguar signature since the 1960s, remains, while there are LED headlamps with a daytime running light signature that is known as the ‘J plate’ and will run right across the Jaguar range.
In profile it’s even more impressive. The cab-rear layout, long bonnet and short overhangs combine to give a powerful impression, the minimalist detailing adding to the experience with the only obvious ‘jewellery’ a silver ‘power ingot’ on each side.
Even at the back the XE impresses, its pencil-thin LED lamps drawing ones eye’s out to the edges of what is one of the widest cars in the segment.
Slip inside, and the anticipation is enhanced. In premium German cars one accepts clinical efficiency, while the Jaguar’s cockpit layout suggests no less purpose but also oozes quality and personality, exemplified by the ‘Riva hoop’, the wood trim panel inspired by Italian speedboats, first seen in the XJ and running in a graceful curve around the base of the windscreen from one door aperture to the other.
Jaguar insists on the paradoxes of spacious surroundings but with a cockpit feel, and the instrument binnacle and steering wheel achieve this in proven fashion – proven because both are lifted straight from the F-Type.
The new XE is built around a scaleable architecture with a great deal of aluminium involved – it’s stiff, again to F-Type standards, but equally it is lightweight. And into this are fitted members of an all-new engine range, the modular, 24kg lighter and significantly more efficient units the first fruits of JLR’s Ingenium line coming out of the new plant at Wolverhampton.
There will be five engine options in all, a pair of 2.0-litre petrol units of 197 or 236bhp, the big 3.0 V6 petrol with 335bhp, and the two 2.0 diesels that the vast majority of customers will choose, with either 160 or 177 horsepower.
We tried both 2.0 petrols and the larger diesel, and they all meet the criteria of performance with refinement one expects from a Jaguar, but now with an extra. “In this sector the decision is always between head and heart,” Lawton says. “In Jaguar we’ve always ticked the boxes for heart, but struggled on head. Not with this car…”
That is shown clearly by the fact that combined with a six-speed manual gearbox, the smaller diesel will offer CO2 emissions of 99g/km, into supemini free road tax territory and alongside combined-cycle fuel economy of 75mpg – “the most fuel-efficient Jaguar ever.”
We weren’t able to try the 160bhp engine but its slightly bigger sister impresses enough for both. It is smooth enough to be almost indistinguishable from the petrol versions. Only at the top of the rev range does it become significiantly audible and that doesn’t matter because there is so much lowdown torque you’ll seldom rev it too hard.
The XE has a chassis to match – the recipe is a double-wishbone front end and integral rear, again F-Type inspired, again key to performance, and progress through a challenging series of corners that should not be as enjoyable in a saloon. Electronic aids help this, notably the ‘torque vectoring by braking’, a sports car-esque system to pull the XE around corners and offered as standard in every variant.
It’s also worth mentioning the All-Surface Progress Control, a segment-unique system that removes the fear of wintery conditions that traditionally make rear-wheel-drive cars not so much fun. It’s effectively a tweaked version of sister brand Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, and ensures this car will always keep its grip, whatever the weather.
Jaguar has worked very hard on the value proposition of the XE to help keep that head decision in focus, and in a whole range of areas, from ensuring this is the aerodynamically slipperiest Jaguar yet, to adding lots of standard active safety kit, such as the autonomous emergency braking that comes fitted to every car.
The general equipment is tempting too, including an all-new infotainment system with an app-controlled remote facility that can perform functions varying from locking the car while the owner is in a different country to using Google Maps to direct them to where they left it parked, even across a busy city.
XE prices start from £26,995, the diesel versions from £29,775. The 22E insurance rating for the 163PS diesel is at launch nine groups better than an equivalent BMW, while Jaguar also claims class-leading figures for benefit-in-kind tax and residual values, which after three years can be £3,000 to £4,000 better than the competition. And one should not forget that these days Jaguar is one of the most reliable brands on the market – streets ahead of its competition.
So the XE meets the head argument to a level no previous Jaguar has ever come close to, while in terms of heart there is nothing to match it. Game changer? Most certainly – this reviewer ended his test seriously considering a career change so he could have an XE as a company car…
Jaguar XE – key specifications
Model Tested: Jaguar XE 2.0 i4 180PS, 200PS, 240PS.
On Sale: July 2015
Range price: £26,990-£44,865
Insurance group: 22E-35E
Engines: Diesel 2.0 x 2. Petrol 2.0 x 2, 3.0.
Power (bhp): 160/177. 197/236, 335.
Torque (lb/ft): 280/316. 206/250, 332.
0-60mph (sec): 7.7*/7.4*. 7.1/6.4, 4.9.
Top speed (mph): 141/142. 147/155, 155.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 71.7*/67.3*. 37.7/37.7, 34.9.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 104*/109*. 179/179, 194.
Key rivals: Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Test Date: July 2015
* = with auto gearbox