After starring in 57,000 Autocar scoop stories, the baby Jag is here at last.The XE is sitting in a car park. At a casual glance, it looks like an old XF. At a more formal, paying attention sort of glance it looks lower and wider than an old XF. From the side, the wheelbase appears longer and the cabin further back. The proportions have changed and the details are different but the overall effect is familiar, a bit like the new Golf compared to the old one. Or meeting an old friend who’s lost weight and bought better glasses. Jag seems to have avoided anything radical for two reasons: Firstly, it wants to build up sense of design continuity. And secondly because the world of small saloons like this is quite conservative. By which I mean, it likes familiarity, rather than because it hates the NHS and thinks Ed Miliband is a twat.
The inside of the XE isn’t radical either. Recently Jags have featured all manner of shenanigans with moving air vents and touch sensitive glovebox buttons but there’s none of that here. It’s rather ordinary. There’s a large rubber mat in front of the knob-o-matic gear selector to keep your phone in place but that’s about it for delightful features. No wait, the button on the touch screen that goes to the phone menu has a red telephone box on its background. It’s quite sweet and apparently American and Chinese buyers soil themselves with delight at this ‘British’ touch. The rest of the screens and menus work well enough but the graphics are drab and Android-y rather than crisp and Apple-ish.
This XE is the S version, which has the supercharged V6 petrol engine from the F-type. Because of that, I was expecting it to start with an almighty BRAAAAAAH! and then grumble and snarl to itself, as if digesting a handful of treacle and rocks. But it doesn’t. It’s very quiet at idle. It’s very quiet when you set off too. Someone from Jag told me they made an XE prototype with an F-type level of fruitiness but it just seemed wrong in a saloon. Also, to get the full F-type shouting experience they’d have needed a bigger exhaust system which would have eaten into rear seat space. (Later in my time with the XE I stopped in a lay-by and got into the back. There’s enough space back there for a grown man. A lorry driver parked in the same lay-by seemed confused as to why such a grown man would briefly get into the back of his own car. Like most things that happen in lay-bys, he probably assumed it was something to do with dogging.)
Off we go then, for a bit of a drive. The XE is one of those cars you can settle into very quickly. It’s comfy. It’s smooth. It’s quiet. But it feels sharp at the edges yet not intrusively hyperactive. It’s what used to be called a sports saloon, before everyone started trying to be sporty. The ride is firm, though not uncomfortable. Better than an Audi, worse than a Rover 75. The damping feels expensive and well judged.
There are winding roads ahead and the chance for some bitch spankery. Knock the car into sport mode and it gets a bit fightier. But not much. The accelerator is more sensitive, the ride becomes firmer, it’s 19 percent more helmsmannish. You can complete the set-up by putting the gearbox in S and then titting about controlling the 8-speed autobox on the paddles. And then you’re off, zooming around corners, revelling in the chassis control and the grip and at how much traction it finds, even if you really hoof it. It’s a very, very easy car to drive in a brisk manner and quite satisfying as a result. At some point in the rev range the engine takes on an aggressive, hollow sound that reminds me of an old XK straight six. Maybe they’ve done this deliberately. Or maybe I’m talking bollocks. Anyway, it’s nice. At other levels of revs the V6 actually sounds a bit flat. You cease to care too much about this as you slice through the countryside, enjoying the splendid balance of the chassis, clicking crisply up and down the gearbox, marvelling at the excellent ratio and weight of the electric steering and how it doesn’t feel electrically assisted at all. There’s an agility to it too, which could be ascribed to the aluminium body except that some of it – the doors and the boot floor – are still steel and actually, the whole car weighs 1665 kilos which is 70 more than BMW claims for 335i, strangely. Even so, it’s genuinely lovely to drive.
After some wheelwrightmanship I stop for a moment and have a bit of a stare at the XE. There are a few nice details on the outside. The wide, hidden third brake light above the back window and the headlights that look like camera lenses, for example. Or the subtle ducktail built into the bootlid. But overall, it seems knowingly discreet rather than showy and flamboyant. Then I feel compelled to check the rear seat space, a lorry driver probably thinks I’m coming on to him, and it’s time to get back on the road.
A bit more driving. A bit more enjoying the unflustered way you can hack around bendy roads at a right old lick. It feels like a good car in which to tackle a massive journey. You’d have fun on the back road bits and remain untroubled at a cruise. It’s relaxed and relaxing. Only a couple of things annoy me. The head-up display works off fricking lasers and looks terrific but its dashtop gubbins reflects in the screen in an annoying way. And the touch screen is hard to use accurately, especially if you’ve got the suspension in jiggle+ mode.
Overall though, I liked the XE a lot. I’d like it even more if the interior was jazzier but I suppose Jag has been wilfully cautious to avoid frightening people used to the equally plain dash in an A4. On the plus side, the XE S drives with a vim and a lightness of touch an Audi can only dream of. Not that this is strictly relevant, since I can’t imagine many people buying a 3-litre V6 petrol. They’ll get the diesel. But if the XE D is as good as the supercharged version, it’ll be very good indeed.
The car talked about here is the Jaguar XE S. It has a 3-litre supercharged V6 engine making 336 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. It costs £44,865.