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£33,330 when new
What’s this, then? It’s the Jaguar XE, recipient of the award for the lengthiest drip-fed launch in automotive history. We’ve had teaser images, images of engines, a static reveal/barmpot West End musical, a motor show debut and, back in January, a pre-production prototype drive. Is there anything left to say, or know? Well, is there? Hell yes. Because those prototypes really were early cars, and as promising as they were, Jaguar insists that the slightly grumbly diesel and quality glitches we detected three months ago have been eradicated.
We’ve just driven the real thing, including a first go in the 237bhp, 2.0-litre four-pot turbo, and an extended run in the 178bhp diesel, and whaddya know, they’ve knocked it clean out of the park. Remember, the Jaguar XE is that rare thing: a genuinely clean sheet piece of design and engineering. There’s nothing reheated, rebooted or facelifted - there’s an all-new platform that’s 75 per cent aluminium, new engines, and a new multi-link rear suspension that can absorb vertical and lateral loads without getting remotely flustered. A new factory and lots of jobs have been created to support the XE, so there’s a load riding on it. Including Jaguar’s credibility and aspirations to become a proper contender rather than a charming but rather parochial sideshow on the global stage. Two words: BMW and Mercedes. Pore over the numbers, the dull stuff that fleet managers and accountants get juiced up about, and you’ll discover that the XE makes a major case for itself as a company car, with class-leading emissions figures, residuals and insurance groupings. But 3-Series and C-Class owners tempted to change should know that, based on the drive that TG.com has just had in the Jaguar XE 3.0 S, we reckon this is the best all-rounder in the segment based on the criteria we most value: entertainment. Why’s that? The test route, in the Navarra region of Northern Spain, was a humdinger with curious echoes of roads in the UK that we know and love, but without the traffic and muppetry because nobody seems to live there. Fourth and fifth gear from the ZF auto’s silky eight-speed armoury does the job perfectly, such is the 3.0-litre V6’s mid-range flexibility, even on relatively tight hairpins. The XE resists understeer, has peerless mid-corner balance, and its electric power steering is easily the best we’ve tried so far. It rides beautifully on its adaptive dampers, and manages to be nimble, supple, but controlled all at the same time. In short, this new chassis is world-class, and simply shrugs off whatever you throw at it. Roll on the 500bhp SVR… Tell me about the engines. The 2.0-litre, 237bhp turbo (there’s also a 197bhp version) could be the pick of the range. It doesn’t sound especially inspiring, and can be a bit vocal when it’s being stretched. But it’s smooth and so refined at a steady state motorway speed that it’s almost undetectable. In passively suspended Comfort or Sport spec, the XE has that oiled, slickly engineered feel that used to be the principal USP of the 3-Series. Jaguar’s guys have an unscientific but useful ‘50 metre feel’ metric, and the XE nails it. All the control weights are spot-on. We also tried the 178bhp Ingenium diesel, with a manual gearbox, in both Comfort and Sport set-up. Refinement has been improved, and although we prefer the auto (it’s a £1750 option on this model), the manual ‘box is perfectly good. You have to work harder to liberate the sports saloon within, but it’s definitely still there. Anything you don’t like? Not much, really. The exterior design is a real grower - with its cab-forward stance, short overhangs, and strong graphics, it’s better resolved overall than the over-styled BMW and slightly porky looking C-Class. The cabin is a slight let-down, though. It’s clean and functional, and real effort has gone into the infotainment system, which supports all manner of apps as is the modern way. The indicator stalk feels lovely. But the sat-nav during our various test drives was horrendously glitch-prone, and some of the interior plastics are a bit Albert Steptoe. The XE is also notably spec-sensitive, and beware the colour and trim combinations lurking in the online configurator that yoke Jaguar to its unlamented bowls club past. So should I buy one? The XE has star quality for sure, and it bodes well for the new XF and F-Pace. British media is often accused of being overly partisan when it comes to ‘our’ brands - whatever that really means in 2015 - but the XE isn’t just an interesting alternative, it’s a straight-up corker. We suspected as much back in January, and now we know. Prices start at £26,995 for the 2.0-litre SE petrol, £29,775 for the 161bhp diesel.