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.
Our 2019 test car was a P300 AWD, a 296bhp edition with the standard all-wheel-drive transmission, capable of a 0-60mph sprint of just 5.4sec, and a governed top speed of 155mph. The XE’s sleekness and low driving position give it the 'cheap F-type' character we’ve spoken of before, especially since the precise, perfectly weighted steering is as good as Jaguar’s best. The car felt instantly familiar alongside our outgoing edition (2wd, 198bhp) except for two key matters: engine response and ride quality.
For a 296bhp engine packing 295lb ft of torque (between 1500rpm and 4500rpm) our sub-1000-mile powertrain felt inert, a serious concern until we remembered previous advice from JLR engineers that this car’s major components – engine, gearbox and AWD system – need a few thousand miles or so to give of their best. That was certainly the case for our outgoing 198bhp version, which felt quick and free-revving when it left us with 10,000 miles on the clock.
Though Jaguar says it has made very few changes to the suspension, the new XE feels more refined and quiet, offering improvements to rolling comfort, to the level of road noise and to the absorption of big bitumen bumps, so common on UK B-roads. Even on 20in wheels and performance-oriented Pirelli P Zero tyres, the car now feels much more premium, and considerably more comfortable over long mileages.