Jaguar has a lot riding on the success of the new Jaguar XE – the first serious foray into the D-segment saloon segment (I said serious, the X-Type was anything but). It may not be a volume seller in the local market; what with brand bias giving the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class an untouchable domination; but if it can achieve what Jaguar South Africa hopes it’ll be good enough where it counts to make the gods bleed.
Ride and Handling:
A far cry from the Ford Mondeo-based X-Type, the Jaguar XE boasts an all-new aluminum-intensive chassis architecture. Rigidity and weight saving are the key benefits to this, but a quick look at the weight figures versus competitors suggests that the Jaguar XE weighs in at around the same figure – our 20d test unit coming in at 1565kg to a comparable BMW 320d’s 1525kg mass.
In truth, the Jaguar XE’s aluminium architecture really does save massive amounts of weight. The reason the figures don’t support this is that Jaguar equipped the XE with heavier, more complex suspension, the likes of which this segment hasn’t seen before. It’s the reserve of the 5 Series and E Class – the double wishbone suspension up front, a system borrowed from the Jaguar F-Type.
The advantages of such a system are that the suspension geometry can be tuned to a far greater level of detail, ensuring that the Jaguar XE maintains handling characteristics at all speeds over all surfaces.
The good news is that it’s worked a treat – the XE lives up to expectations and provides an unrivalled connection with the road. In tandem with the Integral Link rear suspension, the Jaguar XE maintains a sweet balance over all changing surfaces and through all types of turns, both on- and off camber – smartly absorbing mid-corner bumps without becoming unsettled.
At all speeds, the handling is predictable and neutral – unwavering in its balance. I’m not talking about neutral most of the time with even dollops of under- and oversteer to counteract one another. The Jaguar XE is as balanced as they come with a fine taste for mild oversteer at the outer limit of its handling.
In more powerful variants, you’re likely to bring this about with an overly-liberal application of the loud pedal (the Jaguar XE being rear-wheel driven), but in this diesel model with only 132kW on tap and slightly sluggish responses, the authentic handling traits become apparent.
Over slightly choppier surfaces at lower speeds, vibrations do find their way through the complex systems, but overall it’s a convincing suspension system for all occasions – although the optional adaptive dampers could further improve the absorption qualities.
The electronic power assisted steering – the first of its kind to find its way into a Jaguar – is equally as sweet as the suspension with which it’s paired. Jaguar made the bold claim that they refused to equip it to any vehicle until the system was perfected, and that the ZF-sourced system in the Jaguar XE is good enough to get their ‘OK’.
Whilst it may not ooze the feedback of the best hydraulic systems, the fact that it can easily be confused for a good, if not great, hydraulic setup is praise of the highest order. Responses from the front end are quick and accurate, and the reverse feedback through the wheel feels about as genuine as it gets. You won’t be able to read the road by Braille, but you’re able to get a 100% accurate read of what the Jaguar XE’s front end is doing, and what the tarmac is doing beneath it – which is good enough for my liking.
Engine and Drvetrain:
The aforementioned diesel engine providing grunt for the Jaguar XE is the first fruit of Jaguar’s new Ingenium engine family. Lightweight, with an eye on modular sizing and maximum efficiency, the 20d diesel motor does a fair job as a jack of all trades. Outputs are healthy at 132kW and 430Nm, with an achieved consumption of 5.8l/100km.
But as a jack of all trades, it may be short on mastery of any at all. The diesel clatter is questionably loud for a motor aimed at such refined vehicle applications – particularly at idle. Once beyond the 2000rpm mark it seems to somewhat smoothen up a little, but even then it’s hardly enjoyable aurally.
It feels a bit underwhelming, this diesel mill. Peak torque is available between 1750- and 2500 rpm but the full 430Nm doesn’t feel like it materialises in its entirety. Overtaking manoeuvres are dealt with swiftly, in typical diesel fashion, yet it feels more like the gearbox doing the work than the engine.
In Dynamic mode, the engine tends to respond much better. It loses some of the sluggishness and is far keener to deliver the torque – although it still never feels like 430Nm. Once warm, turbo-lag is kept to a minimum too, and throttle responses are eager and on-demand. Seldom did I drive the Jaguar XE in either Normal or Eco mode, as the responses were frustratingly slow, and I was unable to discern any noticeable difference in consumption brought about by slower response times.
