Jaguar XE Saloon (2015 - ) review
The Jaguar XE saloon is a cracking addition to the compact-executive club. Class-leading efficiency and emissions, alongside an engaging drive are the plus points, but concerns remain around practicality and interior quality
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For prestige compact saloons like the XE, image is everything; your car simply has to look the part in the company car park. Compared with the Audis, BMWs and Mercedes with which it competes for company car drivers’ affections, the XE is something completely different, and a huge part of its appeal lies the way it looks. A purposeful front end, with a wide grille, sleek headlights and a pair of chrome winglets gives the XE the same impact as the larger XF and XJ saloons. All cars come with alloy wheels – and there are a wide variety of designs to choose from – while Portfolio and R-Sport versions get a range of sporty styling goodies. Both have 18-inch alloys and smart Bi-Xenon headlights with LED running lights. The R-Sport also has an integrated rear spoiler, tinted rear windows and a lower ride height than the standard car. Top of the range XE S models get wider front air intakes, 19-inch wheels, red brake calipers and a sporty body kit as well.
Jaguar has taken a ‘less-is-more’ approach with the dashboard of the XE. The centre console has very few buttons, and the interior is dominated by an 8.0-inch touch-screen display, which works in a reasonably logical and intuitive way. The seats are very supportive and come with plenty of adjustment; every model in the range has electric tilt for the backrests, for example. And, while the quality of the Jag’s cabin can’t match that of its German rivals (the main touch points feel expensive and robust, but some of the other panels aren’t as tactile as you might like), the interior still manages to achieve an overriding sense of sophistication. There are a couple of other areas where things aren’t perfect, too. The window switches on the driver’s door are strangely placed, you’ll find yourself knocking your elbow on the meaty lid of the central storage box as you steer or change gear (in manual models) and the narrow rear window flanked by thick pillars means your rear visibility could be better.
Compact saloons are not normally the best choice for carrying lots of people and luggage, and most family hatchbacks are more versatile. However, even bearing this in mind, the XE is not the roomiest of cars. There is just about enough room for two adults in the back, but those much over six foot will find their hairdo brushing on the headlining, and there isn’t as much legroom as you get in the back of most key competitors. The wide sills and narrow door opening mean access isn’t as easy, either. What’s more, the cramped footwells, high transmission tunnel and hard middle seat make carrying five people on board a rather uncomfortable business. The boot is fairly generous at 455 litres, but that's considerably less than key rivals provide, and the space is rather narrow, which won’t help on trips to the golf club. The rear seats are fixed as standard, so if you need to carry longer items, you’ll have to pay for the optional folding bench, which splits 60:40 so that there is still a useable seat in the back.
Ride and handling
Most versions of the XE come on a comfort-tuned suspension, while R-Sport models have a slightly lowered setup. The S, meanwhile, has an adaptive suspension that’s available as an option on most other cars in the range. In truth, it doesn’t matter which suspension you plump for, because they’re all simply sensational. No matter what speed you’re going, most bumps and ruts are soaked up without an ounce of fuss, making this a comfortable car in which to both plod around town and blatt along a motorway. The really impressive bit, though, is the handling, which is utterly superb. There’s a huge amount of grip and very tight body control, while the chassis feels really well balanced. Chuck in steering that’s quick, progressive and accurate, and gives just enough feedback to the driver, and few executive saloons are as thrilling to drive as the XE. No matter what sort of journey you’re doing, the XE is a car that’ll put a smile on your face.
