It shouldn’t be underestimated how important Jaguar’s new baby, the XE, is to the future prosperity of the company.
Overlooking the controversial Mondeo-based X-Type when Jaguar was under Ford ownership, the XE is Jaguar’s first serious attempt to tackle the all-important compact executive market.
Here, the plucky Brit is up against the mighty German trio of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series. Some might also include the VW Passat and Skoda Superb.
Convince fleet buyers that the XE is a great proposition in terms of taxation, fuel economy, reliability and residual values, and Jaguar’s investment will have paid off – big time.
All the above factors are relevant for private buyers too, but they are just as likely to fall in love with the XE too.
There’s no doubt about it, the XE is a handsome beast. Just like the rest of Jaguar’s current range, it’s been designed by Ian Callum and his team – and it shows. Distinctive, stylish and sporty, it looks modern, without totally ignoring Jaguar’s heritage.
Jaguar markets the XE as a “sports saloon” and all Big Cats must adhere to the company founder Sir William Lyons’s mantra of “grace, space and pace”.
I tested the Jaguar XE R-Sport which features the higher powered 180PS version of Jaguar Land Rover’s important new Ingenium 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine.
It’s capable of 0-60 in 7.4 seconds and a top speed of 140mph, while also returning a claimed 67.3mpg and emitting just 111g/km of CO2. Impressive figures.
As ever, I couldn’t match a claimed fuel economy figure in the real world, but I did get over 50mpg on one relatively high speed journey without making any effort, which is very good for such an enthusiastic, entertaining car.
The engine, mated to the superb eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, works especially well, offering plenty of smooth pulling power. But, it’s not the quietest diesel on start-up, nor is the XE as refined as some of the opposition, even after the engine has settled down.
The XE range starts at £26,995. The R-Sport I tested cost £34,775 (£38,210 with the optional extras fitted to my car including electric front seats, wi-fi hotspot and “Ultimate Black” metallic paint).
Inside, the XE feels classy and well built with comfortable seats, an excellent driving position and decent space front and rear. However, it’s not class leading – for that you’d need to look at the interior of say the new A4 and the packaging of a Skoda Superb. Making up an identikit car is fun, but irrelevant, so let’s continue…
The XE’s sleek design means rear headroom is slightly compromised for passengers more than 6ft tall, while the boot capacity is 455 litres, compared to 480 for its main German rivals.
That said, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a Jaguar, hitting the start button and watching that rotary gear selector rise up from the centre console.
Elsewhere there’s plenty of leather and aluminium, while the 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and dials do their job nicely without breaking new ground, though a special mention should go to the XE’s excellent Meridian sound system.
More than anything, the XE is a driver’s car. It’s happy cruising along on motorways, but opt for a challenging A road to get the most out of it. Athletic and poised with nicely weighted steering, it’s in its element.
If you’re after exhilaration rather than economy you can always slip it into dynamic mode and change gear manually using the steering wheel paddles.
The XE is safe too, achieving a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP tests.
Overall, I can’t hide my enthusiasm for the XE, despite the slight refinement issue. What it lacks in some areas, it more than makes up for with its character – both aesthetically and on the road. In short, it’s a car that puts a smile on your face.
Verdict: Distinctive, economical, well made, comfortable and with great handling, the new Jaguar XE is a genuine contender in the compact executive sector.