2015 Jaguar XE 20d Prestige Review

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Jaguar's new XE impressed us on racetracks, but how does it handle the daily slog of Sydney streets?

Given the expansive eight-model range for the recent debut of the 2016 Jaguar XE, it’s fair to say that the cat is leaping into the premium mid-sized four-door fray with all paws.

Within its $60k-$100k breadth, many of the mid-to-upper-spec variants are undoubtedly intended to lure existing owners of established German benchmarks into adopting British.

Testing their mettle against logical Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals, though, are comparative exercises fit for another day.

The most-affordable of Jaguar's new XE, specifically the diesel 20d Prestige we have on test here and its petrol 20t twin, play a slightly different, though complimentary, role. They’re not merely to lure buyers to the Jaguar fold, but also to entice shoppers new to the premium car ownership experience, many of them younger than Jaguar’s traditional buyer demographic.

So does the new, mid-sized affordable Jaguar have the right stuff?

For a start, the XE 20d Prestige is right on the (German premium) money rather than being, well, under it.

At $62,800, it’s $2400 shy of being the most affordable Jag money buys – the petrol 20t – though it’s marginally pricier than diesel alternatives in Audi’s A4 TDI Ambition ($59,900) and Mercedes-Benz C200d ($62,400), though it’s a grand cheaper than BMW’s 320d ($63,800).

Given its premier league pricing – ten grand above Infiniti’s Q50 2.2d GT ($51,900) – clearly the Brit wants to be taken largely on merit. Yes, the XE is the shiny new face on the block, but with the 3-Series’ imminent face-lift and A4’s all-new revamp on the near horizon, the Jag’s ‘latest and greatest’ lure is a short-lived one.

What the fledgling XE does do is compensate for a lack of establishment and track record with a list of standard base-model equipment that leaves its German rivals look wanting.

There’s full leather-faced trim throughout, 10-way electric adjustable front seats, ambient interior lighting, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment and an 11-speaker 380-watt Meridian sound system as enticing flash; 75-percent aluminium construction, torque-vectoring-by-braking chassis smarts, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous low-speed braking and automatic parking assist as solid underlying substance.

More: Jaguar XE pricing and specifications

So the Jag plays a strong value hand. Healthy equipment lists, though, don’t maketh prestige.

It does seem, however, that Jaguar put major effort into ensuring the base XE lives up to its Prestige namesake by strategically - if not downright surgically – placing the most effective bells and whistles in areas of most benefit. Most notably in design, finishes and textures. In the XE, impact is everything - and its execution is, for the most part, successful.

In exterior design, the XE’s impact centres on shape, those HID bi-xenon headlights and lashings of chrome – the latter seemingly following the brief of “whatever C-Class has got, add a bit more”, particularly around the side window trim. The styling robs the XF unapologetically, looks menacing nose on – particularly in another car’s rear-view mirror – and suitably upmarket, though it does appear as if everything forward of the B-pillar received a more intensive and aggressive design brief than the rear of the vehicle.

Regardless of personal stance on door count, the XE is, by definition of design tradition, a coupe. And that sloped roofline behind the first row, while certainly imparting suitable sportiness, particularly viewed in profile, certainly presents a few practicality shortcomings when it comes to second-row accommodation. Shortcomings (which I’ll touch upon shortly) that aren’t initially noticeable if you’re blindsided by the XE’s blockbuster interior design.

Make no mistake: the Hollywood cabin treatment will be a dealmaker for some buyers. With its semi-circular dash top and multi-layer door trim design, signature rotary transmission selector, lashings of metal effects and deeply set instrumentation, few cars under $60K – or double that for that matter – can rival XE accommodation for sheer flamboyance. And while ‘Light Oyster, Oyster and Pistachio’, as Jaguar calls it, might sound unsavoury on a restaurant menu, it works a treat viewed as leather and stitching.

Presentation-wise, the interior gets full marks. But in areas, that goodness is merely skin deep.

The default seating position is satisfyingly low-slung and the slightly odd ‘off-centred’ steering wheel allows a clear view of instrumentation, but the seats, while looking sporty, offer little lateral support and many CarAdvice staff who drove it complained that it takes exhaustive adjustment to find the perfect seating position.

Early wear signs on the base bolsters raise questions as to how long the seats will remain nice and Oyster-y. Also, the three-tier door panel naturally locates your hand on the seat memory controls, rather than where the window controls is one tier up.

And while the InControl infotainment is easy to use and the eight-inch display a step up for Jaguar, its touchscreen-only design, sans pinch and zoom functionality, is a little lower rent than Germany's slickest.

And while our test car was fitted with heated/cooled front and heated rear seats, this comes at an extra $1770. The satin grey figured ebony wood trim, too, is a modest $230 cost option.

If the front row is a little cozy, the rear is downright tight. The roof does cutaway for added headroom, but the coupe-like body taper creates snug dimensions in all directions in the back for average sized adults.

