We’ve already driven the XE briefly, but it’s only fair to give such an important car for Jaguar Land Rover’s future a fair crack of the whip. Time to give it some decent roads to have a proper work out on.
Words and photography: Keith Adams, with additional digital work by Alex P
The Jaguar XE, and its crossover brother, the F-Pace are hugely important for the future development and success of their maker. It won’t have escaped your notice that out of the JLR partnership, it’s the ‘LR’ side of it that makes up the lion’s share of sales. Recently, we reported that Land Rover sold 30,756 vehicles in February 2016, whereas Jaguar sold 6738 – given both marques reside in the same premium universe, and their products are equally good, one can only assume that it’s down to Land Rover offering cars more buyers actually want.
With the XE and the new XF ramping up to full-stream, and the F-Pace on its way, we’re all now seeing if Jaguar’s sales volumes will catch – and, perhaps, overtake – those of Land Rover’s. With the XE, there’s certainly the potential for Jaguar to start building big sales volumes in the UK – it’s targeted right at the heart of the Audi A4/BMW 3 Series/Mercedes-Benz C-Class market and, on paper at least, will stand toe-to-toe with the saloon versions of those cars. What we’ll need to see in order to get on more of those company car lists, will be a Sportbrake and Coupe version – variations Jaguar’s rivals all offer. The F-Pace will be good, but there will be more needed in order to make it a fair fight with the Germans.
It’s a tough market out there, so the XE needs to be good. We’re trying the entry-level 106g/km 160bhp version in R-Sport form. Being a press car, it’s loaded up with some tasty options (such as a heated steering wheel, an electrically deployable towbar – below – and a panoramic roof), which bumps the competitively-equipped R-Sport’s price from £34,075 to £44,341. You’ll just have to decide how many of those nice options you’re going to tick…
Our car kicks out 106g/km, which means it’ll cost £140 a year to tax, and it has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg. We found that it’s easy to match that figure on gentle A-road and motorway driving, but expect around 50mpg in general driving – itself a remarkable figure considering the claimed 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds and 132mph maximum speed. That four-cylinder Ingenium power unit is clearly capable of bringing home the bacon. On paper, at least…
Parked on your drive, the XE does little to offend, much to impress, and although it’s a good-looking car with nice proportions and detailing, it’s lacking a little in terms of adventurousness. Given that’s the playbook both Audi and BMW are sticking to right now, we can completely understand Jaguar’s decision to go down the same route – and it’s a million miles away from the carriage clock-like X-Type. Inside, it’s a clean-looking affair, with nicely set-up ergonomics and well-thought-out touchscreen, but some of the touchpoints, such as the column stalks, are lacking a quality feel (if not action). We also like the fact it shares the instrument pack with the F-Type.
The driving position is good, but the bulky A-pillar irritates, and all-round visibility could be better. Rear room is tight if there are tall people in the front, and the boot is average in terms of size, while our example’s uneven load bay was annoying when trying to pack it with enough luggage to last a long weekend. Firing it up via the pulsing starter button – a Jaguar signature – elicits a gentle diesel chatter, which is well insulated, if not quite as refined as we’d like. Drop the windows next to a wall while it’s idling, for instance, and you’ll get a rude awakening. But then, we could say that about all the 2.0-litre opposition – if you want refinement, buy a petrol version.
Pulling away, our entry-level model on its 17in wheels rides quietly and unobtrusively, and the damping feels impressively calm on typically broken English urban roads. Get it up to speed, and the XE’s ability to cover miles unobtrusively is very impressive indeed – clearly an important factor for the buyers it’s aimed at. Wind and road noise are both well contained, and well-considered damping tames the stiff suspension very well indeed. The ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is simply brilliant, offering crisp, smooth changes and a nice transition from auto to manual operation when you want to use the paddle shifters.
As you’d expect, the XE is dynamically polished. The controls are fluid and beautifully weighted and the variably-assisted steering, especially, impresses for its consistency of feel and feedback. If you crack on in the bends, you’ll tell it’s come from the same team that brought you the F-Type and it fills the driver with confidence: confidence to place it with millimetric precision; confidence to dive into corners; confidence play with the throttle. But that tail can bite in the damp, if you’re injudicious with the throttle, and we did have some cause to question its overall levels of traction on some of Cumbria’s more – shall we say – challenging roads.
Performance is all there, too – which is a good reflection on the Ingenium 2.0-litre turbodiesel, and the efforts of the ZF gearbox to always be in the right gear at the right time. It’s accelerative and, thanks to being so muted, it will generally be going more quickly than you think it is – although you’d never extend it for the pleasure of the accompanying soundtrack (again, a common criticism of four-cylinder diesels), you will enjoy ample overtaking punch when you need it. Is it lacking low-down torque? Perhaps, but we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve driven a manual version. Overall, then, the new Ingenium engine performs admirably – a brilliant first effort, which will be world-class with continued development.
And that’s the overall verdict we’d apply to the Jaguar XE. It’s a car that can hold its head up high and compete in one of the most toughly-fought sectors of the market, aimed at the most discerning buyers of them all. In short, it doesn’t put a foot wrong, and you’d happily plump for one if it was on your company car purchase list (do those still exist?). As we’ve said before, it’s a huge testament to Jaguar that the XE is as good as it is, given its brand-new platform and drivetrains, built in a green-field factory. Former Rover 75/MG ZT owners can regard the XE as the all-British replacement car they’ve been waiting for…
The rest of us can be confident in choosing a car that answers all the needs of the class’s buyers – and does it well. It augurs well for the future of the company, the ability of the upcoming F-Pace and those all-important sales figures.