With prestige compact saloons like the XE, the vast majority of buyers go for diesel power. Two choices are offered, both 2.0-litre units with either 161- or 178bhp. The former will be the most popular due to its low CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, but its performance isn’t quite as impressive as its efficiency. There’s a decent slug of torque once you hit the mid-range, but it feels a shade lazy below that and runs out of puff towards the top of the dial. If you specify the optional eight-speed automatic in place of the notchy six-speed manual, your performance feels strangled further because the gearbox is rather hesitant in switching gears. That said, the auto’ does swap cogs pretty smoothly, making it a more relaxed and pleasurable car to drive than the manual. The more powerful diesel has similar characteristics, but the extra punch it delivers mean that the various hesitancies in performance aren’t quite so pronounced. The diesels aren’t quite as refined as the ‘Ultra’ diesels from Audi, but they’re quiet compared with the noisy units fitted to the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. You do feel a bit of vibration through the controls, though. Bizarrely, petrol buyers have more choice. There are two turbocharged four-cylinder petrols with 197- and 237bhp, both mated to the auto’ ‘box, and we’ve tried the more powerful of the pair. It’s no slouch, and delivers a broad spread of power, but can sound a little strained when you work it hard. The S, meanwhile, has the same 335bhp supercharged V6 found in the XF sportscar, and it sounds a lot more menacing. The acceleration it gives is just as fearsome, polishing off the 0-62mph dash in just 5.1 seconds and providing blistering on-the-move pace. This is a car that will get you from place to place seriously rapidly.
None of the petrol versions of the XE are very efficient – but the diesel models are right up there with the best saloons in this class. The entry-level 161bhp 2.0d has CO2 emissions of just 99g/km when paired with a standard manual gearbox, making the XE one of the cheapest cars of its type to run as a company car. Adding the optional automatic gearbox pushes you up a couple of company car tax bands, but monthly bills are still very affordable and this transmission certainly improves the car. The tax bills commanded by the more powerful diesel aren’t quite so low, but they’re not all that far behind, and will match those of most similarly powered rivals. And, because low CO2 means low fuel consumption, the XE’s diesel engines should also save you money at the pumps. There’s even better news. Jaguar’s resale values have traditionally been pretty poor, but the XE is predicted to buck that trend and become one of the compact executive class’s strongest performers. The XE’s purchase prices are very close to those of its nearest competitors at the more affordable end of the range, with only a few hundred quid in it. Pricier versions come laden with luxury equipment, but are more in line with larger executive models like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 on price.
Jaguar has started to establish a fine reputation for reliability, with the larger XF saloon being a consistently solid performer in customer satisfaction surveys. Granted, the XE uses a lot of unproven technology, particularly the engines, but the brand’s solid reputation should give you confidence that nothing catastrophic is likely to go wrong. If it does, Jaguar is usually good at getting it sorted – its dealers are very highly rated by its customers.
Cars are getting safer and safer as more active systems now come as standard. The Jaguar XE is no exception, with a special camera in the windscreen to allow automatic emergency braking. That means the XE can sense a collision, and if it needs to, will brake itself to avoid a crash. Every model in the range also gets lane departure warning, so the steering wheel will gently vibrate, along with a visual cue if the car senses you wandering out of your lane. This is the kind of equipment you won’t find in rivals like the BMW 3 Series. Safety options include blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and a bright head-up display which projects your speed, nav instructions and other key info onto the windscreen, so you never need to take your eyes too far off the road. With all that in mind, it's perhaps no great surprise that it achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP tests.
Most executive cars are bought on company schemes, meaning many of the people that run them are not able to add any additional kit. So, the XE needs to have all the essentials covered. It gets off to a good start, with even entry-level SE models featuring sat-nav, cruise and climate controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, DAB radio, full Bluetooth connectivity, an 8.0-inch touch-screen display and electric windows. If you step up to Prestige versions then you’ll also get leather seats, a nicer interior finish and larger alloys, while the Portfolio and R-Sport models include luxuries such as the bright Bi-Xenon headlights with LED running lights and sportier styling. This makes the XE well-equipped compared to basic versions of some of its premium rivals, but it also costs a little more as a result. Some additional kit like heated seats, parking sensors, a spare wheel and split/folding back seats are optional, but most upmarket brands will charge extra for non-essential luxury items, and the new XE is no exception.
If you want a saloon that stands out from the crowd, is great fun to drive and is affordable to run, the XE will be the perfect tonic to the usual German executives. With a supple ride, excellent refinement and class-leading fuel economy, it’s also a perfect motorway cruiser. Our only criticisms are with a few practicality issues and the slightly below-par interior finishes, but overall, the XE is still right up there with the class best executive saloons.