Better late than never, AROnline bags a brief and very useful drive of the entry-level Jaguar XE, and comes away pleasantly impressed.
You’ve probably read all there is to know about the Jaguar XE, the new ‘volume’ car from JLR, which its makers hope will sweep all before it in the hard-fought junior executive sector dominated by the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. You’ll already know it’s a hugely significant step forward for its maker, being underpinned by an all-new aluminium understructure, powered by the brand-new Ingenium engine range and built at two new (to Jaguar) factories. Furthermore, the majority of XE sales will be conquests…
In terms of its importance to its maker, therefore, it’s right up there with the 1980 launch of the Austin Metro for BL, or the Cavalier MkII for Vauxhall. There’s a lot riding on the new XE and it really does need to be the car that no one needs apologise for (perhaps, unlike the unsuccessful – but weirdly loved round these parts – X-Type). The early signs from the gushing reviews across the motoring press are very favourable, even allowing for a little of the JLR hype that so many people seem to have been affected by in recent years – that is very, very good news for the UK car industry as a whole.
There are two diesels available, the entry-level 163bhp version, which emits 99g/km, and a 178bhp variant that press-on merchants are going to love. For our brief drive, we take the lower-powered version, which it can be assumed will take the lion’s share of sales in the UK. On paper, it’s an impressive package, combining zero rate VED and a sub-8.0 second time for that all important 0-60mph dash, and an opening price of less than £30,000. That’ll impress the guys at the golf club.
We won’t comment about the styling, other than to say it’s a neat and safe design, conventionally handsome – and unlikely to offend. It fits in well alongside the BMW 3-Series and new Audi A4, but somehow looks dated (or, at least, it doesn’t look like a brand-new car) alongside the honed new Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Inside, it’s clean-looking, if not up with the C-Class in terms of perceived quality, and fails to put a foot wrong without actually dazzling the driver – it’s well finished and the large touch screen is responsive, but the overall, and quite welcome, ambiance is one of simple cleanliness.
As you’d expect for a Jaguar, the driver is snugly installed, and the seating position is excellent, but the bulky A-pillar irritates. Rear room looks adequate, as does the boot. Firing it up via the pulsing starter button – a Jaguar USP – elicits a gentle diesel hum, and there’s an impressive sense of mechanical refinement, even at rest, which is quite appealing. 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.
The excellent ZF eight-speeder slurs its changes and aids its excellent throttle response as the speed rises. However, it’s the XE’s dynamic brilliance that comes to the fore – its fluid and beautifully weighted steering impresses the most. In the bends, it’s poised, planted and the XE fills the driver with confidence – its handling far transcends the power on offer. Yes, it does have the dynamic beating of the BMW 320d.
The new Ingenium 2.0-litre turbodiesel certainly competes. It’s quiet and, as you’d expect, has a dieselly thrum that isn’t entirely isolated from the driver. The new engine performs admirably, even if you have to work quite hard to get the most from it – having not driven the manual, it’s hard to say for certain, but the brilliant gearbox’s willingness to slip between ratios may be very effectively disguising a lack of low-rev punch. That’s a point which may be worth considering if you’re looking at buying the six-speeder.
However, it’s a small criticism of what is an excellent first effort in this market sector for more than a decade. It’s a neat-looking executive saloon that’s good to drive and which is at, or near the top of, the class – not just any class, but the most hard-fought one of all, against some fearsome rivals. It’s a huge testament to Jaguar that the XE is as good as it is, given its brand-new platform and drivetrains, and that it’s made in a green-field factory. Jaguar has just taken an important, faltering, first step towards world domination – and it could just pull off the miracle.