8 August 2015

Review: Jaguar XE

The XE is a ground-breaking car for Jaguar, writes Brian Byrne. The first compact car from the premium brand to be designed from the ground up. The first to use Jaguar's new modular aluminium architecture, also underpinning the upcoming new generation XF replacement and the in-development SUV. And the first car in its segment to have an aluminium monocoque construction.

It is, too, the first car to use the new Ingenium engines developed completely in-house by Jaguar Land Rover. So it is in every way special. JLR finally have a credible competitor to BMW's 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class, in the most important premium segment.

In line with the style of the larger XF that changed the world view of the brand in 2007, the chrome-surrounded mesh grille is now a familiar, with the central Jaguar 'face' badge.

The 'eyes' with the distinctive sideways 'J' LED running lights have a suitably feline look. The front detailing, and the chrome vents on the forward quarters, add taut elegance. The chromed profile of the side windows, the horizontal wrap of the tail lights and the discreet spoiler on the short boot-lid complete a very special design.

There are five grades, each subtly reflecting different themes. My review car was a Prestige version, with leather and brushed aluminium interior. Dual analogue dials set deep against glare flank a digital readout of the usual informations. The centre stack offers clear management of climate functions, while a cleanly designed touchscreen does the same for other systems, including entertainment and navigation.

The steering wheel feels good, the driving position is easily adjusted for any driver size. The car was automatic, so had the rising circular knob that originated in the XF. Behind it a selection strip for changing driving mode through normal, sport, eco, or winter settings.

The car came with high tech, but much of it high-priced extra. The xenon lights with wash add €1,400, folding mirrors with heating another €1,320, the parking pack a hefty €1,385, the blind spot monitor with reverse traffic detection is charged at €1,810, even rain-sensing wipers are €200 more, and the space saver spare wheel another €255. Sure, most premium contenders do the same, but I'm just sayin'.

Accommodation is plush, comfortable. You won't carry 6'2" rear passengers, though, as the headroom there just isn't enough. There's very decent boot space, very nicely finished.

The review car had the 180hp version of the 2.0 Ingenium diesel engine. It feels good, as a brand new engine should, and has a nice snappy note when you jab the accelerator and let it rev. Acceleration is smart, with the relatively light weight of the aluminium construction, at 7.4 seconds in the sprint. It's a very clean motor too, CO2 rated with just 111g/km for a €200 pa road tax. The otherwise seamless 8-speed autobox is slow enough on a down-change, though, unless you floor the right foot, or flick the finger paddles.

The ride in normal mode makes easy meat of long highway distances, and also handles twisting secondaries in decent comfort. Switching to sport mode tightens things up. There are lots of underpinning electronic and suspension safety technology to keep things in complete control.

But I have to wonder why the car didn't quite engage me as I expected? The XE's compact size and place in the scheme of things, its Jaguar heritage, and its designers' abilities should make it wonderful. It is, in many ways, very very good. In its unashamedly premium feel. In state of the art technologies that keep you safer, add comforts and connections. In the sporty cachet of the Jaguar name. In its probable ability to get traction in the BMW-dominated segment where it competes.

But matched against my father's Jaguar 240 of many decades ago, it somehow doesn't seem to do the business. That 240 had its problems, mostly about starting on a damp morning. Heavy steering and clutch, and a gearshift that required decisive heft. But the occasions when I sat into the red Ambla leathercloth seat, turned the key in the walnut dashboard, and headed off somewhere for the day were very special.

Today's XE is much more advanced in every way. Will never need to be pushed down a hill to start. But I don't think it would make such excursions so special. Maybe I need to try the base version, manual transmission, no extras. See if there's anything of that indefinable character that made Jaguars different then. Ah well, nostalgia is probably not a great judge ...

The starter price of the XE is €37,995. The review car starts out at €46,150. With all the extras, it comes out of the showroom at €57,000 less some change.