What is it?
It might not be as important to Jaguar’s future as the F-Pace, or indeed the XE itself, but this new all-wheel-drive version of the brand’s smallest saloon is born out of the same desire to expand into sectors of the market traditionally dominated by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
The drive system is related to the one found in other Jaguars, which means it’s mostly rear-biased. In fact, much of the time the car remains entirely rear-wheel drive, before diverting up to 50% of its power towards the front when slip is detected.
Naturally there’s a penalty for the additional hardware, with weight rising by around 100kg, and CO2 emissions and fuel consumption figures are also heading in the wrong direction. However, both figures remain competitive with those of direct rivals.
For now, all-wheel drive can be specified only with the 178bhp Ingenium diesel engine and eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
What's it like?
The opportunities to test a car such as this to its fullest on British roads in July are so limited that most of the time you’re completely unaware of the presence of all-wheel drive. It’s only when accelerating out of damp roundabouts that you notice the additional traction.
Still, the fact that this car is much like any other XE to drive is no bad thing. While the 19in wheels and firmer R Sport suspension set-up of our test car give the ride a firm edge around town, it’s never crashy. And at higher speeds the body is beautifully controlled over undulations and through bends.
Only the steering disappoints compared with rear-wheel-drive XEs, because it’s less consistent in its reactions and in the building up of weight. However, the problem is more noticeable when it’s in Normal mode than it is in the meatier Sport setting, with the latter still allowing you to place the front wheels with greater precision than you can in a Quattro-equipped Audi A4.
The all-wheel-drive XE also offers sufficient performance to keep pace with any modern traffic and allow safe overtakes, although the gearbox can be a little indecisive at times. The engine sounds coarser than the best four-cylinder units both at idle and at higher revs.
Away from the dynamics, the other news is that the XE is now available with the more sophisticated of Jaguar’s two infotainment systems. Dubbed InControl Touch Pro, this replaces the standard 8.0in touchscreen interface with a 10.2in display.
True, it’s not cheap at £1125 (or £615 on Portfolio and S models), and it’s still more distracting to use on the move than Audi’s MMI system or BMW’s iDrive. However, it’s much quicker to respond than the standard Jaguar set-up and brings sharper graphics and additional functionality, such as the ability to serve as a wi-fi hotspot for up to eight devices.
As for the rest of the car, it’s much the same as any other XE. That means the driving position is great, with the raised centre console supporting your knee and elbow rather than restricting your movement, but it also means adults will be cramped in the back. Overall material quality falls short of that of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, too.