Much has been made of the all-new Jaguar XE already. The British-based brand’s new BMW 3 Series rival is one of its most important launches in decades, given it heralds a wholesale makeover of the company’s model line-up under Indian steward Tata.
When we said ‘all-new’ just now, we meant it. A 75 per cent aluminium monocoque and new modular architecture are key. Throw into the mix the new in-house diesel engine (with the petrols to come), and a new infotainment system.
How important is the Jaguar XE? Well, the new Jaguar Land Rover plant that builds it in Solihull formed part of a £1.5 billion ($3.3b) investment, and added 1700 jobs to Jaguar’s roster.
Crucially, the XE also has the goods to return Jaguar to the hearts and minds of a younger crowd, a demographic alienated from the brand in its ‘retro’ years under Ford rule.
Make no mistake — Jaguar is coming. Right now it comprises about 10 per cent of the Jaguar Land Rover Group’s total sales, but by 2020 JLR wants this figure to grow three-fold. Cars like the XE, and its imminent F-Pace crossover SUV spin-off, will be major cogs.
Beyond the 3 Series, the Jaguar XE’s obvious rivals are the Mercedes-Benz C-Class that dominates the Australian sales charts, the soon-to-launched new-generation Audi A4 and the also imminent Lexus IS200t. This crowd will soon enough be joined by the Alfa Romeo Giulia.
Key differentiators for the Jaguar — according to its maker, anyway — are the overt focus on dynamism (a bit like the 3 Series). Remember those weight-saving aluminium panels we mentioned? They’re offset very deliberately by the fitment of heavier but theoretically sharper double-wishbone/integral-link suspension.
The other key unique selling point for the XE is its ‘Made in Britain’ status, which sets a nice counterpoint to the German class champions. Not for nothing is there a metal stamp attesting to this in each glovebox.
Stylistically, Jaguar’s design — led by Ian Callum — plays it safe. The resemblance to the larger XF is obvious, though it lacks the immediate impact of a C-Class, which has the presence of an S-Class because it basically looks like a shrunken one. It’s all very recognisably ‘Jaguar’ though.
Furthermore, the rear-drive proportions are spot-on, while the aggressive nose looks suitably menacing. The overall sporting intentions are magnified when the XE is fitted with a set of black alloys and the R-Sport styling package, in particular.
The rear design is certainly more subdued — even the top-spec supercharged V6 has two relatively modest exhaust outlets — though that signature leaping cat badge stands out like a sore thumb, as it should.
Climb inside the ‘cockpit’ and what grabs you immediately is the preternaturally aggressive driving position. It’s brilliant. You sit low in the well-bolstered and supple leather seats, with your legs stretched out before you, a round (not flat-bottomed, thankfully) steering wheel above your lap, and a wraparound dash hugging you like a long-lost aunt.
For all intents and purposes, it feels akin to an actual four-door coupe, and by that we don’t mean the pretentious marketing-driven applications of that word applied by a few German brands…
That dash design comes with a number of nice touches, such as the way the top curves around and meets the doors in a semicircular fashion, and the small Jaguar badge inset at the nape of the windscreen. The wood or faux carbonfibre inlays depending on spec, and the quality of the leather on the dash and doors, also struck us as excellent.
The layout of the fascia is clean and uncluttered, with an 8.0-inch screen displaying Jaguar’s new InControl infotainment system that comprises four quadrants, excellent graphics and slick usability (though no phone-style swiping function). This touchscreen — there is no rotary toggle or dial like most rivals — is flanked by eight buttons that shortcut to various menus.
The round dial that replaces the gear-shifter, in typical Jaguar and ZF style, and raises from a recess in the transmission tunnel, is a nice signature touch.
Across the range, the equipment levels are good. From launch, the baby Jaguar will be available in four specification levels with various engine options, called Prestige, R-Sport, Portfolio and S, priced between $60,400 ($1100 less than a BMW 320i and $500 cheaper than a C200) and topping out at $104,200. That latter figure is potentially too high, though it mirrors the Audi S4.
The Prestige and Portolios are ‘luxury focused’ — the latter has Windsor leather and Herringbone perforation, and woodgrain — while the R-Sport and XE S go for a much sportier feel.
Even entry cars get proper luxury touches such as 18-inch alloys, front and rear sensors and reverse-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, automatic parking assist, lane departure warning and autonomous low-speed braking, 10-way electric full-leather seats, keyless start and keyless entry, bi-function HID xenon automatic headlights, that 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, and a 380-watt Meridian sound system with 11 speakers.
Read the full pricing and specifications breakdown for more information here.
Things up front aren’t perfect, however. It’s really not as ‘premium’ as the Benz. Some of the plastic fit and finish is adequate at best, such as the panel running alongside the transmission tunnel that flanks a storage cubby below the fascia. One car also had an odd squeak in its steering wheel at low speed, and a rattle from the fascia plastics. It wasn't just us who commented on it at the launch.
These are small gremlins on early-build cars, but something we’ll be watching for when we get one in our office garage in the coming weeks for more detailed review.
