The XE Factor
Jaguar's latest swing IN the luxury compact sedan segment has the potential to reign supreme
What comes to mind when you think of the brand Jaguar? Some would say the XJ220, the one-time fastest car in the world. Others would talk about their elegantly-styled family saloons of the past, and some others about its 2008 takeover by India's TATA Motors. In any case, they come across as a company that manufactures vehicles that embody something special, justifying their premium price tags.
But in order to make their design and engineering accessible to common folks, they took a chance at the more affordable luxury compact sedan segment by introducing the XE in 2016. We had the opportunity to cruise, speed and grocery shop in a top-spec Jaguar XE S and here are our thoughts on the four-wheeled feline.
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
Think of the popular mid-size XF sedan. The XE is just a distilled version of that with all that Jaguar-ness cramped into a compact body. But it isn't a small car: it measures 4,672mm bumper to bumper and 1,967mm across, yet maintains a sleek profile helping it achieve a co-efficient of drag as low as Cd 0.28, allowing it to cut through air like few others.
There is a muscular and purposeful look about it, starting with the sculpted bonnet, sleek slit-like headlamp clusters and gaping air intakes upfront. Shining light ahead are xenon lamps cradled under the Jaguar signature 'J' blade daytime running lights. The taut lines of the slab-sided door panels and large 19-inch sporty wheels give this feline a masculine feel. The chrome side vents, like the side-mirror caps etc, can be had in a variety of finishes like black or even carbon-fibre, thanks to Jaguar's customisation programme, but it'll cost. The short, almost-truncated, rear end has tail lamp detailing that is shared with the rest of the family. Jaguar calls these line-and-circle luminaires "roundel" and they sure give it some identity. The base car has left-biased twin exhaust pipes, but the V6 gets more appropriate large dual exhaust tips proposing more power.
The XE's exterior exudes a good measure of sportiness and class that would appeal, especially to youth. If only it was better marketed, and showed its face on billboards more often!
Beyond the beautiful skin of this executive sedan is a cushy cabin that shares a great likeness with its siblings. If you've seen one, you've seen them all - but it isn't a bad thing. Black is the dominant theme, with splashes of chrome around the switchgear and air vents - a trick many manufacturers use to elevate ambience. The plastics are generally soft, but a few lower panels are hard and scratchy. A direct inspiration from Italian speed boat-styling (particularly Riva) is the semi-loop along the doors and dashboard (also seen on bigger Jags like the XF and XJ, albeit more subtle here).
The XE's steering wheel is a great instrument of control. The leather wrappings give it a soft comfortable feel; instrumentation comes in the form of fashionable analogue counters with metallic bezels. With the upgrade, the 5-inch central display becomes a 12.3-inch customisable, high-resolution screen. Along with that digital reform, the 8-inch infotainment screen, with its many physical buttons, gets replaced with the class-appropriate, large 10.2-inch variety. Strangely, the volume knob is closer to the passenger. But it has been done to maintain symmetry, giving way for the marvellous pulsating start button to add to the drama created by the intriguing pop-up shift selector. The latter, as special as it is, eats up a lot of real estate instead of offering stowage space.
Visibility isn't the best; the back window is a letterbox and the A-pillar creates a bit of a blind spot. Prints on the steering controls - although well damped and legibly labeled - are known to prematurely wear off. Not a sign of quality!
The form-hugging seats upfront give a nice snug feeling. Everything but the base model comes with leather upholstery. At the rear, things are not as welcoming. The middle seat is kid-friendly and that is putting it politely. The hump is big and there is hardly any headroom or legroom. Then again, spatial constraints are prevalent in the class.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
Almost every variant in the range is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder in various states of tune. Bring more dough to the showroom and they will grant you keys to the XE S model with its supercharged 3.0-litre pumping 375bhp through half-a-dozen cylinders. We've seen it in other Jag vehicles, but somehow its application in the XE is most rewarding, with plenty of grunt and go.
The 8-speed automatic transmission does offer sportier kick-down in Dynamic Mode, and earlier up-shifts in Eco Modes - all easily accessible through the lower centre console. In the few full-throttle standing starts we carried out, we found response to be quick, power delivery to be rather linear and the soundtrack enticingly raspy. The 5.0 seconds it is claimed to take from 0 to 100 km/h is close to its real-world figures.
The money, though, is in its dynamics; they haven't discounted handling for just big power. The suspension is a combination of a double wishbone upfront and an integral link rear suspension; it manages vertical and horizontal forces well, keeps the wheels stuck to the ground and the traction high, while absorbing the irregularities of the road surfaces, giving the driver great ride and comfort. The XE is most definitely a credible companion in the corners. Part of that can be credited to the 50:50 weight distribution and the use of technologies like Torque Vectoring system. Its 11.2-metre-turning-circle and general compactness make it easy to steer in the city.
The brakes were pretty spot on. The 1,650 kg is easily managed through discs installed all round, with 350mm-diameter rotors upfront. The 8.1L/100km claimed economy indicates that 56 litres will take you nearly 700km. But given everyday driving conditions, mixed with driver temperament and varying traffic situations, it will deliver something closer to 12L/100km. The 2.0-litre variants are especially economical and worth considering.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
Even with a stubby back end, it does offer an airy 455 litres of space. It isn't class-leading, but it's something. There is a powered gesture boot lid and a full-size spare under the floor to add to the convenience. Rear seats are split 40:20:40 and can be folded for more space.
The base infotainment is headlined by a Jaguar Sound System with a laughable 80W output. It also gets AM/FM Radio and USB, Bluetooth and AUX connections. With the previously mentioned technological upgrade, you get the Pro Meridian Sound System with a 380W output and an extra USB port and 10GB of usable memory and CD/DVD Drive. If you add more to the bottom line, there's a wishful Meridian Surround Sound System with 825 Watts. Optional add-ons are Wi-Fi Hotspot and dual view.
Bringing safety into the equation, it is very well equipped with ISOFIX points for child seats, power child locks, airbags, lane departure warning and so on. Even the bonnet is of the pop-up type that helps pedestrians in the event of a collision.
The Jaguar XE is a legitimate answer to the familiar line of German sports sedans. It has a handsome outlook, cosy interiors, with credible dynamics - both in a straight line and around corners - to quench your inner speed demon and features all the technology you'd expect from a luxury brand. without emptying your bank. But be wary of its average quality fittings and tight rear quarters.
Jaguar's award winning LifeStraw 'carbon for water' emissions reduction project has prevented the release of 968,000 tonnes of CO2 (since it began in 2013) and improved the lives of 2.4 million people in Kenya, reportedly.
Body type: 5-seater; 4-door premium, high-performance compact sedan
Engine: Front-engine; supercharged 3.0-litre V6; rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Peak output: 375bhp @ 6,500rpm; 450Nm @ 3,500-5,000rpm
0 to 100km/h: 5.0 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250 km/h (electronically limited; claimed)
Price: Starting at Dh176,610; Dh261,765 as tested.
AT A GLANCE
Pros: Understated elegance; power and handling; luxury feel
Cons: Average resale; quality of parts; tight rear quarters;
Author's rating: 7.5/10