Motoring: our review of Jaguar’s new XE saloon
13:05 23 December 2015
Jaguar has set out to make its new XE saloon the driver’s car in its class and it doesn’t disappoint says motoring editor Andy Russell
Five years ago I was in conversation with a Jaguar dealer who was bemoaning the luxury brand’s decision to pull the plug on the X-Type, leaving a three-car range; the new XF, old XJ saloon and niche XK grand tourer. Ford had also sold Jaguar Land Rover to Indian motoring giant Tata, adding to fears for the company’s future.
Those fears have been well and truly allayed. Both brands have been turned around, with Jaguar launching an all-new XJ, XF Sportbrake estate, F-Type convertible and coupe and compact XE saloon, while an F-Pace performance crossover is set to arrive early next year.
It’s got the look
You might think the XE is a scaled-down XF but put them side by side and the XE looks sleeker and more youthful. The front is dominated by that huge Jaguar grille but at the back you can see hints of the F-Type sports cars. With Jaguar’s expertise in, and extensive use of, aluminium in the structure, the XE is the smallest, lightest and stiffest Jaguar saloon, and that boosts driving dynamics.
How does it drive?
Jaguar engineers set out to make the XE the benchmark driver’s car in its class, a big ask with rivals including the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but they have delivered. Unlike the old Ford Mondeo-based X-Type, the XE feels like a real Jaguar with its sophisticated chassis providing a sublime blend of agile handling and absorbent ride quality, and I suspect the few times the XE was caught out on really poor roads was partly down to the bigger optional 19in wheels.
In a first for Jaguar, it also has electric power steering, tuned for responsiveness and feel.
Under the bonnet
The big news is the new 163 and 180PS Ingenium 2-litre turbo diesel engines which are so superior to the old 2.2-litre units that they are replacing other Jaguar Land Rover models. Mated to six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes, these Ingenium units can challenge the best in class with good refinement, performance and environmental credentials with up to 75mpg combined and CO2 as low as 99g/km. The more potent 180PS version is surprisingly brisk – keep an eye on the speedo as it picks up easily - yet returned a worst of 50mpg and best of 59mpg overall. The only gripe is a slight delay before the auto box kicks down at low revs, but you can either switch to sport mode or take control manually via flappy paddles on the steering wheel. Those preferring petrol have the choice of 200 and 240PS 2-litre turbo petrol and a 340PS 3-litre supercharged V6, the latter only in the S model.
Space and comfort
There’s no denying the XE cabin is a very pleasant place but you’d rather be in the front than the back. Leg and headroom is sufficient for six-footers in the back but you soon learn to duck your head getting in and out to avoid catching it as the roof slopes down to help create that slippery body shape.
While the boot offers 455 litres of space without a spare wheel it’s awkwardly shaped, with the floor sloping up towards the back, and barely-painted exposed metal at the top of the boot catches the eye for all the wrong reasons.
My test car was fitted with the optional 40/20/40 split-fold rear seat backs but, despite remote releases in the boot, they had to be pushed down manually.
At the wheel
There’s something tastefully upmarket but understated about the fascia of the new-generation Jaguars, but they’re now more technical than traditional. The dashboard is distinctly defined with clear dials and straightforward push-button controls and a hi-tech touchscreen infotainment system. But what they all have in common is that they’re intuitive and easy to use on the move. With a quality look and feel to trim and materials, the cabin has a cosseting feel enhanced by the way the fascia wraps round into the front doors.
There’s no denying the desirability of the new Jaguar XE – it looks stunning, especially in bold, bright colours, and is delightful to drive. But limited space in the back and boot mean it’s not quite so easy to live with if you regularly need to carry four people and loads.