The cabin is no class-leader in terms of space, either, though we’d point out that the likes of the 3 Series and Lexus IS are little or no better. The trade-off of that cockpit-like layout is the limited knee space and shoulder room up front.
Ditto the rear seats, which are soft, well-bolstered and flip-fold, but which have little to work with in terms of knee room and head room, despite roof scallops. Foot room is better, though, and there are rear air vents, a ski port and two ISOFIX anchors to sweeten the deal.
The boot, opened either manually or electrically depending on spec and optioning, can hold 455 litres, which is sufficient for the golf clubs. For comparison, the C-Class houses 480L. Under the floor is a space-saver spare wheel.
Where the Jaguar XE really shines, though, is on a twisting ribbon of tarmac. Behind the chunky steering wheel is a version of Jaguar’s first electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system, which yields fuel savings of 3 per cent and enables the fitment of systems such as active park assist.
The fitment of such a system seems, on the surface, vaguely incongruous, given Jaguar’s mission was originally to make cars feel “alive”. The speed-dependent EPAS system here, though, is far from anodyne.
Instead, Jaguar has achieved what few others have managed, and managed to dial in a perfect amount of weight at nary any speed (it errs towards heavy, with ample resistance), a razor-sharp responsiveness on-centre and a good simulacrum of intuitive feel-and-feedback.
The company’s words on the matter? “Our engineers have not considered the technology sufficiently mature – until recently”. Box ticked.
Beyond this, the way the XE responds to changes in direction, its general sense of alacrity, are little short of brilliant. This is especially notable on the base petrols, which have about 35kg less weight over the nose than the diesel.
Ditto the new chassis, developed from the ground up. It’s exceptionally stiff, and the weight distribution enables the sort of excellent balance that suits the big cat badges affixed front and rear. It’s communicative to an exemplary degree, allowing you to dial-in controllable oversteer with relative ease.
The other dynamic highlight is the general ride quality, even on optional 19-inch rims. Jaguar has calibrated the dampers to be firm to complete the sporty setup, meaning your rebounds from bumps are limited, but the ride never crashes or causes the car to 'fall into' corrugations, or feels brittle and busy over craggy road surfaces.
There’s also a new feature built into the ESP called Jaguar All Surface Progress Control, built into the cruise control and sourced from Land Rover, that helps on slippery surfaces between 3.6km/h and 30km/h. There’s also a corner-carving torque vectoring system that brakes the inside front wheel.
The only caveat on the whole package is a minor surplus of road noise from the tyres, though this may have been more a symptom of our test cars' optioned-up 19-inch alloys and the coarse-chip Far North Queensland roads than any lack of sound insulation. We’ll investigate further.
There are four engines on offer, the headliner being the all-new and from-scratch Ingenium diesel, that here uses a claimed 4.2 litres of fuel per 100km. JLR says it has done two million kilometres of durability testing.
With 132kW/430Nm (the latter between 1750 and 2500rm), it’s got ample punch for a car that weighs 1565kg. A 0-100km/h sprint in 7.8 seconds is respectable, though the engine is no firebrand and lacks the vast wall of torque that the very sportiest diesels have. It’s about reducing emissions, however, and it does that well. It’s also commendably quiet and refined.
The 147kW/280Nm XE 20t in various specification levels is familiar, given its basically the same as the one used in various Fords such as the Mondeo. Ditto the XE 25t, with its tuned version of the same 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with 177kW/340Nm, and 6.8sec 0-100km/h time.
They both serve as good placeholders until the Ingenium engine arrives, since they retain the fantastically linear responses to throttle inputs (lag-free) and that slightly raucous edge that has always been a trademark. You eke every inch out of them.
Atop the range sits the 250kW/450Nm XE S, with its F-Type-sourced supercharged V6 that sends its 1665kg mass (135kg heavier than the 20t and 25t) in 5.1 seconds. It’s rapid, characterful, linear and tractable, but also mildly muted from inside (though it has a menacing bark from outside) — no doubt Jaguar is leaving room for a Mercedes-AMG C63-rivalling ‘XE R’.
Jaguar claims the XE S is more of an Audi S4 rival than a BMW 335i rival, though the Audi’s quattro system is a key differentiator.
All engines are matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission sourced from German wunderkinds ZF, which in this application is predictably intuitive. Place it in S rather than D, and put the car into Sports mode (which sharpens the throttle), and the ante is well-and-truly upped.
The final piece in the XE puzzle is the fact it kicks off a planned renaissance in JLR Australia’s aftersales care, with things such as guaranteed future value programs, an imminent ‘genuine’ used cars program, and a planned fully financeable fixed-price servicing scheme that Jaguar says will cap either five years or 100,000km of servicing at between $1100 and $1350, which is razor sharp.
The service intervals are extremely long, which explains the low cost. They are as follows: 20t and 25t are 12 months/16,000km, the 3.0 V6 S is 12 months/26,000kms and the 2.0d is 24 months/34,000km. Crikey.
So that’s the not quite perfect Jaguar XE, which left us largely impressed after our first local drive. The right badge, the dynamic driving position and hugely accomplished road manners tick the boxes. For a car pitched as the dynamic benchmark, it delivers in spades. In that sense, it’s mission accomplished.