Gaydon has played it a bit safe with this car, and understandably so given that it has ambitious volume targets for it. The sharply drawn front-end and fuselage profile are stand-out visual features, although the car is less distinctive from the rear, where it borrows more styling cues from the German opposition.
Inside the cabin, the XE adopts a similar position to those of the XF and XJ relative to their market rivals. It’s not quite as plush or as accommodating as some at the price, but it makes a virtue out of its simplicity and compactness.
Occupant space for the driver is adequate, but snug rather than generous. A slightly high-mounted seat combines with a typically graceful swooping Jaguar roofline to limit headroom for taller drivers. The closeness of the extremities of the footwell, meanwhile, and the raised centre console, support your knees and elbows rather than restrict your movement.
Second-row cabin space is broadly competitive although short of the standard of the most practical compact executive saloons, so full-sized adults may struggle a wee bit for knee and head room. The boot is a fair size but the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series offer a little more cargo space.
Jaguar isn’t known for outstanding material cabin quality and won’t be changing its reputation by out-dazzling the likes of Audi and Mercedes with the XE. The car’s interior is nonetheless very pleasant, fairly luxurious and consistently well-finished.
The black plastics and leathers of our test car were a bit plain, but lighter and more visually appealing two-tone upholsteries are offered. The car’s switchgear is all either grained or rubberised, and its instruments are pleasingly conventional and clear.
For a brand new engine, Jaguar’s ‘Ingenium’ 2.0-litre turbodiesel doesn’t make the greatest of first impressions. Starting with some notable shake and shudder, its audible signature is a little more coarse than the most refined four-cylinders, and it remains so under load and at high revs.
It offers strong low and mid-range pulling power, though, and while you’d bet that its outright performance isn’t quite segment-leading, it’s well metered out by ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic ’box.
The transmission’s natural bias is to upshift early and keep the engine spinning at fairly low revs, where it’s at its quietest and most economical. Throttle response at those crankspeeds is good, however, and power delivery is pleasingly muscular and elastic.
Cycle through Dynamic, S and manual paddleshift modes and you can make the gearbox hold a ratio for as long as you like, but the reward for doing so isn’t as compelling as it might be. While the engine revs more freely than some, it doesn’t do so all that willingly beyond 4000rpm.
Better, really, to settle for a more typical, torque-propelled turbodiesel driving style. The XE 2.0d 180 can certainly be spirited along quite quickly that way, and has grip and handling composure to spare on the road.
The car’s most laudable qualities are its fluent, consistent and uncorrupted steering, its balance and precision when cornering and its expertly judged blend of body control compromised against a supple and quiet ride. On all of those fronts, it’s king of the compact executive class.
Our test car had standard passive suspension, although firmer sports springs and adaptive dampers are available as an option. But the XE needs neither to feel athletic and involving, and to conjure an effortless and instant sense of poise that a BMW 3-series will only approach in perfect specification and dynamic setting.