Although no one at Jaguar Land Rover would readily admit it, the new XE is probably the most important car in the company’s history since the 1968 XJ6. Okay, it’s not the first BMW 3-Series competitor to emerge from Jaguar, but unlike the X-Type that managed to underwhelm a generation of executives, it’s a clean-sheet design conceived to go toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Given that the three German companies are hugely cash-rich, and have been honing their mid-liners for generations, that is no small task facing Jaguar. The Audi 80 was launched in 1972, the 3-Series bowed in during 1975, and the Mercedes-Benz 190 joined the fray in 1983 – just take that in for a moment. Decades and decades of experience.
So why am I confident that the XE is going to join the party, and elbow its way to the front of the queue for the buffet? Consider that Jaguar made great job of the XF, which still competes today, eight years into its production run, and then each subsequent new leaping cat was even more impressive, you’ll see where I’m coming from. It’s underpinned by an all-new aluminium architecture, and is powered by a range of brand new engines, which are made in a brand new factory in Wolverhampton.
Given so much of it is so new, there are risks, of course. But the new factory is world-class, and the engine range is absolutely state of the art – and although in the past, a British car with so much new tech might have been cause for concern, JLR has ploughed huge resources into R&D, leaving nothing to chance.
Clearly, the car it’s aimed at is the class-leading BMW 3-Series, so the Ingeniums have been configued to mirror that car’s – so, you get the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in both petrol and diesel guises. And the entry-level version, which kicks off at £27,995, pushes out a mere 99g/km of emissions. The Jaguar AJ-V6 3.0-litre V6 petrol, and AJD-V6 3.0-litre V6s power the mid-range model, while the F-Type’s more powerful engines find its way into the high performance versions of the XE. I have it on good authority from someone who’s had a proper look at the place, that the engine plant really is up there with the best in the world.
So it trades punches with the BMW all the way on paper in terms of humbers – let’s see how it pans out in terms of refinement and power delivery. It’s early days about the interior, too. It looks good in prototype form, and although there are many olde-worlde Jaguar customers who might bemoan the XE’s mainstream, but well-designed, dashboard, but it looks good, is finished in some beautiful shades, and in terms of room is comparable with the BMW.
A nice touch is the use of some of the most important tactile focal points from the F-Type – the fat-rimmed steering wheel and classy looking dials are lovely, and are two of the most heavily used points of communication with the car. We can hope that it’s as good to drive as its sporting cousin, and a lot lighter in comparison with its rivals.
In terms of showroom appeal, the XE looks to score heavily too. Sure, the styling is derivative, combining much of the XF’s shape and charater, with some of the XJ’s nicer details thrown in for good meaure. Whether it will age well, given its relationship with the XF – but then, finally, it will see Jaguar move to the industry standard six-to-seven year model cycle.
So the signs are good. But in what way does this give room to come to the conclusion that the XE is going to go straight to the head of the class? Because it’s been honed for British roads, and as I remember Lee Noble once telling me, these are the best in the world for sorting out a cars ride and handling package. And the JLR guys have learned so much making the best out of (admittedly excellent) Ford componentry in the past – imagine what they’ll do with with a bespoke package, and the pressure of knowing that failure is not a option.