Jaguar has done a sterling job tuning the 8-speed transmission for maximum efficacy, particularly in maximising the diesel’s torque band. Cruising along, see an open gap to overtake, and floor the throttle, and the ZF sourced 8-speed (the same unit found in the BMW 3 Series) instantly picks out the correct gear, 2, or even 3 ratios beneath the current one. No shuffling gear by gear, no hesitation.
In standard Drive, shifts are bordering on seamless, but in Sport mode, the transmission will snick between ratios rapidly with a small kick in the kidneys on every upshift. It’ll also hold a lower gear, indefinitely, to prime you for the next throttle application – precisely what’s needed through 2nd or 3rd gear corners strung tightly together.
The Jaguar XE’s dynamics are truly on point, but the diesel Ingenium engine just seems to be lacking overall polish. Jaguar would do well to send it to finishing school before the XE hits its midlife refresh.
Design and Packaging:
Ian Callum has done an impressive job of styling the Jaguar XE. It’s a handsome sculpture of a machine with a particularly striking front end – complete with a bold flat nose, and low front bumper. Rearward of that, the sloping roofline looks beautiful, although rear head-room is compromised as such. Perhaps most awkward of all the Jaguar’s design elements is the rear – where the oversized taillights, complete with F-Type alluding light strip, don’t quite fit with the whole image.
The handsome styling on the outside is impressive – inside, the design a little less so. The dash sweeps left and right with a high sill along the doors that creates a claustrophobic 3-tiered door panel that’s overly complex. The rest of the dash design is far simpler, and far more elegant, with a large touch screen infotainment system mounted centrally. Also present is one of the finer touches – a start button that pulses like a heartbeat upon entry to the Jaguar XE.
Unfortunately, there are suspect materials to be found here – the gloss black plastic surrounds on the screen feeling substandard (spec a larger media screen if you want to get rid of this). Sadly, you can’t get rid of this trim from around the gear selector – the lovely metallic rotary dial also pinched from the F-Type.
The media system is decent to use – but can be a bit slow at times. Despite the Jaguar XE bearing no shared architecture with the Ford Mondeo (Fusion in our market) as the X-Type before it did, the infotainment system bears a strong resemblance to that found in the newest Fusion. It could be worse, but it isn’t of the same standard as the systems you’ll find in either the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. The optional navigation system however, worked without a fault, and is a worthy addition at R 9 200.
For the most part, the interior is high-quality – the leather dash with blue contrast stitching, the thick leather-clad steering wheel, and the supportive leather clad seats – also in blue/black contrast upholstery. But although the main touch points are of high quality, the ‘out of the way’ bits are cheaper plastic.
The Jaguar XE also fails in the overall interior packaging. Competitors may have similarly sized vehicles, but the XE is definitely a fair bit more ‘snug’. Head and leg room – although ample – aren’t best in class, and the chunky B-pillars somewhat obscure the driver’s vision, as does the small rear windscreen aperture. The boot as well, although lengthy, isn’t as deep as others, and the loading aperture is a bit narrow.
There is one final elephant in the room though – and that’s local pricing. Where the awkward packaging and, in some places, sketchy materials can be forgiven in favour of superior driving dynamics, the price premium over a comparable BMW – the main competition – can’t be ignored. On a like for like basis, our Jaguar XE 20d R-Sport at R677 100 with no extras costs R132 300 more than the equivalent BMW 320d M-Sport automatic.
It’s not that the Jaguar XE is lavishly kitted either, with the spec levels on both models being much the same. There’s a price to pay for exclusivity – but in this case potential buyers will seriously question how much exclusivity is really worth.
There’s no denying the Jaguar XE is a completely new creature and a far cry from the X-Type that came before. With the exception of the 25t engine borrowed from a Focus ST, the ties to Ford are long gone. Without a back-to-back comparison it’s hard to claim the Jaguar XE as a 3-Series beater, but the lines have never before been blurred as much as they are now.
Handling dynamics and an involving drive are key elements to the XE’s persona, and areas where the Jag excels, but the diesel engine and poor interior package are let downs to an otherwise incredibly promising platform. A new Ingenium petrol engine might be a better alternative to the diesel, when it arrives in 12-18 months, but in this guise the XE is a bit of a hit and miss affair. The final nail in the coffin, and perhaps the most damning one, is the price – something a bit too difficult to ignore.