Jaguar’s newest baby, the XE, brings the fight to the Germans

Two qualities stand out in the Jaguar XE – the car’s excellent ride and steering. -- PHOTO: JAGUAR
Two qualities stand out in the Jaguar XE – the car’s excellent ride and steering. -- PHOTO: JAGUAR

Remember the Jaguar X-Type? Neither does Jaguar, it seems.

At the launch of the new Jaguar XE, no mention was made of the British firm's last contender in the compact executive sedan segment. Which goes to show the impact the Ford-derived car made.

But after almost £2 billion (S$4.2 billion) of investment - including two new factories, 2,300 new jobs, a new vehicle architecture and two new engines - Jaguar is back for another stab at a segment currently dominated by BMW's 3-series, Mercedes' C-class and Audi's A4.

On paper, at least, the signs are promising. More than 75 per cent of the XE is made from lightweight aluminium and the car utilises exotic double-wishbone front suspension taken directly from the Jaguar F-Type sports car and an integral link rear suspension. Not even the 3-series, considered to be the best-handling car in this class, comes with such a premium suspension layout.

Styling-wise, the XE is attractive enough albeit safe. Although it resembles a sports-saloon in profile, thanks to a stretched bonnet, muscular shoulder bulges and a sloping roofline, its rear lacks excitement. Still, aesthetically, it just about holds its own against its rivals.

The XE comes with five engine choices: two diesels, two petrols (all 2-litre, four-cylinder units) and a range-topping XE S sporting the same 3-litre supercharged V6 as in the entry-level F-Type. While the petrol engines are familiar, Jaguar's new Ingenium turbodiesels are built in-house and completely new.

Available at the launch were more powerful versions of the 2-litre diesel and petrol with 180bhp/430Nm and 240bhp/340Nm respectively, as well as the XE S. Jaguar says it is likely only one 2-litre petrol and diesel will come to Singapore.

Whichever variant you choose, two qualities stand out - the car's excellent ride and steering. Jaguar has gone to great lengths to find the perfect balance between precise handling and a plush ride and it shows.

The XE is composed, fluid and reacts impeccably to steering input while being nearly as cosseting as a Mercedes C-class.

Even in Dynamic mode - which firms up the steering, dampers and sharpens the throttle - the XE is never harsh. If you opt for the adaptive dampers, the suspension firms up only when lateral movement is detected. So you get superb body control in the bends, with the same straight-line bump-absorbing comfort as you would in Normal mode.

Jaguar's first electric power-assisted steering is another gem. The helm is consistent and offers vast degree of feel and precision. Pair that with the car's wonderfully resolved chassis and you have something that handles almost as well as a 3-series. While it is not as sporty or sharp, its abilities are far more well-rounded and accessible.

In terms of pace, the 2-litre diesel and petrol engines are more than adequate. They are refined and smooth, if not particularly engaging. Their performance figures are respectable. The diesel takes 7.8 seconds to go from 0 to 100kmh, while the petrol takes 6.8.

Both variants are mated perfectly to a slicker and much improved eight-speed automatic gearbox.

For those who want more oomph, the XE S is the one to have. With 340bhp and a smattering of go-fast parts (larger air scoops, bigger wheels, more powerful brakes and other things), the range-topper was surprisingly fun around the Navarra racetrack in Spain.

While a little soft for serious track use, it was still fairly entertaining. On the road, however, it shines, offering a level of involvement the 2-litre models sorely lacked.

Inside, you get an interior that is more reminiscent of Jaguar's flagship, the XJ, than the mid-range XF. You get oodles of luxurious stitched leather, an F-Type-derived steering wheel and dials, and a new modern centre console with Jaguar's new InControl Touch infotainment system, which, when compared with its old system, is way more responsive and pleasing to navigate around.

Cabin build quality is not quite up to German standards, if you nitpick, but it is still premium enough to keep up-and-coming executives happy.

Faults? Rear legroom is similar, if not slightly more cramped than the 3-series'. There is ample headroom for six-footers, although with the huge transmission tunnel and raised middle seat, it is best to stick with two occupants in the rear for longer journeys.

That aside, the XE has proven it has the equipment, refinement and pace to go head-to-head with BMW, Mercedes and Audi, never mind that it is the newest kid on the block. You can expect a few bloody German noses when it arrives in the fourth quarter of this year.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.