Car reviews - Jaguar - XE - Range
Steering, handling, ride, performance, rear-drive dynamics, refinement, design, character, rarity, technology, improved value
Room for improvement
Reduced variant choices, full safety suite costs extra, expensive options, dated cabin architecture, some trim rattles
Subtle yet effective updates sharpen up the underrated Jaguar XE
9 Aug 2019
IT MAY barely make a blip on the sales charts, but the suave and sophisticated Jaguar XE has remained one of our all-time favourite mid-size sports sedans since it sauntered into the BMW 3 Series’ segment some four years ago.
Back then, there were a bewildering proliferation of Ford-engined choices, but the Series II facelift brings the best bits together in an updated and improved package offered in just two (instead of 14!) guises, for the driver who wants an involving and rewarding experience.
Yes, flaws remain, but the result is a characterful and immersive alternative that still stands tall with the class best – even after all these years.
Briefs do not come tougher than this.
Jaguar had already tried and failed to take on the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class before with the inexplicably dull, wilfully dated and spectacularly unsuccessful X-Type of 2001.
Based on the front-drive Ford Mondeo, this new millennial misfire read the market as accurately as the sitting US president reads a teleprompter. It was a fake sports sedan with little appeal against competition as venerated as the E46 3 Series.
That was under Ford control. With current owner Tata’s support, the XE successor of 2015 could not have been more different, benefitting from an all-new rear-drive modular architecture offering a rivetted aluminium body, high-tech double-wishbone front suspension and an integral-link independent rear end.
Solid, taut and sharp, the long-awaited British sports sedan dazzled critics with its boundary-breaking dynamics, refinement and comfort. A real engineer’s delight.
Sadly, Jaguar fluffed some of the other important details, however, such as perceived value (though keenly priced, base equipment levels were too light-on), the dash lacked the appeal or functionality of class leaders like Audi’s A4, rear-seat space was tight (the corollary of the RWD packaging), and, well, the SUV-mad world has fallen out of love with sedans. Sales have never met expectations and the XE is the unloved overachiever of the 3 Series set. To paraphrase Trump, ‘Sad!’
Happily, plucky Jaguar hasn’t given up, as the fresh-off-the-boat (from Britain, obviously) XE Series II proves. Gone is the flummoxing array of variants (14 at last count!) for a single powertrain choice spread cross just two models – SE and HSE.
Good news first. Both are better equipped than before, thankfully, with an updated centre console bringing forth a much more modern and effective multimedia system, although it is not the final word in modernity, but it works well enough and looks much more contemporary.
Plus, the newly installed sports seats, handsome steering wheel, updated instrumentation, better ergonomics (that annoying rotary dial gives way to a nifty joystick shifter, while those infernal scattered door switches have been sensibly relocated) and improved trim quality enhance the already cosy and inviting driving position.
Result? From that all-important showroom appeal point-of-view, prospective buyers should no longer walk away before even taking it for a spin.
Dig deeper, however, and it’s disappointing that the full suite of driver-assist safety systems isn’t standard across the range (some of the goodies like the clever camera-enhanced rearview mirror and 360-degree cameras cost extra), that most options are still too expensive (just like most premium rivals, admittedly), and that a couple of the examples we drove suffered from annoying squeaks from the newly redesigned door cards.
Still, Jaguar hasn’t messed with the things we love most about the XE – and that’s the way it makes us feel from both behind the wheel and from the seat of our pants.
The steering is still a paragon of fluid, measured feel, offering pin-point accuracy and response without the handling ever being too sharp or nervous.
Meanwhile, the ride quality is never too harsh or brittle, even on the biggest wheel and tyre package without the (desirable and of course optional) adaptive dampers.
And that cocooning vault-like isolation from the outside world – which does so much to justify the sedan’s premium positioning – is still happily intact.
Dynamically, the R-Dynamic lives up to its name and should still ensure that engineers at BMW, Audi, Lexus and Mercedes suffer many more sleepless nights to come.
We’re also very glad to see that the 221kW 2.0-litre four-pot turbo lives up to the XE’s athletic promise, aided by one of the world’s greatest gearboxes.
Eager off the line, willing to rev right out and punching well above its meagre capacity in the way the available performance is delivered precisely when you need it to, this powertrain is a sweet and stirring ally to the Jaguar’s aspirations of taking on the dominant Germans.
All up, then, as far as achieving an appealing and involving alternative to the 3 Series/C-Class nexus, the updates and upgrades made with the XE Series II have been a success. Are they enough to persuade the market to take another look?
Certainly, the Jaguar deserves to succeed and – as a sports sedan with talent and depths to savour – the newcomer sure nails the brief.
Model release date: 1 August 2019
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