For the XE to stand a fighting chance of catching a fleet manager’s eye, it was necessary for Jaguar to produce a genuine sub-£30k rival to the BMW 320d, Audi A4 2.0 TDI and Mercedes-Benz C220. As a collection of figures, the lower-powered 161bhp diesel engine in entry-level SE format provides Jaguar with its rock star.

Sub-100g/km, 75mpg potential, 8.4sec to 62mph, intervals of more than 20,000 miles between services, standard 17in wheels and 8.0in of infotainment touchscreen are almost the ideal numbers on which to prop a compact executive range.

Vicky Parrott

Deputy reviews editor
Step up to Prestige trim and you gain leather front seats, brushed aluminium interior trim and ambient lighting

The mid-range seems decently catered for, too. As well as the mildly enhanced R-Sport tested here, there are Prestige and Portfolio trim levels, which offer differing degrees of leather-bound luxury.

Step up to Prestige and you gain leather front seats, brushed aluminium interior trim and ambient lighting, while Portfolio adds electric seats, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and 18in alloy wheels.

R-Sport gets sports suspension, a different design of 18in alloys, leather seats, more aluminium trim, a rear spoiler and a sports steering wheel. Range-topping S trim is reserved for the 375bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and has adaptive dampers as standard, 19in alloy wheels, an 'S' bodykit and brings even posher interior finishes - as it should.

In terms of ideal spec, many compact executive car essentials — sat-nav, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors — are standard across the range, so stepping up the trim levels is as much about styling and internal opulence as kit. That said, the Meridian stereo (£500) and heated steering wheel (£185) would make our tick list.

Jaguar has no immediate answer for the mighty oil-burning performance delivered by the BMW 330d or its ilk, but again – for the time being – the lustier 2.0D Ingenium’s 317lb ft of torque might just look like decent recompense for its predictably superior efficiency.

Among its petrol-engined equivalents, the XE is arguably less competitive than it ought to be. Failing to trouble the combined economy of the outgoing BMW 320i or the 328i (both powered by the same 2.0-litre four-pot) is regrettable, and although the petrol XE’s CO2 may be a less important consideration for private buyers than in the business-focused diesels, a near-30g/km gap in emissions remains decidedly unsatisfactory. Thankfully to Jaguar, the remedy's already in the pipeline.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Compact saloons

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Aston Martin DB11 V8
    First Drive
    22 November 2017
    Aston's decision to utilise AMG's 4.0-litre V8 struck us as an inspired one initially, but will a drive on UK roads change our minds?
  • Volvo XC40 cornering
    First Drive
    21 November 2017
    Volvo’s XC40 arrives in the premium compact SUV segment and hits the right note with design, practicality and driving style
  • Jaguar E-Pace D180
    First Drive
    19 November 2017
    Not the driver’s car many would hope from any car wearing the Jaguar badge, but the E-Pace is an attractive and interesting addition to the compact premium SUV ranks
  • Jaguar E-Pace P300
    First Drive
    19 November 2017
    Jaguar’s second SUV faces up to the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Tough task, so is the E-Pace up to it?
  • Subaru Impreza
    First Drive
    17 November 2017
    The fifth-generation Subaru Impreza is much improved from top to bottom, but a poor engine and gearbox keep it trailing in this competitive class