It may seem an error to choose the least powerful of three petrol fours (197bhp, 247bhp and 296bhp) but the choice is made advisedly. The first step adds £2500 and shaves a second from an already decent 7.2sec 0-60mph time. The most powerful engine cuts the 0-60mph time to 5.4sec and makes the R-Sport a genuinely fast car but costs a hefty £7600 extra, mostly because it has a permanent 4x4 system (that adds extra weight and less adjustable handling). Worth it if you need the extra traction and are made of money; not otherwise.
Chuck in the fact that with eight quick-shifting gearbox speeds attached, our 197bhp engine gets the car off the mark very quickly and can also quickly kick down a couple at higher speeds if needed. My only real gripes with the powertrain are a tendency of the stop/start system to shake the car uncomfortably when restarting, and a less than silky power take-up when accelerating from a crawl. Others do it better.
However, it’s the chassis that makes this a true Jaguar. And the driving position. You sit low, backside close to the floor, looking over the top rim of the steering down the longish bonnet. Because the seats offer near-ideal side support, it’s easy to imagine yourself in an amazingly affordable F-Type.
Any glance sideways affirms that the XE rides lower than most cars on the road (you have an excellent view of the whirling wheel bolts of buses) and the agility and steering accuracy constantly remind you of the advantage of lowness. Its disadvantage – in a 4.7m-long saloon – is a lack of adult-sized rear leg room (fine for kids, tolerable for early teenagers).
On the road, the XE’s size seems close to ideal. Step into it from a bigger car and you’re beguiled by its agility; drive it after a smaller model and you’re impressed by its refinement, composure and uncorrupted steering. It cruises quietly with moderately long legs on the motorway but sprints willingly on demand. The engine is quiet and very smooth when cruising; more audible when used harder. The engine note is one of the less sporty aspects. Fuel consumption is 33-43mpg, depending how you drive, but we’ve so far averaged just over 40mpg. The ride, on the Sport suspension that comes with an R-Sport model, can occasionally be a bit jittery but never leaves you discomforted on long trips. But it has enough sporting character to do well when a journey brings a bonus B-road.
On the strength of three weeks and 2000 miles, I’m pleased with the XE. It appears to suit me and the way I use cars. It feels well made (my second car in five years with zero trim rattles) even if Jaguar feels perceived cabin quality needs an upgrade.
The way it looks and drives suits the Jaguar ethos and I’d find it hard to contemplate a Jaguar range without a compact saloon. On what I’ve learned so far, the XE and its descendants deserve a long and happy life.
Drove the XE for an afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it. It undermined any impression of Jaguars as old men’s cars. If there’s such a thing as sporty composure, this car has it in spades, although I’d have liked the power delivery to be a little less lumpy off the mark.