- Incredible handling, great steering
- Punchy and refined engines
- Sexy looks – there's no denying it
- Small rear seat
- Options can get pricey
- Some interior bits could be nicer
Great luxury car brands have great entry-level models. These pathway vehicles are crucial: they sell in large volumes, funding the brand’s more exotic projects. And they lure in savvy, young buyers: an opportunity to create long-lasting brand loyalty.
Until now, Jaguar have lacked a great entry-level car. The success of the F-Type and XF might have hauled the British brand out of old-hat perceptions, but substantial growth has evaded the Big Cat. So for five years, Jaguar been working away on two projects they hope will catapult sales towards German territory: an SUV called the F-Pace, and this—the XE small sedan.
It’s compact, rear-wheel-drive, mostly made of aluminium, and available with a range of punchy four-cylinders—or the F-Type’s supercharged V6. On paper, then, the XE sounds like it could make some trouble for the big three in this class: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, and Audi A4.
The Jaguar is devilishly handsome. Where Mercedes has steered the C-Class into decidedly more grown-up, elegant design territory, the BMW is plain, and the (brand-new) Audi looks near-identical to the one that preceded it, the XE is a breath of fresh air. XF and F-Type flows in its muscular lines, and the low-slung cockpit spells proper driver’s car.
But Jaguar is a relatively small British brand. It lacks the enormous resources of the German marques. Surely they can’t just walk in and build the best car in the small premium sedan class.
Or have they done just that?<
After using Ford engines for much of the recent past, the XE is part of Jaguar’s effort to reassert its engineering prowess. With its partner Land Rover, Jaguar has been designing a range of British-built engines called Ingenium. So far, only the diesels are ready. If the XE diesel is a guide, each of the new motors will be punchy, refined, and efficient. Old Jaguar diesels were pretty grumbly: the XE needed this good, new one to be competitive.
There isn’t such a rush on the Ingenium petrols. That’s because the existing two-litre petrol is already a really great unit that can take the Germans head-on.
It comes in two states of tune: the 147kW XE 20t is smooth and able, while the 177kW XE 25t is genuinely sporty, with perfect tractability and punch. In my week driving the 25t, I kept wondering why you’d need to step up to the 250kW XE S V6 when the turbo four was so capable – not to mention $36,000 cheaper.
So, the XE’s engines tick the expected boxes.
It’s the Jaguar XE’s handling that really sets it apart. From the instant you climb into the low-slung driving position, you know that this is something special. Drivers sit behind a small, soft F-Type steering wheel, legs stretched right out in front of them – very Porsche, and surprisingly comfortable.
That driving position is important. It’s no good if you are driving a great engine if you’re sitting poorly – because you’ll never feel connected to the car. Unlike anything else in this segment, that Jaguar connects you to the road. The wheel communicates what the front wheels are doing, feeding you sharp and accurate assessments of the road and giving you the confidence to push on. It’s only when the wheel approaches lock that a slightly artificial feeling from the electric rack seeps in, denying the XE a perfect score.
Like the BMW, Mercedes and Lexus the Jaguar is rear-wheel-drive. Unlike the Lexus and Mercedes, the traction control is not obtrusive. In the XE’s Dynamic mode, you are allowed to have a bit of play with the rear end on slick corners, making you feel like you bought an F-Type, when in fact you saved $100,000 and have a good-size back seat.
All of this is fine in town, but the XE longs to be driven hard into the mountains where its dynamic talents are obvious. However, the firm but compliant ride quality is appreciated in all driving environments.
It’s also a quiet car at high speeds, and the decent fuel economy of about 8L/100km mean the Jaguar is an accomplished highway cruiser. It’s just that the way you’re sitting and the way it steers will have you taking B-roads whenever you can.
The sporty persona of the XE doesn’t come at the expense of comfort. The seats are well-bolstered for the back and sides. Most XE models come with full leather and those that don’t – namely, the R-Sport, for some reason – can have it added back as an option.
Space in the front is actually generous, but the whole cabin feels smaller than it is. That’s down to the low seat mounts, deep dashboard and high centre console – remember, this feels like a sports car. All these fittings inside are used for storage, as well, so there are plenty of places to stash clutter in the Jag.
An eight-inch touchscreen with navigation is standard fit in all XEs. Impressively, every XE also comes with a 380-watt Meridian premium stereo, which delivers crisp and bassy sound from your iPod, Bluetooth, or even the radio – which I learned still exists. DAB digital radio is only available as an option, however.
For more money you can get a ten-inch touchscreen and early in my XE week I thought I’d want it. As it turns out, you have so much fun actually driving the car that you totally forget about the screen and the technology. The standard Jaguar InControl Touch system works okay. It’s laggier than the competition, but once you work around that, setting navigation destinations and queuing up music is simple thanks to the big touch buttons.
You may have read some other views that the XE’s fit and finish is a bit patchy. I didn’t have that experience. There are some materials that should be softer, like where your knee rests against the console – the Lexus covers this in leather. Apart from that, I found criticisms of interior finish slim pickings. Most materials feel lovely, from the clicky climate control buttons to the leather that covers the key touch points.
It’s in the back that the Jaguar XE falls behind a way on comfort. The wheelbase doesn’t afford your rear-seat passengers a great deal of room. If you’re the parent of gangly, tall teenagers, they probably won’t fit. If you have shorter kids, no kids, or friends that you don’t mind shoving into a small back seat, go with the XE. In all seriousness, it’s not awful, but as a six-footer, legroom and headroom were tight.
