Car of the week: Jaguar XE

Off with the catsuit and back to business

Car of the week: Jaguar XE

JAGUAR has been on an extended gap year for some time. On a mission to find itself, it came up with the fabulous F-type (much advertised but little in evidence on the road) and ventured gingerly into SUV territory with the recently announced F-Pace.

So far this journey of self-discovery has produced little in terms of profit. So, exotic adventures on pause, the manufacturer has put on its business suit and launched its first mass-market car for 14 years — the XE.

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The first examples will arrive in Britain at the end of May. Jaguar is already taking orders for the vehicle but as yet nobody outside the company has driven the final version. Instead the car maker has provided prototypes for journalists to test.

Drawing conclusions is tricky, since the left-hand-drive test models came with handbuilt engines that may or may not be representative of those that will eventually roll off the line at Jaguar’s new Ingenium engine factory in Wolverhampton. The prototypes also suffered from software glitches and a cramped front passenger footwell. Jaguar says right-hand-drive models will have a different layout so drivers’ legs are not squeezed.

One thing that won’t change, unfortunately, is the car’s looks. Jaguar’s stylists appear to have played it safe — perhaps to the point of blandness. Where is the classic sweep and curve that used to be the brand’s trademark?

The view is much better from behind the wheel. The challenge for manufacturers of small executive cars is to combine crisp sports-saloon handling with a comfortable ride, which calls for opposing suspension settings. Jaguar has developed its own independent rear suspension for the XE in an attempt to reach a compromise and, to judge from a test route on potholed Portuguese roads, it appears to have succeeded.

The ride was smooth, the car was nimble through corners and it was fun to drive. Jaguar devotees tempted to buy the XE will be relieved to know that the company’s touchscreen software has been replaced by a much clearer and slicker system that will connect to a smartphone app, allowing them to check whether they have left their windows open, to lock the car and to pre-cool or pre-heat it.

The rest of the interior is clear, uncluttered and upmarket, with gadgets such as a head-up display hitherto unseen on the cheapest Jags. The XE is priced in line with its German rivals. The entry-level diesel model in SE trim and with an automatic gearbox will cost £31,525; the equivalent Audi A4 is £31,100 and BMW 3-series £31,025. However, the XE can’t rival the price of a similar version of the new Ford Mondeo — just £23,795.

There is still obvious work to be done on the prototypes: electronic gremlins caused my test car to repeatedly refuse to move unless the gearshifter was moved into Park mode and back into Drive — a chore in traffic. The diesel version I drove — the 177bhp model — also rattled loudly at urban speeds.

Whether the production car cures the rattle remains to be seen. The XE comes with Jaguar’s new range of efficient diesel engines. The entry-level, 160bhp version emits 99g/km of CO2 (Jaguar’s engineers have limboed under the magic 100g/km figure, partly by reducing the capacity of the fuel tank by two gallons to shed weight). Such figures should appeal to company-car users even though they apply only to models with a manual gearbox.

The last time Jaguar tried to enter this market it came up with a car based on the Mondeo, with styling that harked back to the 1960s. Mention the X-type to Jaguar executives and they still cringe. Initial impressions suggest that the new XE at least won’t embarrass the company, though it may not be enough to outpace fast-improving rivals.

Jaguar XE 2,0d Prestige specifications

Engine: 1999cc, 4 cylinders, turbodiesel
Power: 177bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 317 lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.8sec
Top speed: 140mph
Fuel: 70mpg (estimated)
CO2: 109g/km
Price: £33,025
Release date: May


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