Out of everyone in the Car Throttle office, I moan the most. I’m also the pickiest (by far), and love to find fault in pretty much everything. I like to apply that nitpicking approach to cars, and that was the plan for the new Jaguar XE. Even before driving it, I had a headline in mind: ‘What I Love And Hate About The Jaguar XE’. But you know what? After spending two days behind the wheel, I’m almost completely stumped in the dislikes department. The infotainment system - while being improved for the XE - is still a little slow and unintuitive to use, and the centre console design is a bit underwhelming, but other than that, I’m struggling. And the good stuff is very good indeed:
The F-Type’s mighty 3.0-litre supercharged V6 makes an appearance here, and that’s a jolly good thing. In the XE, it’s good for 336bhp and 332lb ft of torque, and while it doesn’t come with the same firing squad-spec popping exhaust as the F-Type, it makes a great noise. With a linear power delivery it never feels shockingly fast, but in reality it’s plenty quick; 0-62mph is possible in 5.1 seconds, and a quick glance down at the speedo after your latest hoof-full will swiftly reveal the exact degree to which you’re breaking the law.
We’ve always got time for a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, but here it feels better than ever, with quick and seamless shifts that won’t leave you pining for a dual-clutcher. And with the F-Type now available with a manual gearbox on its own V6, an XE S with a stick is a real possibility, even if it’s as yet unconfirmed. At £44,870 the S seems a tad pricey (the cheapest XE is £26,995) when a BMW 335i is a good few thousand less, but the Jag is better equipped and more powerful.
I could wax lyrical about the V6 all day, but even on these pages where power and noise are - rightfully - seen as the most important things, the diesel engines need mentioning. They’re the ones most people will buy, after all. We tried the 2.0-litre four-pot diesel in 178bhp, 316lb ft form. It’s a brand new engine of the British manufacturer’s design, and while it’s understandably nowhere near as intoxicating as the shouty petrol, it’s a great unit, with enough performance to satisfy most, and great refinement. Combined fuel economy is 67mpg, or if you go for its 161bhp baby brother, you get a frankly silly figure of 75mpg.
The last time Jaguar had a go at this segment was with the X-Type. Here was a car that took the rather classical looks of the XJ of the time, and squashed them onto a much smaller body. It looked pretty awful. Only the much later cars wearing sportier bits of trim looked anywhere near what you’d call nice, but even then the X was still clinging to a past that Jag really had to leave behind. And leave behind it has, with cars like the XF and F-Type, and the XE continues that trend.
The front looks aggressively wide and low, and there’s a nicely angry mesh grille to go with it. I wasn’t a fan of the rear to begin with - and yes, there is more than a hint of Audi A5 going on there - but after spending so much time with one in the metal, it’s grown on me. I like the sharp lines and protruding lip on the top of the boot lid; it all nicely complements the curvy, frowny stuff at the front.
The whole package is bang up-to-date, and unlike other cars in the segment, it doesn’t need all the sport trim bits dumped on it to look good - every version of the XE is pretty. That said, the V6 S model - with its enlarged, snarling front vents and optional 20-inch wheels - looks sensational.
It’s in this area that the XE really triumphs. With an all-new aluminium-intensive vehicle architecture (a far cry from the old X-Type’s lazily borrowed Ford Mondeo platform), the XE weighs anywhere from 1474kg to 1665kg - which is about the same weight as a BMW 3-series. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that Jag has made a tremendous cock-up. Actually, what the company has done is ‘spend’ those savings elsewhere, in particular by fitting beefier front and rear suspension. Rather than use a MacPherson strut setup at the front, it’s a double wishbone job, while the rear-end shirks a multilink setup for a more complex ‘integral link’ design you’d usually find on a bigger car.
Sounds impressive enough on paper, and it delivers on road and track. Really delivers. The damping is spot on, and this - along with the 50/50 weight distribution - means that you can properly commit to corners, safe in the knowledge that the XE will remain utterly composed and neutral, with oodles of grip keeping you glued to the black stuff. The most you’ll get without being completely stupid is a mild protest from the rear tyres. Although if you are being deliberately daft - particularly in the S - that back-end will step out of line easily enough.
‘There’s no need to panic about this being the first Jag with electric power steering, either, as it’s one of the most natural setups I’ve used.’
It’ll stay tidy at speeds far beyond the point at which something like a Mercedes C-Class starts to get a bit wobbly. It’s an utter joy to hurl around, and yet, it still rides well when you’re not being a hooligan.
There’s no need to panic about this being the first Jag with electric power steering, either. It’s one of the most natural electric setups I’ve used. It’s accurate and gives plenty of information as to what those front boots are up to, and other than maybe wanting a tiny bit more speed, I’ve no complaints.
It’s better than the BMW, Mercedes and Audi
After ploughing monumental investment into the design, development and future production of the XE, Jaguar really needs this car to succeed. Time will tell if enough compact exec buyers ditch the obvious trio of German options and buy an XE, but they’d be daft not to. If I were to put myself in that car buying position, it’s the one I’d go for without hesitation.
It’s not only the best-built Jag - not to mention the best built in class - but up against the other three it’s nicer on the inside, quite possibly the best to drive (it’s a close-run thing between the Jag and the BMW), much better looking and from an emotional sense, it’s the only one I’d really lust after. And here’s one final thought to leave you with: with a comparatively modest 336bhp on offer, the XE S is one of the best small sports saloons out there, so when an XE-R or R-S with Jaguar’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8 arrives, it’ll be one of the most amazing super saloons ever made.