- Effortlessly strong SCV6
- Well-balanced dynamics
- Alluring design outside and in
- Long, long options list
- More expensive than rivals
- Tight in the back seat
Watch Jaguar’s ad campaign for their new sports sedan – the 2017 Jaguar XE S – and you’ll come away thinking it’s a four-door with the spirit of an F-Type. It’s a compelling idea, and the four-cylinder XE has proved itself to be the driver’s car of the small luxury sedan class – but has Jaguar achieved a feat of those proportions? Well, the answer is complex.
Under the long bonnet sits an F-Type engine – surely the first step to mimicking that car – and the 250kW supercharged V6 is quick, no doubt about it. At the same time, the big old six critically adds mass over a front axle that feels so light and agile in the four-cylinder XE, and naturally, any sedan foregoes some of the poise of a small coupe. The F-Type’s crisp steering feel and playful rear end have translated here, though; the coupe’s fabulous exhaust note has not. So while an XE isn’t a straight four-door F-Type, it is a particularly compelling sports sedan with a mighty dose of Jaguar DNA, making it feel a degree more special than the equivalent German saloon.
The Jaguar XE S in brief:
Within Jaguar, the S trim indicates a faster than usual model. An R badge is reserved for the most aggressive engines. An XE R isn’t yet on the cards, so the 250kW S is the fastest model of Jaguar’s small, rear-wheel-drive sedan, the XE. The remainder of the XE range use four-cylinder motors and have built a reputation as the most agile and rewarding cars in a class that includes the well-regarded BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The XE S aims to retain those characteristics while adding performance, using the F-Type’s supercharged V6.
No doubt – the XE S is rapid. The 3.0-litre engine offers linear, lag-free acceleration because it is supercharged, not turbocharged. Like all XEs, the S is rear-wheel-drive and it demonstrates superb inherent balance. With a sophisticated but playful chassis and excellent steering, the XE S handles very well, though the added engine weight means the S is bested in corners by the lighter, four-cylinder XE 25t.
The XE S comes at a $36,000 premium to the next-fastest XE – the 25t. Most of the additional money goes towards the V6 engine – the S grade doesn’t bring many extra features, apart from configurable drive modes, red brake calipers, 19-inch wheels and half-leather, half-suedecloth seats. Many desirable features, such as full leather, a sunroof, and upgraded navigation, remain on the options list, with the XE S’s value proposition comparing unfavourably to the equivalent BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Primarily designed to accommodate four-cylinder engines, the S is the sole six-cylinder offering of the XE range. The S offers a big step up in performance from the next-fastest model, the XE 25t, which uses a 177kW turbo four. The S shaves about two seconds from the 25t’s 0-100 time, dispatching 5.1 second sprints.
The 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque on offer bests the BMW 340i’s 240kW and 450Nm – but the new Mercedes-AMG C43, with 270kW and 520Nm, is faster.
But the Jaguar is pretty unique to drive. Firstly, it’s supercharged, not turbocharged like everything else in this segment. Superchargers work differently, boosting power through the rev range in a linear fashion – feeling much more like an aspirated motor. They also make great sound while they do it.
And the XE S would make an even better sound if Jaguar brought across the F-Type’s active exhaust system. That’s what creates the theatre of crackles and pops – what drivers want to hear. But the XE S doesn’t have this, and it sounds subdued, even when driven hard.
When I drove the 25t model I found it pretty quick, and wondered if the XE S would feel much faster. It does. The S model is a fast car, with massive pace available mainly at higher engine speeds. That means it’s best enjoyed on country roads where you can really wind out the engine. In town, at low revs, it doesn’t feel torquey and frenetic.
In fact, many buyers will appreciate the split personality of the XE S, which makes it easy to drive in the city, and entertaining out of it.
Once you hit a curving, fast road, the effect of the V6 can be clearly felt. There’s sufficient rapidity to keep you planted in the back of the seat. Like with the fours, the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission is epic, offering crisp shifts and a Sport mode that works so well that there’s just no need for a manual gearbox.
It’s not all perfect, though, with the heft over the front axle feeling foreign after driving the four-cylinder models, which have a dancer-like ability to rotate on command around tight bends. The trade-off for the extra speed is a modest blunting of the XE’s trademark cornering ability.
