For the XE to stand a fighting chance of catching a fleet manager’s eye, it was necessary for Jaguar to produce a genuine sub-£30k rival to the BMW 320d and Mercedes-Benz C220. As a collection of figures, the lower-powered 161bhp diesel engine in entry-level SE format provides Jaguar with its rock star.

Sub-100g/km, 75mpg potential, 8.4sec to 62mph, intervals of more than 20,000 miles between services, standard 17in wheels and 8.0in of infotainment touchscreen are almost the ideal numbers on which to prop a compact executive range.

Vicky Parrott

Deputy reviews editor
Step up to Prestige trim and you gain leather front seats, brushed aluminium interior trim and ambient lighting

The mid-range seems decently catered for, too. As well as the mildly enhanced R-Sport tested here, there are Prestige and Portfolio trim levels, which offer differing degrees of leather-bound luxury.

Step up to Prestige and you gain leather front seats, brushed aluminium interior trim and ambient lighting, while Portfolio adds electric seats, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and 18in alloy wheels.

R-Sport gets sports suspension, a different design of 18in alloys, leather seats, more aluminium trim, a rear spoiler and a sports steering wheel. Range-topping S trim is reserved for the 335bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and has adaptive dampers as standard, 19in alloy wheels, an 'S' bodykit and brings even posher interior finishes - as it should, for £44,870.

In terms of ideal spec, many compact executive car essentials — sat-nav, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors — are standard across the range, so stepping up the trim levels is as much about styling and internal opulence as kit. That said, the Meridian stereo (£500) and heated steering wheel (£185) would make our tick list.

Jaguar has no immediate answer for the mighty oil-burning performance delivered by the BMW 330d or its ilk, but again – for the time being – the lustier 2.0D Ingenium’s 317lb ft of torque might just look like decent recompense for its predictably superior efficiency.

Among its petrol-engined equivalents, the XE is arguably less competitive than it ought to be. Failing to trouble the combined economy of the outgoing BMW 320i or the 328i (both powered by the same 2.0-litre four-pot) is regrettable, and although the petrol XE’s CO2 may be a less important consideration for private buyers than in the business-focused diesels, a near-30g/km gap in emissions remains decidedly unsatisfactory. Thankfully to Jaguar, the remedy's already in the pipeline.

Top 5 Compact saloons

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI 110 SE Navigation
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    This is a first UK drive of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf, which comes with an updated infotainment system and a lower price. What's not to like?
  • Volkswagen Golf R
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    A facelift for the fantastically capable all-rounder delivers more power and new tech to the cabin, improving on an already exceptional formula
  • Nissan Micra 1.5 dCi 2017
    First Drive
    28 March 2017
    Diesel power makes the Nissan Micra 1.5 dCi frugal, but it doesn’t drive quite as sweetly as our preferred petrol
  • Seat Ibiza from front
    First Drive
    28 March 2017
    Attractive, well equipped and roomy hatchback offers Volkswagen Group quality without the high price tag
  • Kia Picanto 1.0 MPI ISG
    First Drive
    27 March 2017
    Third-generation city car sets a high bar on refinement, packaging and out-of-town dynamism, but avoid the entry-level engine