WITH STYLE AND SOPHISTICATION ON ITS SIDE, THE NEW JAGUAR XE IS THE BRITISH COMPANY’S FIRST SERIOUS ATTEMPT AT A MEDIUM SEDAN SINCE THE CLASSIC MARK II.
Sure, there was the 'medium' X-Type of a decade past - an artefact from Ford’s ownership of Jaguar crafted from the chassis of the Mondeo. But that car was wrong in so many, many ways.
To play in this market against heavy-hitters like the C-Class and 3 Series, you need the right blend of dynamics and luxury. And the right technologies (and here, the experience of the middle-weight Jag is not so happy).
However, the nimble XE 25t has a beautiful chassis and steers sublimely. It looks and feels like a Jaguar should, and might just be Jaguar’s David to the German Goliaths.
Vehicle Style: Luxury medium sedan
Price: $70,400 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 177kW/340Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.5 l/100km | tested: 13.3 l/100km (urban)
It takes a bold product to challenge the 'sport sedan' hierarchy. With three incredibly competent German sedans to tackle, and a pair of Japanese upstarts into the mix, the XE faces quite a battle.
At first blush the XE should capture the attention of buyers - the carefully penned lines carry a subtle but strong definition that photos don’t quite convey; in the metal, it is defined and muscular.
Jaguar has also included an interior that challenges the ideals of ‘traditional luxury’ and takes a more contemporary approach to design and construction.
But, does this British designed and built upstart have what it takes to usurp the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series? That’s a big ask for a first generation product, but Jaguar is not without experience in the field - the larger XF and XJ ranges have established a new beachhead for the brand.
- Standard equipment: Soft-grain ‘Windsor’ leather seats, dual zone climate control, power adjustment for front seats and steering column with memory, powered rear sunblind, proximity key with push-button start, Xenon headlights, auto lights and wipers, automatic parking assistant
- Infotainment: 11-speaker Meridian audio, 8.0-inch InControl touchscreen, satellite navigation, CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
- Cargo volume: 455 litres, expandable via 40:20:40 folding rear seat
The Portfolio specification tops the triumvirate of XE 25t models, atop the Prestige and R-Sport, and comes more plushly equipped as a result.
In the fiercely competitive world of luxury automobiles however, Jaguar still has some lessons to learn. While the interior of the XE is impressive enough, it falls short of the fastidious attention to detail of, say, Lexus and Benz.
The two lines of stitching at the top of the centre-stack in the leatherette covered dash are wonky - hardly any way to showcase craftsmanship. There are also gaps and alignment issues where the doors meet the dash.
The door trims are an ergonomic mess too - the power window switches are in the wrong place, there’s no functional place to serve as an armrest, and the door pockets aren’t much use due to their small aperture.
Those debits aside, and they may not bother you greatly, the low and racy driving position is a really nice fit, and the powered steering-column and multi-adjustable driver’s seat make finding the ideal comfortable position a breeze.
There are some familiar Jaguar touches, the pulsing starter button, and the knurled transmission selector that rises up out of the console are great brand signatures and look very smart.
Jaguar’s InControl 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system however needs work to bring it up to scratch - it’s laggy. When a cheap Android tablet outperforms it, that’s disappointing.
There’s an appreciable pause between pressing a function and the command taking place, meaning you might doubt yourself and double-press, equally as frustrating if it takes you to a menu you didn’t want. Voice control struggled with inputs too - perhaps my Aussie twang isn’t upper-crust enough for it?
In the rear seat, the sweeping roof limits headroom and the high window-line cuts off outward visibility.
There’s a similar amount of legroom as you’ll find in a C-Class or 3 Series, but neither kids nor adults will enjoy themselves back there.
The 455-litre boot trails the 480-litre 3 Series and C-Class, but it’s well-proportioned and we doubt many will miss the extra space.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 177kW/340Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double-wishbone front, ‘integral link’ independent rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle: 11.7m
The engine powering the XE is a leftover from Ford’s ownership of the brand, a new Ingenium engine range will arrive next year, but, for now, the petrol engines are hand-me-downs.
That’s not really a problem though with the 2.0 litre engine of the 25t producing a competitive 177kW at 5500rpm and 340Nm from 1750 to 4000rpm. Just a snip behind the BMW 330i and ahead of the Mercedes-Benz C250
It is a nice unit. It has a really useable torquey feel; is subtle in its power delivery in an urban setting, but long-legged and willing out on the open road. Jaguar claims a 6.8 second 0-100km/h time, but which feels slightly optimistic from behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, the advancing age of the engine shows in terms of refinement - it’s smooth and quiet, but not as smooth as BMW or Audi's best, and the start/stop system is abrupt at times too.
But thirst is a bigger problem. Our mostly city-use figure of 13.3 l/100km is higher than Jag’s claimed 10.2 l/100km urban figure, and also much higher than most of its competitors.
Despite an aluminum-intensive architecture, the XE 25t sits with a somewhat hefty 1525kg kerb weight, tipping the scales at more than the 3 Series and C-Class, despite their use of (mostly) steel chassis construction.
Where the XE excels is in its steering and chassis tuning, with a finely-honed chassis that emphasises the XE’s sports-sedan heart.
Despite rolling on optional 19-inch wheels (18-inch alloys are standard), the XE provides a smooth, sophisticated and stable ride able to blot out patchy tarmac, catseyes, and cobblestones around city streets.
Take it out of town, and, as the speed rises, so too does the comfort. It feels the 'grand tourer' should you stretch its legs on a country run.
As for steering, the accuracy is razor sharp and the sports wheel adds to the racey feel. Direction changes are surprisingly nimble, feeling more like the legendary '3 Series of old' than even the current 3 Series.
If only the eight-speed auto were as finely tuned. This gearbox does some great work higher up Jaguar’s range, but in the less powerful XE if feels a little lethargic, doesn’t respond as quickly in Drive, and needs to be flicked into Sport to really live up to its potential.
ANCAP rating: The XE has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: ABS brakes with brake assist, six airbags, active bonnet, blind spot monitoring, lane departure monitoring, rear view camera, front and rear park sensors, stability and traction control form the standard safety list for XE Portfolio.
Adaptive cruise control with forward alert is available as an option for $1750
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
As far as dynamic benchmarks go, BMW's 3 Series holds that title, while the luxury crown goes to the plush C-Class.
Lexus now matches the Euros with the fantastic turbocharged IS and Audi is gearing up to launch an all-new A4 very soon.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Jaguar has done a brilliant job with the on-road experience of the XE, endowing it with a fantastic ride, and genuine sporting verve.
As far as sport sedans go, this one genuinely delivers on the sporting promise.
It’s such a shame then that the interior design is so compromised; the driving position is wonderful, but the ergonomics are not. The technological centrepiece, the InControl infotainment system is particularly disappointing.
We don’t for a moment doubt that you could easily overlook those shortcomings however, given the right test drive circuit it would be all too easy to shrug off the lesser details and embrace ‘the drive’.
Where the X-Type before it was fine, the XE is good, but just like ‘fine’, good isn’t great - We’d consider the XE a car to meet specific tastes, and for anyone enthusiastic about driving, it may be just the thing.