New York, Melbourne, Bermuda... there’s nothing like an exotic road trip. And this is nothing like an exotic road trip, because we’re talking about New York in Lincolnshire, Melbourne in Derbyshire and Bermuda in Warwickshire.
These three internationally renowned place names appear as waypoints on the 330-mile itinerary we’re tracing around the heart of England to see how the box-fresh Jaguar XE – in benefit-in-kind-beating 2.0 diesel form – fares when faced with a long day in the life of a company car. And although we’re no Phileas Foggs, photographer Will Williams and I are hoping to uncover some of the exoticism hidden among these green and pleasant lands.
8.53am Northampton services, M1
Although neither green nor pleasant, Northampton services at junction 15a of the M1 is a handy place to meet Williams and our Polaris White XE. The car is in Portfolio spec, which is the plushest of the four trim levels available on cooking models and, at £35,425, splits the difference between the cheapest XE – the cloth-upholstered, £26,990, 197bhp petrol four-pot SE – and the range-topping, £44,865 XE S that packs the 335bhp supercharged V6 from the F-Type.
A stack of extras adds around £10k to our car’s price – unrepresentative of the norm but worthy in terms of letting us trial features such as adaptive suspension (£800), head-up display (£1000) and driving position memory pack with folding door mirrors (£935). Adaptive cruise control (£1500) is the only omission that frequent trips like this might justify.
After brimming the fuel tank, there’s a moment to appreciate the cabin before we depart. Leather and soft-touch finishes abound – you have to reach down to the door bins to find anything more brittle – and there’s a definite feeling of luxury, although the dark tones in our car conspire with the chunky, high-set centre console to make the cabin seem cosy more than airy.
The sweeping top of the dashboard crowns a handsome, interesting environment, though, and the rotary selector for our car’s eight-speed automatic gearbox complements the layout where a manual gearlever might interrupt it. A poke around the rear cabin reveals enough knee room for one 6ft 2in-tall person to sit behind another, although head and shoulder room are tight. With my driving position stored (easy) and the sat-nav, standard across the range, set (equally simple, subject to a little software latency), we’re off.
11.03am Boston, Lincolnshire - 80.1 miles
Unlike many of our waypoints, this one did actually give its name to its more famous counterpart. Puritans from this Lincolnshire town named Boston, Massachusetts in 1630, 143 years before all that tea was wasted and things got awkward with the homeland.
Our route to Boston takes us on a succession of wide, benign A-roads, including the A1139 Frank Perkins Parkway through Peterborough, which, aptly for us, is named for the local engineer who made waves in industry and agriculture with his diesel engine designs.
But that’s not to reflect on our XE’s powerplant, which, at 178bhp, is the more powerful of the two all-new, home-grown 2.0-litre four-pot turbodiesel Ingenium engines available. (The other produces 161bhp and a tax-dodging 99g/km of CO2 in manual form.)
Indeed, while agricultural aspersions are sometimes cast at its classmates, the XE’s engine is blessedly smooth. It becomes vocal in the upper reaches but not coarse. On a steady throttle at 70mph (1500rpm in eighth gear), it’s silent. Gently flex the right ankle and nothing more than a deep hum comes back.
The electric steering is very settled at a cruise, and the easy-going ride impresses, too. On a smooth surface, the notability of a little wind noise speaks of refinement elsewhere, although the big, optional 19in wheels roar a bit over rougher blacktop as we approach Boston. But with the mighty ‘Broken Stump’ of St Botolph’s Church towering above its centre, we barely graze the town before the need to make early headway pushes us on.