Some brands carry with them a greater sense of heritage than others. Naturally, this brings both increased excitement and greater expectation with any new model launch, and while we might look to Jaguar to satisfy the traditionalists, the British marque should never settle to merely to dwell on the past. With this double challenge in mind we explore the new XE, Jaguar’s slightly smaller saloon.
Our steed for this week is the XE R-Sport, fitted with the higher output 180PS diesel engine and adorned with subtle styling cues. From a design perspective, it works well. Starting at the front, the strong broad grill and the scowl of the headlights are pure predator. The day running lights are wild flourishes across the headlamps and the traditional Jaguar badge is larger than ever. The wing adornments – with a red and green R-Sport flash – lift the otherwise plain flanks and the rear is nipped and tucked, such that it emphasises the broad stance of the car.
Sliding in behind the roaring cat emblem on the steering wheel, the forward view is good. The gentle bonnet hump is similar to that on the larger XF (and indeed reminiscent of the E-Type) and beautifully finished door cappings curve round, blending into the dashboard. The rotary gear selector rises on pressing the start button and the XE dashboard comes to life. It misses-out on the automatic rotating vents of the XF, but is otherwise well-appointed. Thinking of founder, Sir William Lyons’ maxim of ‘grace, space and pace’ the XE comfortably delivers on the first two, although the smaller overall footprint means a more compact boot than in key competitors’ cars.
Fitted with Jaguar’s smooth eight speed ‘box, the XE slides up the gears quickly. The manual paddles are practically superfluous with the diesel’s shorter rev range; indeed, it is hard to dance up and down the ratios more effectively than Sport mode, which picks the cogs well. The new ‘Ingenium’ four-cylinder diesel itself is less than charismatic although Jaguar needs to offer an efficient mile-eater in this sector. It manages sensible consumption but we’d pick the smooth V6 petrol for sophistication.
Cabin comfort is top notch and the XE’s body feels taught and well-controlled: it’s a lithe thing and is keen to be pushed through the corners. The R-Sport comes with sport suspension and not once did we approach its limits of capability or adhesion on dry roads. Of course there is a compromise to be had in terms of ride and the R-Sport is definitely pitched at the engaged driver.
With almost 500 miles dispatched on this XE, we have come to rather enjoy this smaller cat. It balances its serious face with taught driving characteristics and well-appointed cabin. We should celebrate its subtle design and ability, two characteristics which have stood out in many Jaguars past. The R-Sport specification is a little harsh though; we prefer this cat to show its softer side.