The Jaguar XE is the compact sports-luxury sedan the X-Type of the 2000s should have been, and it simply reinforces how far the British brand’s product development has progressed ever since ownership swapped from Ford to Tata Motors in 2008.
For whatever reason, however, the XE hasn’t had the desired effect of boosting sales of Jaguar sedans. Even allowing for the big dent SUVs are putting in passenger car sales, Jaguar four-doors are struggling even relative to key rival sedans.
Jaguar XE sales in Australia fell 25 per cent between 2018 and 2019 – in a medium-luxury-car segment that fell just three per cent year on year. Its 394 sales equated to a market share of 2.3 per cent, compared with 7.6 per cent for the Audi A4, 18.5 per cent for the BMW 3 Series, and a ridiculous 40.2 per cent for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
As is often the case, sales don’t always justify the worthiness of a car. The XE impressed with the way it drove when it was released in 2015. Key criticisms were the shortage of rear-seat space, interior quality/presentation, and an average infotainment system.
At least for the latter issue where it was feasible, Jaguar has aimed to address it as part of an MY20 update that also dramatically cuts the XE line-up from nearly a dozen variants to just two.
And the carmaker has succeeded to a large degree, even if the XE cabin’s overall execution falls short of that found in the Audi A4 and new BMW 3 Series – owing to some inconsistent tactility (plastic-feeling temperature and fan dials), and still the occasional example of loose fit and finish (sides of the centre console).
There’s otherwise plenty of upgraded materials and aesthetics to make an XE owner feel good about sitting in the car, even in what is now the entry-level model, the 2020 Jaguar P300 XE R-Dynamic SE priced from $65,670 plus on-road costs.
Jaguar has revised trim details and introduced all-new door cards all in the name of lifting cabin quality. Then there’s some inspiration from a couple of other Jags. The rotary gearshift controller first introduced by Jaguar on the 2008 XF is phased out and replaced by the sportier gear lever from the F-Type sports car.
The I-Pace electric crossover lends its 'hidden until lit' steering wheel controls and 10.0-inch central infotainment screen. Over the SE variant we’re testing here, the $71,940 R-Dynamic HSE gains the Touch Pro Duo system that adds a lower 5.5-inch touchscreen including climate controls.
It’s a good system with decently quick response, though it’s still not as intuitive to use as some rival set-ups.
The 12.3-inch instrument panel is fully digital and customisable, allowing a variety of layouts including a singular dial or traditional dual dials and enlarged navigation map. A central section focuses on a choice of driver-aid information, map, media selection, trip computer or just off.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, and there’s a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot built-in. Wireless smartphone charging, though, is available only as part of a $2160 Technology Pack. Fitted to our test car, this pack also brings the Touch Pro Duo dual central touchscreens, head-up display and a Clearsight rear-view mirror that offers an alternative/selectable high-resolution video feed of what’s behind the car via a camera built into the roof antenna.
A $1340 Drive Pack is also needed if you want adaptive cruise control, high-speed autonomous emergency braking, or blind-spot monitoring that should be standard. (The pack is standard on the HSE.)
If you like the look of our Caldera Red XE SE as much as we do – now with even slimmer, all-LED headlights/tail-lights and revised front and rear bumpers to sharpen the Jaguar’s exterior design – just note the 19-inch gloss-silver alloy wheels ($1000), black trim elements ($840 Black Exterior Pack) and privacy glass ($650) are all options.
The SE isn’t bereft of good standard features, though, and seems better equipped than many Jaguar-Land Rover models we could mention.
Electric adjustment is standard for the front seats, offering plenty of scope to find the ideal driving position. There’s the requisite cushion length for longer journeys. Lateral support could provide a slightly better grip on the torso considering the XE’s obvious sporting pretensions.
The SE’s upholstery is a suitably luxurious grained leather, whereas the HSE upgrades with perforated Windsor leather. HSE also adds electric steering column adjustment and a 380-watt Meridian audio instead of the SE’s 125W no-name system.
Taller passengers will still feel a bit cheated for leg room in the back of the XE, and the 410L boot is smaller than the luggage compartments found in key rivals.
The rear seat is fixed as standard, but for $560 you can have a 40-20-40 split-fold rear seat (as in a BMW 3 Series) for increased practicality. With the seats down, load space increases to 551L. An electrically operated boot lid is also optional ($450).
Jaguar makes no reference to chassis changes for MY20, but there was little if anything to improve. The XE was better to drive than the previous 3 Series, and it wouldn’t be found wanting against the new 3 Series, either (a twin test beckons to find out which is truly best).
It certainly offers a more consistently smoother low-speed ride than the 330i, even if the optional 19-inch wheels fitted to our test car don’t smother all types of bumps as we would expect the standard 18s to do. The XE’s rolling comfort is still pretty exemplary, as the Jaguar’s inherent suppleness combines with superbly judged damping.
Then find one of those roads that lights up a keen driver’s eyes, and the XE demonstrates superb body control and an entertaining agility that benefits from the car’s aluminium-intensive body.
The steering, too, is terrific, turning the XE into corners with faultless precision, directness and fluidity. On some damp roads during testing, the quick rack also came in handy to correct small slides as the rear wheels momentarily lost traction.
A bunch of engines, including four-cylinder diesel and V6 petrol options, are now gone from the XE range, leaving just the single, four-cylinder petrol engine across the SE and HSE models.
Thankfully, it’s the most potent of the four-cylinder petrol engines previously offered that remains – the ‘P300’ that brings 221kW and 400Nm to the table to outgun similarly priced rivals.
A $61,400 Audi A4 40TFSI has 140kW and 320Nm, a $65,900 BMW 320i has 135kW/300Nm, and the $65,800 Mercedes-Benz C200's 150kW and 300Nm.
With a 0–100km/h claim of 5.9 seconds, it makes the XE quicker than all of those cars (all into the 7.0s), and almost as quick as a more expensive BMW 330i (5.8 seconds).
To get the best response and aggression out of the drivetrain during enthusiastic driving, Dynamic mode needs to be engaged via a centre console switch and the gear lever nudged left for S(port). Even then, you can’t beat using the paddle-shift levers.
There’s a suitably sporty note emitted from the XE’s exhaust pipes, though it’s a pity those with a higher budget can no longer tap into the great-sounding supercharged V6.
We managed a respectable 9.0L/100km fuel-use average during testing, compared with official consumption of 6.7L/100km.
Although the XE is pitched as a sports sedan, it’s capable of covering off the luxury brief on the move. The engine is quiet and smooth in general driving, and the eight-speed auto is far better at changing gears at low speed than the nine-speeder found in the company’s E-Pace compact SUV.
Tyre noise is also reasonable on coarser surfaces despite the large wheels.
Jaguar shares a mean-fisted three-year warranty with most luxury brands. Servicing costs are better, with a $1500 charge covering five annual maintenance visits.
The SE is reasonably well specified, and individual options are available if you don’t have the budget to step up to the HSE. While the XE’s interior could still be more special in the way it looks and is packaged, the MY20 update is a worthy improvement.
Most buyers will continue to be drawn to the Germans. But if you’re interested in one of the most joyous and involving compact sedans to drive, this British four-door may just be your type.