From £26,0657
Range-topping four-pot petrol motor doesn’t do much for Jaguar’s revised compact exec, but other engines might be the clincher for an improved package.

Our Verdict

Jaguar XE

Jaguar's first attempt at a compact exec saloon is good - very good. But can the XE hold off the BMW 3 Series and Alfa Romeo Guilia to retain its crown?

  • First Drive

    Jaguar XE P300 R-Dynamic S 2019 review

    Range-topping four-pot petrol motor doesn’t do much for Jaguar’s revised compact exec, but other engines might be the clincher for an improved package.
  • First Drive

    Jaguar XE 20t R-Sport 2018 review

    Even with a downsized four-cylinder in its lowest state of tune, the XE continues to deliver dynamics better than any rival

What is it?

Jaguar is a car maker so instinctively associated with saloons that it’s near impossible to imagine a future for the firm without them; and yet I bet there are plenty of product strategists at the company’s UK headquarters right now who are being paid to do exactly that.

Right now, Jaguar’s more traditional executive four-doors just aren’t doing enough business – and with pressure mounting on the firm to cut costs and only to back winners, the worry must be that the current XE, XF and XJ may never hit the sales heights necessary for all of them to be worth a place in a rationalized, revitalised range of future models.

And so for the maker of the original XJ and mkII of the 1960s, both celebrated, formative, world-class four-doors of their day, the great modern saloon-car gamble by which it dared to square up to its German opponents is looking increasingly at risk of being declared a dead loss. The XJ barely managed 5000 units last year. When the XE was launched in 2015, it was notable that chief among the saloons whose sales it stole was its bigger brother – the XF. Global production of XF and XE both only narrowly made it beyond 30,000 units in 2018. None of it makes particularly heartening reading.

So what new success can Gaydon’s 2020-model-year XE bring to the table, to prove perhaps that the company’s latest confident swing at the compact executive saloon market wasn’t such a misguided one? Well, to be fair, it needn’t sell like a Mercedes C-Class (nearly 400,000 units in 2018, since we’re counting). Another couple of 50,000-unit years, however unlikely that outcome may look now, would probably earn it a reprieve from the chop. And perhaps with that kind of achievable success in mind, Jaguar’s mid-life update for the car looks like a very carefully considered and targeted one.

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The most important constituent part of that update may yet prove to be a revised 2.0-litre, 178bhp Ingenium diesel engine with European ‘RDE2’ diesel NOx emissions certification, which means that – for a while, at least – the all-important diesel XE will dodge the four percent company car tax penalty generally imposed on diesel fleet cars, and which its rivals currently all fall foul of.

Styling changes to the exterior are limited to headlights and bumpers. That’s because it’s the XE’s interior that has occupied the lion’s share of Jaguar’s facelift budget and attention – and rightly so, since it was probably the pre-facelift car’s biggest weakness.

What's it like?

The new XE gets more soft-touch materials, more expensive veneers, a new centre console design, a new steering wheel, a digital instrument binnacle, and (as an option) a double-deck ‘Touch Pro Duo’ infotainment setup closely related to the one on the i-Pace and the Range Rover Velar and Evoque.

It’s all made a significant difference to the car’s sense of ambient perceived quality, technological sophistication and luxuriousness, without making enough of a difference to attract worried looks from the class’ governing German oligopoly. The XE’s cabin is now one ridden of almost all of its cheaper materials, and not without a few tactile, expensive ingredients such as aluminium shift paddles, ‘metalised’ indicator stalks or the F-Type-sourced gear selector lever. It’s not a car that stands out for its interior classiness, in the way that an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class does; but neither is it any longer a car, like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, that you’d criticize for seeming low-rent. It has progressed.

Another key part of Jaguar’s interior rethink was a redesign of the car’s interior door panels, done in order to make some extra lateral space in a cabin that has always needed every extra inch it can get. The effort has yielded some success inasmuch as your elbows and needs don’t feel so closely confined in the car as once they did; but headroom is still tight up front, and the back seats remain usable only for smaller adults and children, really.