Shapely leather-suede sports seats and racier materials are all that set the S model’s interior apart from a mainstream XE.
I like the XE’s interior. Other critics have given it mixed feedback, largely when comparing it to the interior of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which looks much more lavish – but the well-built Jaguar interior still deserves praise. Though the XE competes in size with the C-Class, that’s essentially where the similarities end.
Where the Mercedes is a tourer, the XE is a driver’s car and the functional and sporty cabin has the effect of directing your attention to the road. In fact, the standout element inside is the XE’s steering wheel – the soft and yielding leather wrap feels so premium and the relatively small radius makes for easy and precise inputs.
I found myself holding this sweet steering wheel with both hands almost constantly – a compelling side effect of Jaguar dispensing with the traditional gear stick in favour of a rotary selector, leaving nowhere to brace a hand on the centre console.
As standard, Jaguar trims these seats in a mix of leather with webbing-like fabric inserts – quite unusual. But all the press cars seem to be optioned with full leather ($2,548). Few will accept anything but full leather at this price, and it should be standard or a no-cost option.
Regardless of upholstery, the seats are supportive and comfortable, even for really long drives. Both lateral and back bolstering is noticeably better than most rivals. Long-legged drivers will appreciate the optional 14-way adjustment which adds a thigh extender.
The XE is a car that you really sit in, not on top of. There’s quite a drop into the seat when you get into the car, resulting in a sporty, low stance, legs outstretched: the F-Type driving position.
Where Jaguar lags behind its German rivals is in cabin technology. You can get the XE with very sophisticated professional navigation, but that’s a $1,937 upgrade. Out of the box, even the expensive S receives a basic 8-inch setup. The navigation is easy to use, but the graphics are cartoonish and the screen gets laggy.
Where the XE strikes back is in audio quality. A 300 watt Meridian stereo is standard and delivers great sound. Balanced treble and bass notes sound great in the smallish cabin.
Nowhere is the XE’s relatively small size more evident than in the back. Those with long legs will find legroom a real issue and three-abreast would be very ambitious. Those seeking a roomy back seat should look to the similar but bigger XF.
Taken as the compact four-door that it is, the XE S offers decent practicality. For a buyer that was considering an F-Type, the XE is obviously a hugely practical choice – the presence of back seats and a relatively large 450 litre boot will be advantageous.
The XE is smaller inside and in the boot than the Mercedes-AMG C43 and BMW 340i, and you can notice the difference. Adults seated in the rear seat will find that headroom and legroom is pretty restricted and that the windows are a little small – all part of the XE’s sporting character. Unless you have younger kids, the XE is best thought of as a two-person car with the practicality of occasional-use rear seats.
The boot will be enough for most people and the square shape is useful. The rear seats do fold to create a larger space, though the aperture between the boot and the rear cabin is quite narrow.
Manoeuvring the XE is a doddle because the steering ratio is quick and tight, making awkward turns in car parks simple. The S gets a standard reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. Learning where the long bonnet ends will be the only trick.
Unlike the Mercedes and Audi, Jaguar does not offer a station wagon version of the XE S and it’s unlikely an XE estate will be developed.
In the cabin, storage is good, with a useful central cubby, decent-sized door bins and a flip down armrest for the rear seat passengers. There are also air vents for the back seats, too.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
The old reputation that Jaguars spend more time in the shop than on the road is no longer deserved. Reliability in recent years has shot up, and Jaguar are so confident in the V6's bulletproof nature that it will go 26,000 between services – though Jaguar does ask that it is serviced annually.
That servicing is well-priced, if you stump up for the pre-paid maintenance programme when you purchase the car. $1,500 will buy five years' worth of scheduled maintenance – the Germans can't offer anything like this $300/year arrangement, and your unused credit is transferable to later owners.
Quality has been rapidly enhanced since Indian conglomerate Tata acquired Jaguar (and Land Rover) from Ford in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Gone are the days of Jags assembled from dodgy Ford bits. The XE is made in England and rides on a brand-new platform developed in house. Eventually, it will exclusively use engines built in-house too. For now, the basic 20t and 20d four-cylinder engines are all-new. This supercharged '35t' V6 is part of the Ford legacy, albeit a reliable one, and one that has been tuned extensively by Jaguar over the years.
