Jaguar’s first attempt at a compact luxury sedan was somewhat poorly received by critics and the buying public alike. Based on a platform shared with the then current Ford Mondeo and topped off with old-fashioned Jaguar design themes, the X-Type failed to live up to expectations.
While the Mondeo platform was sound as a mainstream product, many couldn’t see past the Ford foundations and appreciate the gutsy engines, all-wheel-drive traction and decent dynamics. And thus the X-Type's place in history sees it labelled as a pretender.
Fast-forward to Jaguar's next attempt, the XE, and things couldn’t be any different. Having been released from the restrictive shackles of Ford ownership and into the nurturing hands of Indian brand Tata, Jaguar has been able to fully define its own destiny. Based on an all-new aluminium-intensive rear-wheel-drive platform and cloaked in a carefully crafted body, the XE’s design is anchored by excellent proportions, distinctive LED lighting and an athletic stance.
The XE represents what a modern Jaguar saloon should be, whereas the X-Type was simply a pastiche of what Ford thought buyers wanted. While many of its segment rivals have grown bigger and bigger with each generational change, the XE is noticeably smaller. This has an impact on interior space, particularly rear seat leg room, however its compact dimensions certainly help maintain of level of dynamism that has been diluted from the BMW 3 Series. The XE is now the driver’s choice in the premium medium segment.
Enough of the history lesson and on to what it’s like to own and drive a Jag. This XE 20t Prestige is a replacement for a MC Mondeo Titanium, both powered by a 2.0-litre Ford EcoBoost engine with 149kW of power. The Ford DNA lingers it would seem! The Jaguar application sees it teamed with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission instead of a six-speed DCT in the Ford.
After deciding to replace the Mondeo with something a little smaller and looking at various cars including a Golf GTi, Audi A3 and the Audi Q3, we made a left of field decision to have a look at the Jaguar XE. The expressive design and the fact that it was something a little different to the usual choices were the deciding factors.
The exterior is finished in Odyssey Red and the interior features Latte Grained leather trim with Gloss Figured Ebony veneers, making this particular car stand out from the sea of other silver/black/grey Euro boxes on the road. Additionally, this car has been heavily optioned with sliding panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, head-up display, powered boot lid, 19-inch split-spoke wheels and the Active Safety Pack featuring adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and forward collision alert.
Much has been written about JLR’s excessive options list with cheeky pricing for even quite basic features. However, dealer floor stock is often heavily optioned in an attempt to predict what buyers want, so provided you don’t order a specific unicorn car from the factory, option prices are largely irrelevant and final drive-away prices comes down to how incentivised the dealer is to sell a car that’s already on their lot, and of course good old-fashioned bargaining. This extensively optioned XE was effectively on the road for the standard list price.
Inside, the light-coloured trimming injects a sense of airiness to the cabin. A low slung seating position can be created with full electric adjustment for the front seats, teaming with a perfectly sized electrically adjustable leather steering wheel. A comfortable seating position is easily achieved, making it a great place to soak up a long road trip. I really like the simplicity of the analogue dials, contrasted by the theatre of the pulsating heartbeat starter button and motorised gear selector.
The infotainment screen has four quadrants for navigation, audio, phone and climate control – a system that mimics Ford's Sync 2 set-up. I find this an easy to use and logical layout that is spoiled by slow response times and occasionally finicky Bluetooth connection. Other cabin lowlights include the previously mentioned lack of rear seat leg and head room and the cheap-feeling plastic gear shift paddles.
The most impressive element of the XE is how well it connects with the driver. This car is so light on its feet, aided by excellent steering that is just right for weighting and a pointedness that contributes to a fun-to-drive feeling. The 19-inch wheels add a degree of firmness to the ride quality, but it is by no means unacceptable. This is one of those cases where adaptive dampers are largely unneeded.
The EcoBoost petrol engine and eight-speed gearbox are probably the most surprising aspects, though. This engine with the very same outputs in the Mondeo was lacking in both character and step-off response. In the XE, this is an excellent drivetrain that provides strong acceleration and response across a broad range of driving conditions. No doubt the XE’s light body construction and the lower gearing contribute.
Also noticeable is how much effort Jaguar has put into tuning the exhaust system of this engine to have a genuinely appealing note. This is a four-cylinder engine that sounds and performs to an enthusiast’s satisfaction, and I say this as a habitual V8 buyer. Topping it all off is strong braking that, joy of joys, doesn’t suffer from excessive Euro brake dust syndrome.
As far as running costs go, fuel economy sits around the 9–10L/100km mark in mostly low speed, round-town type of driving. Service costs, as expected, are moderately higher than mainstream brands. This car has also had a couple of warranty-related items attended to during scheduled servicing. The first being the replacement of a faulty forward-collision warning camera, and the second a broken boot strut cover clip that would foul in operation. Apart from that, the car has performed beyond expectations.
What I love about this car is its point of difference; it’s not one of the default choices in its segment. This is a car that turns heads! And while the Mondeo was great to drive, very well equipped and a good car overall, it just never got under my skin the way this Jaguar XE has.
And that’s the key to a great car. One that puts a smile on your face as you turn to look back at it parked in the garage. One that encourages you to take the long way home just for the sake of it. A car that makes you feel good. After all, it’s a Jaaagggg!