There is ample elbow-room, though merely as the outboard seating has been pushed inboard, making the prospect of five-up in the XE a sardine-like squeeze.

For families with small children or teens, though, the XE is ideal.

While both conventional tether (three) and Isofix points (outboard) are catered for,
access to row two for loading babies and toddlers is problematic. When perpendicular parked, the long rear doors can only open to shallow angle. But the door apertures are very short, making normal entry and egress awkward, loading small children in hugely tasking and impractical. Best wait for the F-Pace then…

The bootspace has a reasonable 450-litre capacity, though it’s very deep without a lot of width, height and the short bootlid has a small opening, limiting the load versatility for large objects. It’s a minor gripe, though, for space many owners will find amply useable.

Shortcomings in the addenda aside, the XE, even in base form, basks in the convincingly premium aura that, suitably, is characteristically more luxury focussed than it is sporty. But whatever prestigious serenity it exudes is rudely interrupted the instant the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel rattles into life.

Given this is the debut of Jaguar’s in-house Ingenium engines - an all-alloy unit at that – the prominent chatter idle and low-rpm robs goes some way in tarnishing the XE’s lustre, not to mention being quite un-Jaguar like.

Like most small-capacity diesels these days, engine noise reduces dramatically on the move, where there’s a suitably silken interplay with the eight-speed conventional automatic. There’s ample refinement on the move. But the slower and more stop-start the progress, the less harmonious the engine-transmission relationship becomes.

The auto’s upchanges can be abrupt on take-off and in lower ratios – unusual for the normally silken ZF-sourced design - but the pause in progress is exacerbated by some off-the-mark engine lag. There’s a whopping 430Nm on tap, but it arrives at 1750rpm, well off idle, and only hangs around until 2500rpm.

It’s a narrow torque band in an engine that hits its 132kW summit at just 4000rpm then refuses to give any higher.

In its narrow sweet spot, the torque rush is huge and relentless. In urban cut and thrust, it feels swifter – from, say, 15 to 60km/h – than its 7.8-second 0-100km/h prowess otherwise suggests.

It’s just tricky to modulate with the right foot, the engine giving its all in the first few centimetres of throttle pedal travel – the kind of light switch urgency under acceleration, demanding frustratingly concentrated driving around town. And the car literally shakes every time the engine fires up during Stop-Start activation.

Changing the Jaguar Drive Control’s mode from Normal to Dynamic - which changes instrument illumination from blue to red – doesn’t cure drivability ills, it simply makes progress from a standstill more abrupt.

There’s also a choice of Eco and Winter (which dulls throttle input) modes, though neither made drivability more progressive. Perhaps the 20t petrol version is the sweeter urban, entry-model XE…

The 20d is an absolute stormer on the highway, its torque making a mockery of the XE’s not considerable (for a mid-sized four door) 1565kg weight. And while it failed to dip below middle sixes in fuel consumption around town, on the open road when devouring distances, the long-legged Leaping Cat comes much closer to matching its (admittedly combined cycle) 4.2-litre claim.

For grand touring comfort, the base XE is more competitive rather than benchmarking.

Our test car runs optional 19-inch wheels (18s are standard) fitted with sporting Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber in a staggered 225mm front and fat 255mm-wide rear configuration that add a nice stance to the XE’s appearance though thrum loudly on coarse road surfaces. Road and ambient penetration through to the cabin is conspicuous…though a cursory back-to-back comparison in Mercedes-Benz’s C250 reveals the Jag to be comparable with the German segment benchmark.

As the XE variant least attuned to Jaguar Australia’s ‘the art of performance’ mantra, a more comfort-focused tyre might suit the Prestige 20d’s luxury leanings more suitably. They might add an extra sheen of compliance to ride quality that’s accomplished rather than outstanding.

Not that the XE breed is lacking is sporting DNA – we’ve raved about the dynamic abilities of other variants in test past, particularly the flagship supercharged V6 S version. And this version sprouts similar virtues – from the innately sweet balance of its chassis to the torque-vectoring (by braking) electronic handling smarts – regardless if few owners may never use them.

In fact, the XE’s electrically assisted power steering (or EPAS) is, by driving enjoyment measures, an absolute highlight. Light, crisp, direct, communicative – it meets all the positive superlatives.

Jaguar highlights the steering system as key to the XE’s positive initial driving impression, winning newcomers with what it calls ’50 metre feel’. On balance, though, the joys of steering and other various positives may well be drowned out by the rattles of the diesel and the shortcomings of the powertrain before the 50-metre point is reached.

For long-burning substance, and as an ownership proposition, the XE Prestige 20d is a mixed bag of positives and negatives. But it does wear the allure of so many pluses so conspicuously on its shirtsleeves, a great number of which many new brand-adopters and younger buyers will absolutely go for.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke.