While my fellow CT writers Alex Kersten and Darren Cassey have been getting used to ‘our’ new Mazda MX-5, I’ve been getting to know the second newcomer to the Car Throttle long-term test garage. It’s a Jaguar XE S, more specifically the version that appeals to us the most - the 335bhp, 3.0-litre V6 ‘S’ - and is finished in the Bluefire Metallic paint you guys chose for us a little while back.
After driving the XE for the first time last April, I declared it to be without any serious flaws. We’ve covered over 500 miles in just under two weeks of driving, and will be testing the car for around three months in total, which should give us plenty of time to spot any faults or attributes we missed the first time out. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far….
Whether it’s the posts we’ve put up on Facebook and Instagram, or the reactions of people seeing it in the metal for the first time, we’ve found that most people seem to dig the way the XE looks. I maintain it’s still a little uninspiring at the back, but that’s only because it looks so brilliantly mean at the front, with those sleek headlights and that angry, mesh-stuffed snout. It certainly helps that ours is finished off nicely with the ‘Black Pack’ and a set of 20-inch ‘Propellor’ rims, making this one of the prettiest things Jaguar makes right now.
Despite having driven it for a little while now, I still find myself doing the ‘look back’ after parking it up, something I’m not expecting to stop for a while.
2. The little things make a big differenceWhen you open the door to the XE, you're greeted by an illuminated kick plate. Sit down, and you'll see a starter button that pulsates like a heart beat. Press that starter button, and as the engine wakes up, the gear selector gently rises from the base of the centre console. These are all little touches we've seen on Jaguars before, and they're all pointless. Except they're not. What they do is lift your spirits on even the most rubbish of days, and make using the XE a more special experience. However, it is worth noting that those lovely kick plates are a £408 option. Which leads me on to my next point...
I recall seeing another motoring publication describe the XE S as having a “want for nothing” spec list, in defence of it being over £6000 more expensive than the BMW 335i (now 340i). A fair point, given that you do get a lot of extra bits as standard. But for those who do want a little bit more, there are still plenty of option boxes to tick, and whoever specced ‘our’ XE did a lot of ticking.
The sliding panoramic roof adds £1000 for instance, while the Advanced Parking Assist with Surround Camera is a further £1540. And if you want the same carbonfibre interior trim bits as ours, that’ll be another £1000. All told, over £10,000 has been added to the base price, inflating it from £44,865 to £55,163. Not that it’s entirely relevant, but that’s BMW M3 money, and if you continue clicking, it’s possible to punch the price tag over the £60,000 mark.
This isn’t to be unexpected in the premium end of the market, but it’s a reminder of how easy it can be to getting carried away on the configurator with equipment you might not end up using much.
Launches provide a great opportunity to get to grips with a brand new car before most of the world has the chance to slide behind the wheel. The only issue is, you’re usually in a rather nice part of the world on very good roads, and there’s sometimes a little track action, which gives the risk of the car feeling more exciting that it might otherwise seem.
In the case of the XE, we were dropped in beautiful northern Spain, were sent around some of the best roads I’ve ever been on (just check out the pic below), and were then given the chance to belt around Navarra circuit all morning. So, without such tantalising distractions on offer, and with sunny Spain swapped for wet and miserable Bedfordshire, does the car still seem as good to drive?
In a word, yes. But the car deserves more than one word to describe the way it feels to drive. It’s genuinely sports car-like, and feels nothing like a 1665kg saloon. Push past the limit, and it does start to feel a bit soft and heavy, but the balance of the thing really is impressive, and it’s an enjoyable thing to hoon.
Despite not being blessed with amazing feedback, the electric power steering system remains one of the best I’ve used, and is accurate and always utterly predictable. It’s just about heavy enough too, and has none of the nasty artificial-feeling weight that BMW has been guilty of lately.
There’s more good news too, as the throttle is wickedly sharp in Dynamic mode, and the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox is delectably slick.
Jaguar Land Rover has been guilty of putting some pretty shonky and out-dated media systems in its cars over the years, but the XE’s promises to be much more up-to-date. It is indeed a step up, but it’s still not amazing. It’s not particularly intuitive to use, and the eight-inch touch-screen isn’t terribly responsive. Oh, and the pictures of mountain ranges and forests it puts in the background of the lane-assist screens (see above) just look silly.
This really isn’t good enough when the German big three - particularly Audi and BMW - do the whole infotainment thing a whole lot better. When you’re spending this much on a car, the technology should be of a higher quality. Fortunately, relief is on the way in the form of JLR’s new InControl Touch Pro system, which will be rolled out to the XE range for the 2017 model year. Good news.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The XE S has the same 335bhp, 3.0-litre supercharged V6 found in the base F-Type, and of course it doesn’t have the same shouting, spitting exhaust: it wouldn’t be a fit for a compact exec like this, and to get the same drainpipe-spec outlets found on the F-Type, the XE’s already modest boot space would disappear almost entirely.
But, it gives me a good excuse to post up a video so you guys can get a good idea of what it sounds like, which is fairly muted from inside the cabin, but surprisingly vocal from the outside. A tiny bit more volume would be nice, but it’s a sweet exhaust note overall.
There were only a few new test cars I had ground clearance issues with last year. The first two - being low-slung sports cars - are much more obvious: the Audi R8 and the Maserati Gran Turismo MC Stradale. The third? That’d be the XE. Yep, that nose really is low, and I’ve already bottomed it out a few times getting it off the driveway. I’ll need to be more careful in the next few months….
What would you like to see us do with our new XE S longtermer? Let us know in the comments!