What is it?
This is an extremely important car for Jaguar: the carefully crafted mid-life revision of a compact executive saloon they launched in mid-2015, full of hope, to challenge the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
Despite its sleek shape, excellent dynamics and some class-leading engineering content (an aluminium body shell, an ultra-sophisticated rear suspension), the car failed to set the market alight. Reviews were positive, but buyers have continued to prefer German products.
Though the car’s poor sales coincided with a general decline for saloon models, it still mystified the company and dealers alike. Everyone who drove it agreed this is fundamentally a good car. But the company – doubtless with helpful reactions from early users – eventually put the difficulty down to the exterior’s similarity to the larger XF, and to a lack of style appeal. And against rivals it has seemed drab inside.
What's it like?
First, the exterior visual impact has been abruptly improved. Sportier bumper designs and new LED lights front and rear have made the car look sportier, more planted and above all more modern. The latest XE also introduces a new 'chicane' tail light style which will flow through the range.
Inside, the XE adopts JLR’s Touch Pro Duo infotainment system which introduces a 10.2in screen to mid-dash, and supports it with a smaller touch-screen below. This treatment simplifies and modernises things markedly. The 'twist' gear selector gives way to Jaguar’s sportier and more intuitive central lever. There are upgrades for both the interior and seat materials (owners felt that in the outgoing XE version the need to cut costs was made too obvious) and there’s a new richness about the trim that improves its apparent value. One drawback remains: very confined rear seat space. Kids and very small adults are the best it can comfortably do.
Under the skin little has changed – or needed to change – though EXs are now offered with only three 2.0-litre turbo Ingenium engines (one 178bhp diesel; petrol units producing 247bhp and 296bhp) and all models get ZF’s efficient, market-leading eight-speed automatic. The highest output engine comes as standard with Jaguar’s unobtrusive intelligent all-wheel-drive system that usually biases torque towards the rear wheels (for handling balance) but directs it forward when rear-wheel grip is limited. According to the maker’s spec, the system adds only 85kg to a full-house XE’s kerb weight (1650kg vs 1565kg) so there’s little change in the car’s feeling of all-conditions agility.