Is the XE practical? Well, if you were intending to buy a very impractical sports car and then learned that Jaguar were making a small, sporty sedan, the XE is very practical.
If you were planning to buy a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the XE isn’t as practical; but in the European sedan segment, things really are a much of a muchness.
The XE’s boot has 450 litres of space. Most of its sedan competitors have 480 litres. The Mercedes, BMW and Audi offer roomy station wagon versions. The Jaguar is sedan-only, at least for the moment.
That boot is nice and square, and loading luggage for two or three people isn’t a problem. It’s also more than generous enough for big shops at the supermarkets, and the folding seats provide you room for skinnier flat-pack furniture packages. It is possible to make it work.
Inside the cabin, storage is good, with plenty of boxes, and well-sized door bins for storing everyday stuff.
The XE is an easy car to maneuver, thanks mostly to its tight steering ratio. Narrow car parks can be negotiated with ease – as long as you’re in touch with how long the bonnet is, which can be a trap for young players. All cars get a reversing camera plus front and rear audible sensors – parking the thing isn’t hard.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Jaguar are innovating in Australian service pricing by offering an up-front plan that, effectively, works like a capped price programme.
For two-litre petrol models, you can opt to pay an additional $1,350 when you buy the car which covers six services over the first five years, or 96,000 kilometres, of ownership. That prices the individual services at just $225 – which is a bargain for servicing a car in this segment.
The servicing intervals themselves are extremely generous. The two-litre petrol requires annual servicing, or every 16,000km. The V6 petrol is annually or every 26,000km. The diesel needs servicing just once in two years or 34,000km.
All of this is shaking up the way the Germans offer servicing, and is forcing a less expensive approach from competing manufacturers.
All of this is also quite a surprise, as in recent years, Jaguars have been only average in reliability ratings. However, that assessment is based on Ford-based Jaguars. The XE is a new generation of Jaguar: developed in house, built in Britain, under a new owner with deep pockets. As the Jaguar XE was a new car for 2015, it will be a year before we know how problematic they are, but initial assessments are positive.
Predicted Jaguar XE depreciation is average. After three years and 42,000km—the average—Glass’s Guide indicates that the XE 25t R-Sport will retain about 58% of its value. That’s some way off the 64% of safer bets, like the Mercedes-Benz C250 or the BMW 330i. However, it’s ahead of the 53% predicted for the Lexus IS 200t.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The four engines and three trim levels give plenty of choice when buying a Jaguar XE. The first choice is how quick you want your Jaguar. There is a 20d diesel, for the frugal; then, two turbo petrols, the 20t and 25t; and finally, an XE S with the F-Type supercharged V6.
Most people will choose either the 20t ($62,800) or 20d ($60,400) entry-level motors, which represent excellent value in this segment. Standard features are generally better than in the German competition, the engines are quite strong and the looks are distinctive.
The 25t that we drove is an interesting buy and shouldn’t be discounted – the high-pressure turbo is a great motor, particularly if you want some pace. The $64,900 price is about right; R-Sport bits add another $1,900. We recommend either.
The XE S ($105,350) is genuinely fast and it’s priced like it. You can also expect a crazy XE R at some future point, perhaps with an Ingenium eight-cylinder.
Standard kit is good but the options list allows plenty of customisation – for a price. Key options are expensive – including the angry, black Star wheels our car had ($1,560), heated front seats ($800), sunroof ($2,340), and nicer Taurus leather seats ($2,808).
This segment is one of the best for buyers – each of these cars offers good levels of luxury and dynamic talent. However, each has a very different approach and style – test driving is the best way to see which one suits you.
Benchmark: Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport ($68,900)
Mercedes-Benz C250 ($69,400) – the Mercedes-Benz has been recognised as the leader in the comfort stakes in this class. The previous, sportier C-Class was replaced in 2014 by a softer, more luxurious model which many buyers love. It looks like a little S-Class and has a gorgeous interior. If you’re less interested in hard driving and more interested in cruising, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is for you.
BMW 330i M Sport ($71,990) – the BMW and Jaguar will fight it out over the coming years for the title of Best Driver’s Car in this segment. The BMW has been the king until now – but the Jaguar’s steering and ride are a degree better. The 330i’s turbocharged engine is even punchier, though, which means you need to drive both.
Audi A4 Sport Quattro ($69,900) – the Audi is brand new, with a new generation launched in 2016. The front-wheel-drive platform is offered with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive which improves the driving dynamics. It’s less playful than rear-wheel-drive options, but the spectacular Teutonic cabin and understated exterior design are very appealing.
Lexus IS 200t F Sport ($65,500) – the attractive price of the Lexus, coupled to its adventurous F Sport styling, make it a worthy outsider in this segment. The Lexus has lovely and accurate steering and a great feeling of balance – however, it’s when you step up to the IS 350 V6 that the talents of the chassis make themselves more obvious.
Volvo S60 T5 R-Design ($62,990) – I’ve included the Volvo because I really like it. It’s not quite up to the dynamics of most in this class, but the beautiful seats and interior make it a really liveable entry-level luxury car. It’s safe but sexy, with an exterior that’s easy on the eye and a relatively punchy turbo four-cylinder engine.
|Power||177kW at 5500rpm|
|Torque||340Nm at 3200rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||120kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||7.5L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||450L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||N/A|