Jaguar has cut down on the number of engines in the XE range: where there used to be six, for now there are three – and there’s nothing larger than two litres and four cylinders to be seen. The car was made available exclusively in range-topping ‘P300’ 296bhp 2.0-litre four-wheel drive petrol guise for our initial test drive; a car, it turns out, significantly different from the supercharged, rear-driven, six-cylinder XE S that marked out the highest rung of the XE hierarchy a few years ago, and which helped earn the Jaguar such praise from keen drivers.

There’s a purposeful growl but little richness or smoothness apparent from that four-pot engine when you extend it. The car’s outright performance level is strong, but not outstandingly so; I would guess a BMW 330i, some 40 horsepower down on the XE on paper, is just as fast on the road, and an Alfa Giulia Veloce perhaps a shade quicker. Both rivals are, after all, notably lighter.

But it’s actually the XE’s four-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic transmission that’s the greater obstacle to your enjoyment of the driving experience than that engine. The gearbox can be a little bit slow to shift in manual mode, and also annoyingly indecisive and given to hunt when left to select gears by itself. Moreover, it seems to impart a slight but noticable treacly sense of drag to the car’s every response to a demand for greater speed, and feels a bit rough and clunky when changing ratios at times; as if unnecessary force was being wound into the driveline somewhere, never to quite make it out onto the road.

It’s a sense that the XE’s real-world fuel economy would tend to confirm. Over several trips, all of which included both quicker driving and slower, we failed to see more than 25mpg returned - which is the sort of economy you might have indulged from the old V6 S, but would likely be less inclined to of this car.

It’s a good job, therefore, that the XE’s four-wheel drive system leaves the car’s calling card – its fluent, balanced, entertaining handling – unharmed. Even allowing for the shortcomings and limitations of the powertrain, this remains a really absorbing car to drive on a twisty stretch of road.

It feels a touch heavier, softer and less naturally agile than an Alfa Giulia, but it’s more supple, tactile and progressive-handling with it, so you can place it more instinctively. Jaguar’s four-wheel drive system might make for a less sweet on-the-limit handling balance than the XE S once had, meanwhile, but I dare say most drivers would accept that in trade for the added traction and security it brings.

Should I buy one?

All up, much as I’ll admit to being disappointed by the XE’s range-topping powertrain for a few reasons, I’d say the versions of the car more likely to be on the average customer’s shopping list should be better-placed to impress than they used to be; and that the XE’s suitability for lifting the mood of your everyday motoring, while still not without caveat, ought to be stronger, too.

On this evidence there’s good reason to hope for that – but we’ll see.

A lot will depend on that revised diesel engine, on which we look forward to reporting when we can. Until then, much as life will be tougher for this car than ever it used to be, it seems all may not be lost for Jaguar’s junior exec. Here’s to holding your nerve.

Jaguar XE P300 R-Dynamic specification

Where Grasse, France Price £41,005 On sale now Engine 4cyls inline, 1997cc, turbocharged petrol Power 296bhp at 5500rpm Torque 295lb ft at 1500-4500rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1615kg (DIN) Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 5.7sec Fuel economy 30.5-33.6mpg (WLTP Combined) CO2 WLTP figures unavailable Rivals BMW 330i M Sport, Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce 

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Comments
28

10 April 2019

When the XE was launched it was praised to the skies by this magazine. Now even Autocar is becoming aware of its shortcomings. So what happened in the intervening years? Either the competition's improvements have far exceeded the XE's (unlikely) or the XE was grossly overrated at launch as Autocar tends to do with JLR products.

Poor packaging and uninspired cabin do not make a successful compact exec saloon.

10 April 2019
abkq wrote:

When the XE was launched it was praised to the skies by this magazine. Now even Autocar is becoming aware of its shortcomings. So what happened in the intervening years? Either the competition's improvements have far exceeded the XE's (unlikely) or the XE was grossly overrated at launch as Autocar tends to do with JLR products.

Poor packaging and uninspired cabin do not make a successful compact exec saloon.

