For as long as there has been a Jaguar, there has been an edition of Autocar to reflect on its merits.

Throughout this time a long list of Jaguar models have come and gone – some forgettable, a few lamentable and some of them among the most beautiful and evocative cars ever built. All have their place in the narrative arc of one of Britain’s best-loved firms, and its finest moments still provide the lodestones by which grace and beauty and growl can be historically measured.

With the XE, Jaguar is not necessarily looking to add to its crown jewels. There will be no old men 50 years from now mistily recalling the summer spent at its wheel. That’s what the F-Type is for.

The task before the XE is more about the bottom line, which makes it exponentially more important. Although the existence of Jaguar is virtually assured by the huge pile of money being amassed by its Land Rover sister, its status as a proper, profitable mainstream car maker is contingent on the kind of volume that only a compact executive saloon like the XE can generate.

Succeed, and the brand’s three-decade struggle to establish itself as a functioning alternative to the premium German manufacturers finally gains a sustainable foothold. Fail, and its current standing as Jaguar Land Rover’s low-volume, low-hip-point fun division ossifies, perhaps for good.

To an extent, we’ve been here before, with the X-Type, whose arrival in 2001 brought hope of the same thing. Ultimately, it failed and it has taken Jaguar a long time, and a new owner, before it has been prepared to climb back in the saddle. .

With the stakes high, Jaguar has bet the farm. There’s a new platform, an entirely new engine – diesel first, petrol later – an all-wheel drive system and even a new factory. 

From launch, there will be five trim levels, four variants of four-cylinder motors and a petrol V6, priced from just shy of £30,000. To see how good it is we already put the XE S up against the BMW 340i on the roads around Munich, but now the XE faces its sternest test.

Top 5 Compact saloons

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