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Jaguar XE First Drive

By raccars Published

Jaguar XE Factsheet

Price: From £26,995 (model tested: 2.0d 180 R-Sport auto - £34,775)

Gearbox: Six-speed manual/eight-speed automatic

0-62mph: 7.4 seconds

Top speed: 140mph

Fuel economy: 67.3mpg

CO2: 109g/km

On sale: Now (first deliveries: May 2015)

Insurance group: TBA

Three UK Jaguar XE facts

1: The hotly anticipated new baby Jaguar has been years in development

2: Pitches Jaguar against volume rivals such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4

3: Prices start at just £26,995 – and there’s even a diesel that’s so green, it gets free road tax!

What is it?

The Jaguar XE is the long-awaited baby Jaguar. Competing with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it has been years in the making and, when deliveries begin from May 2015, will see Jaguar’s sales volumes more than double almost overnight.

Following the compact executive template closely, it is a four-door saloon car with a rear-wheel drive chassis and broad range of powerful engines. Even the base petrol car produces 240hp; the top-line V6 S uses an engine from the F-Type sportscar that produces 340hp.

The core of the range will be diesel-powered though – using a brand-new 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine called Ingenium, built in an all-new factory in Wolverhampton. Developing this alone has cost Jaguar Land Rover half a billion pounds, and the sum total of the XE runs into the billions. It’s a no expense spared all-new car.

Although it’s not set to hit British roads until the summer, Jaguar was so keen to get our initial views on the new XE, it allowed us to drive a prototype model – the same as line-built production cars in all but final fit and finish. This, then, is a fully representative first verdict on the most important new Jaguar in a generation…

Styling and interior

The shape of the XE will be familiar to Jaguar enthusiasts, as the firm has intentionally not broken new ground here. It already recently adopted a new design theme with the XF and F-Type, so the XE sticks to this look, albeit with a crisp, compact new interpretation.

The front end boasts a large grille with a neat red Jaguar badge in the centre, plus narrow headlights with a very distinctive daytime running light pattern lit in LED. The side is dominated by the long, coupe-like roofline and stretched wheelbase, with the wheels bulging within their arches at each end.

The roof stretches so far back, the tail is actually less ‘three box-like’ than rivals; the stubby rear looks appealing in the metal and, although they seemed a bit plain at first glance, the neat tail lights did grow on us – again, there’s a smart LED light pattern and a big, bold Jaguar leaper.

Inside, Jaguar has intentionally tried to give a sporty feel, with low seats, a low dashboard and high sides. Cowled dials and low-set metal air vents are cool details and it’s all orientated around an 8-inch touchscreen in the centre. Even on this early production car, quality felt good, with a feeling of solidity. Both seats and steering wheel were suitably racy too.

We do wonder if the dashboard is a bit too plain when compared to the flash new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, though. The passenger side in particular seems to lack premium jewellery some may expect in this sector – you can be sure Audi will be setting out to wow us with the imminent new A4 interior, for example; the XE seems to lack that last touch of polish.

This is, however, tempered by the fact these were pre-production cars; it will be interesting to see what the showroom-ready cars are like.

It seems practical, though. The rear looks more claustrophobic than it is – adults can sit behind adults with relative ease – and the boot is a decent 455 litres. Jaguar’s thought about stowage space inside, with creative cubby-holes (even if they’re not as big as they could be) and the touchscreen’s clarity helps cut back the button count and make it intuitive to use.

Performance

We drove the volume 2.0-litre turbodiesel Ingenium engine in 180hp guise during our day with the prototype Jaguar XE in Portugal. This, admits Jaguar, lacked final production-spec soundproofing, which is perhaps why it was a bit noisy when started from cold and a little gruff in first gear.

On the move though, it really appealed, with a smooth, sweet and surprisingly revvy nature for a diesel. The engine felt eager and it willingly pulled right to the redline without complaint. It’s already much smoother than some key rivals and, in final production guise, should be a strong rival to BMW’s latest excellent 2.0-litre diesel.

The 180hp engine is a good performer as well. It produces 413lb ft of torque which gives it very beefy pulling power, and in automatic guise it matches the BMW 320d’s 7.4 seconds 0-62mph dash.

The optional eight-speed automatic transmission works similarly well. This is the same unit found in the BMW and it’s as seamless and quick-shifting here as it is in the 3 Series. Masterminded by Jaguar’s famous rotary shifter, it’s well worth the £1,750 optional cost – and although Jaguar fits paddleshifters from the F-Type as standard, you rarely have any need to use them, so smartly does it predict what gear you’ll want.

Handling

Jaguar is being bold here – it claims the XE will be THE driver’s car in this segment, better even than the acclaimed BMW 3 Series. But on first evidence, its confidence seems well placed. That’s how well the Jaguar handles – and not only that, it also rides bumps with aplomb.

Indeed, ride quality is the first standout. Over rough Portuguese roads, the composure and comfort were extremely impressive. The XE filtered out rough roads with uncommon ability and was also quiet and refined with it. It wasn’t overly soft though, with body control kept in tight check to further boost passenger comfort.

Such comfort means you don’t notice how well it handles at first – but the rear-drive machine is an eager steer with, again, poise and composure through the bends. It turns in eagerly, it’s very well balanced and the steering has a natural, detailed feel despite being Jaguar’s first electronic assistance setup.

If anything, it’s more sporting and satisfying than it first appears – the obvious performance car stiffness isn’t there so its breeding takes time to be fully appreciated. But Jaguar has clearly spared no expense with this high-quality chassis, and the results are a front-running driving experience that will be a fearsome competitor to the BMW 3 Series.

Price and value

Jaguar is opening the XE range at a very competitive £26,995. This is for the 2.0-litre turbo petrol SE model, a car that boasts a 240hp engine, standard sat nav and other executive grade options buyers in this sector expect.

The opening diesel engine is the 2.0d 163 SE, costing £29,775, and the test 2.0d 180 R-Sport costs £33,025 as a manual and £34,775 as an automatic.

Jaguar claims sector-leading value because the XE is so well equipped – all versions up from base get standard leather seats, for example, and there are plenty of surprise standard features in the range that runs SE, Prestige, R-Sport, Portfolio and V6 S.

Fuel economy

Right now, the Jaguar XE is the most fuel-efficient diesel junior executive car you can buy – yes, beating even the previous sector mpg star, the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics. The 2.0d 163 diesel hits 75mpg and emits just 99g/km CO2, and no diesel breaks the 110g/km CO2 barrier. All are Euro 6 emissions compliant too – again, unlike some key rivals.

We’re sure others are going to match or perhaps even beat the new Jaguar XE’s fuel economy in time – there’s a BMW 3 Series facelift waiting in the wings for starters – but right now, the XE can claim diesel sector bragging rights for fuel economy, which is exactly what Jaguar set out to achieve.

Verdict: 2015 Jaguar XE

Jaguar has delivered with the new XE. Even in prototype form, its abilities are clear, from the superb way it drives to the ever-more appealing way it looks.

We have a few reservations over the interior and low-speed refinement, but Jaguar promises both are work in progress and will be cured by the time customer cars are delivered in May 2015. On this evidence, they’ll be pleased they took the plunge, because we expect the new Jaguar XE to be a very strong alternative to the sector-leading BMW 3 Series indeed.

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