When it comes to the more everyday running cost – fuel – it really depends how you drive it. With a light right foot, the XE S can be relatively frugal, especially on the highway, where it can drop into the 8L/100km range. Drive it properly and you'll be familiar with petrol stations. Enthusiastic driving at town speeds will see economy averaging closer to 13L/100km.
Predicted XE S depreciation is relatively limited. After three years and 42,000km—the average—Glass’s Guide indicates that the Cascada will retain 64% of its value. That equals the BMW 340i M Sport, though both trail the Mercedes-AMG C43, which is predicted to retain 67% of its value over the period.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The XE S's direct rivals are generally more affordable – so you do have to buy into the Jaguar's feel good factor to justify spending an additional $15,000 or more over its rivals to get into the British option.
The vast majority of XE sales fall closer to the entry, two-litre turbo end of the range, where there is strong value to be found –but at the other end, Jaguar is not pitching the XE S as an affordable alternative to its German equivalents.
Buying the $105,066 250kW supercharged V6 S is a $36,450 step up from the next-quickest model, the $68,616 177kW four-cylinder 25t. For that substantial increase, the V6 obviously offers extra brawn – but that's about it. Apart from power and torque, the XE S doesn't add much else for the money – apart from larger 19-inch wheels, configurable drive modes, and half-leather, half-suedecloth seats.
That means that few XE S buyers will stop at the $105,000 entry price. Many desirable features remain optional, and they need to be added to make this feel like a six-figure car. They include the full Taurus leather package ($2,548) with heating (another $832), the upgraded 10.2-inch touchscreen ($1,937), active cruise control and head-up display ($4,576), and the sunroof ($2,405). That brings our ideal XE S to $117,364 before all on-road costs.
The problem is that an equally-specified Mercedes-AMG C43 with more power is $103,190 before costs, or an equally-specified BMW 340i with just 10kW less power is $92,775. Sure, they're not Jaguars, but it raises a serious question about why the XE S commands such a premium.
That question is compounded when you consider that in 2016, Brexit repercussions have caused a sustained devaluation of the British pound against the Australian dollar, meaning the price of imported British goods – including Jaguars – should have fallen. Instead, the price of the XE S rose over $1,000.
So while we think the Jaguar is a more characterful car that drives very well indeed, the price is too high and the value proposition is questionable. The current 20% premium compared to they impressive pair from BMW and Mercedes-Benz is not sustainable.
2017 Audi S4 – circa $105,000 predicted
A brand new generation of Audi A4, called B9, has just arrived in Australia. The faster S4 is just behind it and will arrive soon. Power is similar to the Jaguar – the Audi uses a 260 kW V6. The biggest difference here is that the Audi offers quattro all-wheel-drive. The Audi’s interior has received near-universal praise.
2017 BMW 340i M Sport – $89,855
The current BMW 3 Series has been with us for a while, but recent price adjustments have made it great value. The XE S doesn’t compete with the halo M3, but with the three-litre, straight six 340i. The 250kW BMW starts under $100,000 and has more standard kit than the Jaguar, so it’s a must-drive if you’re shopping in this class.
2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport – $72,650
Balking at the idea of spending six figures on a small sedan with six-cylinder grunt? The same basic ingredients as the Jaguar can be found in the inexpensive Lexus IS, which is rear wheel drive and uses a 233kW V6. It’s fun to drive, but the naturally-aspirated engine means it’s not as fast as these (far more expensive) options.
2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 – $101,900
Aesthetically, the Mercedes strikes a more elegant look than its overtly sporty rivals, but don’t let it fool you – the new C43 is a hammer. Built by AMG as a ‘C63-lite’, this car is the quickest of this group: the 270kW, 520Nm bi-turbo V6 is a barnstormer. The interior looks fabulous. Despite all this, the C43 is sharply priced and comes in cheaper than an XE S.
2017 Volvo S60 Polestar – circa $100,000 predicted
A left-field choice, this halo Volvo model is built by in-house tuning firm Polestar and is usually identifiable by outrageous electric-blue paint. Polestar recently swapped a straight six for a hyper two-litre four-cylinder making 270kW. It may have downsized, but it’s more powerful and faster than ever and all-wheel-drive makes it grippy. The S60 also has the best seats of any car anywhere.
|Power||250kW at 6,500rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 4,500rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||157kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||8.1L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||1597 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||455L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||Rating not available|