Road Test: Jaguar XE

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Jonathan Musk drives the refreshed XE – can it still cut it in the cut-throat compact executive market?

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SECTOR Compact Executive   PRICE €43,690-€52,700   FUEL 4.9-7.5l/100km (WLTP)   CO2 130g/km (NEDC Correlated)

Jaguar’s XE has been underrated for years. Sitting in the strongly fought compact executive sector, it was always going to have a tough time. That may be about to change, however, with the model’s refresh that brings a premium interior, restyled exterior and refined RDE2-compliant engine option.

Fleets are expected to make up 33% of sales, although actual numbers aren’t anticipated to be enormous, based on the previous car’s success rate. However, waving an attention-grabbing hand in the air is the important business ingredient of the RWD D180 diesel that’s been RDE2-tested.

This powertrain is consequently the expected best-seller, in either S or R-Dynamic S trim, despite the D180 commanding a small premium over the cheapest P250 petrol model.

Despite diesel XE popularity, Jaguar reckons around 60% of expected sales will go to the 2.0-litre petrol engines; entry-model P250 or range-topping P300, with RWD and AWD respectively. All the engines, whether petrol or diesel, come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Evidently, the XE range is now much slimmer than before, with Jaguar having removed unpopular variants.

Trim-wise, there’s plenty of appeal compared to the outgoing model. Lots of I-Pace originating elements add a touch of much-needed class including metal-tipped wiper and indicator stalks, optional Touch Pro Duo infotainment and climate control system. Soft touch materials have been used throughout, and a lot of effort has gone into the acoustics to isolate the cabin from the world beyond.

New to the car is a segment first, ‘Clear Sight’, which introduces a digital display onto the rear-view mirror that shows an unobstructed view behind the car thanks to a roof-mounted camera – particularly useful if you’ve a passenger in the middle rear seat. It’s tech that’s steadily making its way onto options lists and helps reduce blind spots, therefore increasing safety. And yes, you can turn it off.

18-inch wheels, electric seats, LED lights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all bundled in as standard – well worth noting that the latter two popular options are not included as standard and are expensive extras on BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.

Externally, the XE retains its sleek demeanour, which has been enhanced by slimmer front and rear LED lights, as well as revised bumpers and alloy wheel designs. It’s certainly handsome but, as ever, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

However, those sleek lines come at a price and, if you find yourself regularly carting about giants and/or fridges, look elsewhere, as the XE’s low rear headroom and boot aperture are restrictive.

Handling dynamics are where the XE shines. The chassis is playfully nimble and matched with the 180hp diesel unit offers a satisfying drive with plenty of poke. It’s refined and quiet once warmed up too (and more so than the same engine in other JLR products), with the signature diesel rattle only noticeable in first gear or from cold. The eight-speed auto ‘box is perfectly matched too, though occasionally a little dim-witted at junctions, for example, when it’s left deciding upon a gear.

Jaguar has always liked to play at the big boy’s table and so it should with a fine car such as the XE. However, if that’s the game it wishes to play, then inevitable comparisons with the competition ensue. Is the new XE ‘better’ than the new 3 Series or C-Class? Arguably, it’s a match for the 3 Series dynamically, yet it lacks the tech-appeal of each of the German offerings. Jaguar is in a slight predicament here, as the competition is fierce and capable in this segment, but that doesn’t mean the XE should be overlooked.

The Lowdown:

Key Fleet Model: 180D RWD manual, SE

Strengths: RDE2-compliant diesel, dynamic drive

Weaknesses: Rear headroom, lack of engine options

The Verdict: 

The previous car didn’t do anything wrong, but the new car does things well. The German options are rightly appealing, but the Jaguar shouldn’t be ignored. It’s good to drive, well-kitted out and has the all-important RDE2 rating.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.