JLR’s push towards powertrain autonomy is not just about improving engine performance but also about getting true control of its own engine destiny.
In our experience, the 197bhp Ford-derived petrol unit that's offered has some pleasing attributes. It’s quiet yet makes a healthy noise when you want it to, and its delivery is strong. Where it’s less impressive is in its on-paper emissions and fuel economy, one of Jaguar’s frustrations at the XE’s launch and why it’ll want its own units as soon as possible. We’ll come to that later.
Sit in that petrol XE, push the starter and the engine fires to a muted idle. There’s nothing here to suggest that this is an old unit overdue for replacement. It eases away from rest smartly enough and the initial change feels smooth and precise. ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission wouldn’t have it any other way.
In general driving the XE is an easy-going car in which to bimble around. On the odd occasion, downshifts are a little sluggish to arrive, as the gearbox software hangs on to a higher gear to maintain its economy, but such is the turbocharged petrol engine’s torque delivery that it’s seldom a great hardship; its 206lb ft peak arrives at just 1750rpm, and down there it’s more responsive than most diesels. On those occasions when the delay on downshift is noticable, response to a left-paddle pull is swift anyway.
The XE in 197bhp tune is quick enough. Against the clock, it hauled itself to 60mph along Millbrook’s mile straight in 7.6sec. That’s a few tenths slower than is claimed for an Audi A4 2.0 TFSI or BMW 320i but not a difference that’ll feel noticeable in the real world.
Simply, this is a car of sufficient performance to keep pace with any modern traffic, accomplish sensible overtakes and entertain you with its demeanour in the process. It’s quiet on part-throttle and spins freely and with a peppy, smooth sound to its 7000rpm redline, although there’s no great compulsion to take it there, given that peak power arrives at 5500rpm.
When Jaguar’s new range of petrol engines does arrive, then, it’s the on-paper rather than on-road performance they’ll have to improve – especially given that the current unit is pretty economical if you drive carefully.
On a restrained motorway run, it’s possible to nudge towards 50mpg, and although we suspect most owners will see closer to 40mpg, you should do better than the 29.9mpg we returned during our whole test period, which involved more spirited driving.
We also tried the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol in 237bhp guise and came away impressed. It feels really punchy from below 2000rpm, spins up extremely smoothly and cruises in near-silence. Jaguar claims to have been encouraged by the number of early retail customers choosing this motor over the diesels; those buyers should feel vindicated. In both higher- and lower-output tunes, the engine feels entirely comfortable with a car of the XE’s bulk - which shouldn’t really surprise, given that it has also done a tour of duty in the Ford Mondeo.
But what really strikes you is the refinement. You have to work this motor extremely hard before it borders on the thrashy; in the most part, it spins up willingly and smoothly, and it drops to a background whoosh once you’re up to cruising speeds (wind noise from the side mirrors will drown it out easily).
Jaguar has been careful not to mention the Ford connection at all - concerned, perhaps, about people drawing comparisons to the ill-fated X-type; it shouldn’t have been too worried, frankly.
We have also tried the Ingenium diesel engines in both 161bhp and 178bhp guises and were suitably impressed with its power delivery, smoothness and economy. However, question marks were raised about its refinement, as it sounds gruff on cold starts before settling down once warm.
The long gearing on the lower powered diesel does blunt its performance, however, over 2000rpm it is responsive enough. The more powerful 2.0-litre diesel is quicker and flexible, which makes it easier to live with on a daily basis.