New Kid on the Block: Jaguar XE
So I’ve started sniffing around a new car, and have been quite interested in Jaguar’s response to the
BMW 3 Series – The XE. Launched in 2014 at the Geneva motor show, and since production started in April last year, the model has gone from strength to strength, winning swathes of awards and generally beating the Germans at their own game.
It seemed only appropriate that I should see what all the fuss is about, so organised an extended test drive to really
spend some time with one.
I can save you the anticipation – it was excellent. Not without its niggles, but I would anticipate that the vast majority of buyers would neither notice or care. Unfortunately, I am an automotive engineer by degree, and have spent my entire working life so far in the automotive industry, so I will confess to being slightly more sensitive than others.
Let’s start with the basics – I tested the 2 litre diesel in the higher output variant, with 180PS and 430Nm of torque, mated to an 8 speed automatic gearbox, at the R-Sport level of trim. The R-Sport gets you sports seats with the choice of duotone seat colours, sports suspension as standard and a more aggressive body kit and a sports steering wheel to boot. All of this starts from £34,775.
Put simply – excellent. The design of both the exterior and interior have clearly been fettled and honed to find the perfect balance between form and function by Jaguar’s design chief, Ian Callum. The R-Sport body kit gives the exterior a more purposeful stance, with the addition of side sills, a small spoiler/flip-up on the boot lid and a more aggressive lower front bumper being of particular note.
The interior is an exercise in clean, minimal design with some flair thrown in. Off-set by the vertical lines of the centre stack, an aluminium finisher arcs across the top of the dash and helps to provide a cocoon sensation to the cockpit. Driving position is good: low down, with good visibility all round, with all the switches exactly where you’d need them.
I have two minor complaints with the interior. Firstly, the centre console is pretty slab-sided, presumably to maximise room. However, it’s made out of a large panel of lightly grained plastic and really didn’t feel particularly high quality. Secondly, the centre stack, while good to look at, is prone to squeaking/creaking as its various plastic finishers rub together. I found it would creak pretty constantly driving over relatively innocuous roads, and did serve as a minor irritant. They certainly detract from what otherwise feels like a very well put-together car.
All the XE’s come with keyless start as standard, and as soon as you settle yourself into the driver’s seat, the Start/Stop button begins to pulse red in a 72 bmp heartbeat, which the marque readily remind you is that of the resting hearbeat of the cat after which the eponymous brand is named. Foot on the brake, and at the touch of the Start button the engine fires into life.
I won’t lie to you, it’s a diesel – so don’t expect a throaty flare of a V8. That being said, the engine is extremely well isolated at idle, and doesn’t give you any of that invasive vibration and noise that diesels have traditionally been famed for.
Turn the gear selector to D and we’re away. The 8 speed ZF gearbox moves smoothly through the cogs, as would be expected. I would say, however, that I wonder if the launch strategy could have been better managed (sorry to get technical here) in terms of how early the torque converter locks up. I found that typically there felt to be a degree of ‘inertia’ in pulling away under partial throttle, and I whilst this is no immediate problem, it can make pulling away a little all or nothing until you’ve had a bit of practice to find the sweet spot. As I said, unfortunately you can’t take the engineer out of the blogger, and I suspect that only a few people would even be bothered by this.
Ride & Handling
The ride is refined, and despite the sports suspension, compliant and forgiving. Its primary ride (that is, in response to things like pot holes, grids, speed bumps etc.) is very well damped indeed. Bumps don’t feel crashy, but feel isolated and remote. The secondary ride (for smaller inputs – road surface etc.) is a little worse, but by no means bad, but is certainly somewhat less refined than its competitors. This largely isn’t too much of a problem – I’m perfectly willing to tolerate this. As long as the primary ride is good enough that my teeth aren’t knocked out of my head every time I drive over a cat’s eye, I’m a happy bunny.
Partly, I would guess, as a consequence of the secondary ride, road noise is a little louder than some – but certainly not so invasive as to cause a problem. I largely listen to music when driving, but for almost my entire time with the XE had nothing on (the stereo, that is – I was wearing clothes), and wasn’t bothered by it.
I did notice a couple of little niggles with wind noise: There was at times a minor whistling coming (I suspect) from the wing mirror – likely where the head joins the stalk; and some general buffeting around the window and B pillar. Again, nothing major.
Back to the driving of the thing, and more specifically the handling, which was truly fantastic. I didn’t
(the guys at Ridgeway will be delighted to know) really push it, so I can’t comment about its performance on the limit, but in the context of road driving I was absolutely amazed. For a car with such a compliant ride, the XE handles like a dream. Even in standard driving mode, the steering is nicely weighted and provides plenty of feedback. The real surprise was how well it turned in: I’ve driven Aston Martins that would be envious of it. Once turned in, the body control is brilliant – it doesn’t roll about or wallow, but just feels planted and composed. Put the car into Dynamic mode – with the instrument cluster turning red in recognition – and this only gets better. The steering is weighted more, and the throttle response that bit more taught.
Just One Thing…
My one really major gripe was with the XE’s base spec 80W Jaguar system fitted to the car I tested… which could only be described as anaemic. It’s £515 to upgrade to the 380W Meridian system, and I wouldn’t think twice about spec’ing this option. The bass response was pretty much non-existent, and what was left beyond that was very directional tinny audio. It may be because I was playing through my phone’s Bluetooth audio, but it was pretty poor – and to be honest for a car at over £30,000 I would expect better for a base spec.
This is not to say that the infotainment system itself is not good. I found it easy to use and intuitive. My phone was effortless to pair, and it was easy to use the navigation system. Although I will say, despite the nice lady on the XE’s sat-nav saying please, she did sound like a cold psychopathic monster, so I turned her off. Which is pretty consistent with my effect on women.
Would I buy one? Absolutely? Will I be buying one? You bet’cha.
The XE is a fantastic car, and don’t let my being an absolute pedant fool you. The ride and handling are fantastic and the design brilliant.
Sure, there are some minor niggles, but I promise that I could get into literally any car – including those five or even ten times its value – and find faults. Ultimately it makes you feel as all great cars should – bloody marvellous.
- Great design
- Excellent balance between ride refinement and handling
- Dynamic handling
- Fuel economy
- Plastic-y centre console feels cheap and causes some minor squeaks
- Torque converter lock up strategy can cause sluggish launches under partial throttle
- Base stereo specification is poor
Jaguar XE R-Sport 180 Diesel
Price as tested: £36,880
0-60mph in 7.4 seconds
Top Speed: 140mph
Carbon Dioxide Emissions: 109*-111g/km
Urban Fuel Economy: 56.5*-55.4mpg
Extra Urban Fuel Economy: 76.4mpg
Combined Fuel Economy: 67.3mpg