Just how important is the specification of a car? James thinks he's found the sweet spot in the Jaguar XE 20t Prestige.
Well, well, well. What a difference a spec makes.
Forget big wheels and fancy black packs (of which this car has both), some of the options added to our 2017 Jaguar XE 20t Prestige are all you need to turn a good, but not great, executive sedan into what we’ve been after all along, a proper Jaguar.
At $62,400 (before options and on-road costs), the XE Prestige is the entry point to the mid-size Jag line-up. That makes it $2100 sharper than the equivalent 320i BMW, $1000 less than the entry C200 Mercedes-Benz and $500 under the Audi A4 2.0T.
But while this sounds like a balanced price point, the Jaguar is outsold by all but the Alfa, which considering the brand’s heritage and that the model has had almost two years in market, is a little disappointing.
It is a good looking car, our optional black trim ($1070) and 19-inch wheels ($1240) helping an already well-proportioned design look smart without being over the top. You don’t need either of these though (well, maybe the wheels) to make your Jag a Jag, so what is the issue?
For mine, the reason comes down to packaging.
Clean designs, lovely engines and brilliant handling, sure, but when you are commuting in a cabin that feels unfinished and unworthy of the leaping cat badge on the wheel, the holistic Jaguar experience comes off feeling a little underdone.
It’s like booking a scenic flight but taking an aisle seat. You are there, but you don’t get the full experience.
But, much of that can be addressed by correctly specifying a car, and in terms of our Rhodium Silver XE, they’ve done everything right.
So much so, that a few of these options should be a non-compromise, must have inclusion to ensure all buyers have the full and correct Jaguar experience.
As under the skin, the XE is a very accomplished car.
Powered by a 147kW/280Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, the Jaguar outguns all its European competitors in the power stakes (the Lexus smashes out 180kW) but falls under all but the BMW in terms of torque.
You don’t really feel any shortcoming though, as the engine is punchy and revs out well, with a thick torque band between 1750 and 4000rpm offering good response in almost all circumstances.
It sounds good too, spitting a refined but still sporty note from its twin pipes.
At a cruise, we came close to meeting Jaguar’s combined fuel consumption claim of 7.5L/100km, but running around in urban areas, that pushed quickly into the low teens.
Interestingly, the eco-drive report on the media system reported a 98 per cent ‘eco success’ driving style report when running at 13.1L/100km, so if that’s good… I’d hate to see bad!
The eight-speed sports automatic transmission tries to help as much as possible, dropping into higher gears on the move in a smooth and predictable way.
Spending more time with the car made the rotary shift controller feel more familiar, but I still found myself clicking one notch too far when parking, accidently dropping the car into Park rather than Drive, which would trigger the idle-stop system and just switch the car off.
Even on the move, the idle-stop was a little abrupt, resulting in either significant delays between stopping and restarting, but more often than not, a more violent and explosive restart that wasn’t quite in sync with the more refined nature of the car.
Get past all this, and ideally find a pleasant driving road, and you can enjoy the Jaguar XE’s signature skill, its wonderfully balanced handling.
This really is a driver’s car.
Turn-in is direct and accurate, it feels balanced at middling to high speeds, and rides terrifically well, even on our one-size-up optional 19-inch wheels.
Push it harder and the standard torque vectoring helps keep the car composed under brakes, allowing you to turn in at higher speeds without risk of push understeer as you aim for that apex.
The XE is right up there with the BMW 3 Series in terms of driving engagement, enjoyment and feedback. Even with the base engine, you don’t feel there is any loss in appeal from behind the wheel.
There are a couple of gripes though. The cruise control system doesn’t brake down a hill and can cause you to over speed and there’s no adaptive function (rear cross-traffic and blind-spot detection are standard though).
But all of this has been true of all the Jaguars we have driven.
Where the experience has gone awry, is inside the cabin. And while things are still far from perfect, this car answers a few key grumbles and changes the experience entirely.
First, the big one. InControl Touch Pro. The full-width, 10.2-inch colour touch screen replaces the standard 8.0-inch system and for the $3760 option price, also throws in an 825W, 17-speaker, Meridian Surround Sound system. You can even ditch the Meridian and just opt for ICTP for $1490, too.
It might seem like a big ticket item, but it changes the feel of the cabin completely.
Gone is the recessed screen, flanked by buttons, replaced by a high-resolution panel with a clear interface and some impressive functionality.
Sure, a DAB tuner is a further $560 option (odds on the dealer will bundle this with ICTP), but there is a good navigation system, support for all media devices (which includes a CD player, but more on that in a second) and some clever personalisation features too.
You can set up a shortcut menu for your favourite actions, and the system will even learn your regular drive routes to suggest ways to bypass traffic snarls and other road incidents.
It’s fast to react to swipes and clicks and gives this part of the XE the right amount of premium feel that it should have had all along.
I really liked the way the album cover thumbnails became the image background too.
Something else it should have had is the CD-player between the two air temperature readouts in the climate control panel. Previously, this blank, plastic panel has confused us, looking like it ‘should’ do something and yet done nothing.
But now, with the CD-slot there, everything is balanced and the whole centre stack makes more cohesive sense.
You might think I’ve lost my mind, in suggesting a Jaguar can significantly change by being able to play your Smash Hits 94 double-CD set, but it’s all about cabin ambience and balance. Car Feng Shui if you will, as with these two items in place, you don’t tend to look for other issues.
Sure, the volume knob is still too light and cheap to touch, the sunken-tub dashboard design a little goofy and the window switches are where you expect the mirror controls to be, and vice versa, but the XE is starting to feel like a premium car. A proper Jaguar.
The seats are lovely and comfortable and very supportive, the leather soft and better still, standard. It’s a low car, and I managed to bash my knee on the low vent near the steering wheel getting in a couple of times, something to be mindful of if you are considering one.
There are twin USB ports in the centre console, good storage up front and around the cabin. Even the ambient lighting at night is good.
Rear passenger room is good, as you sit low and ‘scooched’ back. The 450-litre boot is a decent size and features a nice ‘golf bag’ hole which allows a set of clubs to be easily placed across the boot, without having to fold the 60:40 rear seats.
There are a couple of options we have that you really don’t need to go for. The $1820 head-up display is blurry and reflects sunlight badly, and isn’t worth the spend. I’ll leave the $1850 sunroof to personal taste, but I wouldn’t miss it if it was gone.
Plus we had the cold-weather pack on our car ($1080) which does give you heated seats (available separately for $640) but includes a windscreen heater which has elements than can be seen in direct sunlight, and are a little distracting.
In total, our car had just under $13,000 worth of extras on it, but for mine, you can get away for about half that and still have a really good car. A proper Jaguar every time.
To have experienced the XE like this, makes it feel like a real contender.
It still isn’t perfect, we'd love to see a few things addressed for the inevitable ‘series two’ XE, including a less-reflective dash top material and please, please throw those plastic shift paddles in the bin. But, they are minor when you consider the whole experience.
The specification is important though. This is a $60k car with $10k of the right options feels like an $80k car, as opposed to being a $60k car with $10k of unnecessary extras that feels like a $50k car.
My 'loves me, loves me not' relationship with Jaguar is now firmly back on the good side, and I feel happier knowing you can have a good experience with the leaping cat, as long as you are smart about it.
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Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Jaguar XE below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.