While dynamics have always had a heavy weighting, and the XE does drive brilliantly, simply being a JLR product was a key reason as to why the XE was deemed as class leader and, as Autocar regularly alluded to, a game changer despite it being a flawed car. It seems recently, however, that Autocar (with the continual exception of Steve Cropley) are now reviewing Jaguars and Land Rovers with more objectivity and less bias. Which is probably why the Velar and new Evoque for example haven't had gushing and over the top praise and instantly installed as class leaders while at the same time simply demolishing the opposition which would have normally been the case.

jer

10 April 2019

I would say the latest 3 whilst unattractive has a much better interior. Mercedes has the style even if that shiny plastic is thin. These are belting cars to drive lets not forget. I wiah they'd fix the gearbox software been since they went to 8 speed. Fine everyday and easy to work around but i can sde why it causes issues for road testers.

10 April 2019
jer wrote:

I would say the latest 3 whilst unattractive has a much better interior. Mercedes has the style even if that shiny plastic is thin. These are belting cars to drive lets not forget. I wiah they'd fix the gearbox software been since they went to 8 speed. Fine everyday and easy to work around but i can sde why it causes issues for road testers.

I would say the XE now has a far more appealing interior than the same again 3 series, or the C-Class with its stuck on ipad, but I agree with the gearbox, I also hope they have sorted out the interior sound deadening as well, the ones I have driven have been fairly noisy, on certain roads I know well even the wifes Fiesta is quieter.. 

10 April 2019

To replace an Alfa 159. Obviously a sucker for the underdog.

What he has enjoyed most about the Jag, even more than the 159, has been the wide variety of courtesy cars he gets to drive while it’s off the road with more and more failures. He reckons he has put more k’s on a BMW than he has the Jag he paid for...

Robbo

Aussie Rob - a view from down under

10 April 2019
Aussierob wrote:

To replace an Alfa 159. Obviously a sucker for the underdog.

What he has enjoyed most about the Jag, even more than the 159, has been the wide variety of courtesy cars he gets to drive while it’s off the road with more and more failures. He reckons he has put more k’s on a BMW than he has the Jag he paid for...

Robbo

For every story of poor JLR relaibilty, there is just as many for any of the so called prestige German manufacturers, I know a friend who had a BMW that was forever breaking down with numerous faults, and poor dealer support or sympathy, so bought an XE and has put over 100k miles on it over 2 years, and its been faultless, and apart from general wear and tear and servicing hasnt cost him a penny, his 3 series was a money pit.. . 

10 April 2019

Build quality issues aside Jaguars biggest problem is an attitude that pigeon holes what a Jaguar should be, rather than what the market wants from the product.

To those whining about the 1 series going FWD, Jaguar is an object lesson in what happens when you design cars around what you think the core customer will allow rather than build what peopep want.

10 April 2019

As the owner of my second (pre-facelift) XE, while brilliant to drive and totally desirable and great looking, the car is flawed in many areas to be competitive and as an overall product it is inferior to the previous F30 3 Series which I've also had previously. So God knows how far behind it is compared to the G20 3 Series! While it seems this facelift XE has addressed some issues (like the massively poor quality interior fittings) being only a mid-life revision means it can't address many of the cars fundamental and inherrent issues which have been there from day one. And another critical issue with the XE (and other Jaguars) is reliability. My first one had a series of unrelated issues to the point it had to be replaced, while 2 courtesy Jaguar vehicles I was given also had issues too. And the replacement XE I now have has very recently developed a major problem. Jaguar focused to much on dynamics, style and headline grabbing features and technology rather than develop a competent and throughly engineered all-rounder. 

10 April 2019

I’m not sure JLR can do anything st this point to save this model from the axe. They’d be better off spending money restyling the rest 3/4 of the Discovery. If they kill the XE then I also suspect the sales of the XF would recover somewhat as this model canabilises sales from it due to the similarity in looks. 

But if the must carry on then a Tourer and possibly even a convertible should be built. That might get them just enough sales to make this viable.

10 April 2019

My European-spec 340i has 355bhp, AWD, a heavier estate body and gets 35 mpg on average.

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