Jaguar XE Driven
Prowling northern Spain in the new Jaguar XE
Words: Ouseph Chacko
Where is everyone? We’ve been driving this new Jaguar XE for hours, we’ve streaked down Autovias (that’s what they call expressways in Spain), carved up some spaghetti roads and purred through impossibly beautiful villages with not a soul in sight. Maybe it’s siesta time (it is afternoon after all) or maybe Jaguar told them to stay off the roads because there are a few hooligan journalists coming through but hey, I’m not complaining. It means we have these beautiful roads around Vittoria Gasteiz all to ourselves. The police have warned us about speeding through villages – the limit is 40kmph in these zones – but everywhere else, you’re allowed enough speed to find out what this new cat is all about. Wink!
The spec of the car I’m in is interesting. It’s the 2.0-litre turbo petrol Jaguar XE, eight speed automatic, rear-wheel drive and 237bhp. This, and the 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel, are the cars Jaguar will unleash on the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4 later this year – the volume end of the luxury car market. It is obviously an important car and Jaguar knows it. It’s why they’ve thrown the aluminium construction rule book at it. It’s why they’ve sunk millions and millions of pounds into developing an all-new diesel engine and an all-new production facility to churn out XE’s with claws extended and fangs bared.
Back in Spain and I’m taking a break. We’re on the edge of a narrow ribbon of road and the view is simply too stunning to not stop and stare. I’m not so sure about the Jaguar XE though. Earlier today, when I picked up the car, I wasn’t blown away by its looks, but now, the more I look at it, the more I let my eyes roam over its svelte shape, I’m beginning to see beauty. I think it looks like a shrunken XJ, and I’ve always loved the way the XJ looks. It will certainly stand out next to a 3 Series, looks younger than the C-Class, and is definitely more interesting than the current A4. The rear is a bit tame though.
Gavin, my co-driver for the day, wants to get a move on and while he’s driving, I take a look around the insides. It’s a well-built, well- finished place but somehow it doesn’t match up to the benchmark in this segment – the new Mercedes C-Class. Jaguar’s yowling about the sporting intent of the XE and there are obvious influences from the F-type’s cabin, but again it doesn’t feel as special as the C. There are good things in here though – the new InControl infotainment system is rather simple to use and the interface is interesting, the front seats are really comfortable and I like the clean, simple design of the center console. Oh, and the 11-speaker Meridian Audio is very good too.
The other, distinctly noticeable thing from the passenger seat is the ride. Internationally, there are three chassis configurations buyers can opt for – Comfort, Dynamic and Adaptive – and the petrol we’re in is the Comfort chassis which feels supple and comfortable. More importantly, there’s not much road noise entering the cabin and suspension noise is well suppressed. (This is surprising because 75 per cent of the Jaguar XE ’s chassis is made of aluminium and, as we’ve seen on the aluminium-intensive C-Class, a fair bit of road noise filters into the cabin). In this chassis configuration though, the steering has a bit of a dead spot off-center and can feel weirdly disconcerting when you’re transitioning through a series of switchbacks. We drove the diesel with the Dynamic package earlier and that car’s steering felt much sharper without giving up much by way of bump absorption. Where the chassis excels is with grip and body control – the sophisticated double wishbone front suspension and the new Integral Link rear suspension’s ability to resist lateral load and keep the tyre contact patches spread evenly on the road allows you some serious corner speeds and when you do overcook its high limits, torque vectoring gently brakes the inside wheel and nudges you back in line. Jaguar’s engineers said they wanted to make it very forgiving to drive on the limit and that’s pretty much what the car feels like – friendly and unintimidating. None of this matters though because Indian cars won’t get these chassis settings. Jaguar is working on a ‘rough road’ package for India that will include increased ride height, higher profile tyres and different suspension settings. We’ll have to wait till circa March 2016 before we get to hammer the ‘desi’ version on our roads and see if it is as involving as the launch cars.
What we know for sure are that the engines headed to India – first the petrol and the diesel a short while later – and both are superb. The brand new Ingenium diesel, almost certainly the one most Indians will go for, is refined – doesn’t have the clatter of a BMW in-line four – and punchy. Its 430Nm of torque peaks at 1750rpm, so it’s responsive, the mid-range is strong and it is quite free-revving. Over these short-straight, tight-corner roads of Northern Spain, its muscle and willing 8-speed automatic made me hoot with happiness.
The 237bhp petrol is, naturally, even quicker. It’s smooth, turbo lag is almost non-existent and because it revs more than the diesel, it feels like it’s working longer and harder through each of the eight gears. Also, that ZF gearbox is pure genius – its willingness to downshift where most automatics would baulk is its pièce de résistance.
The more relevant bit of the XE’s performance comes at the end of the day when we’re done scaring a few cyclists (Spain seems to be full of them and they all seem to be cycling to the middle of nowhere) and take the Autovia to the hotel. I’m floored by how smooth and quiet the XE feels, how long-legged it is and how comfortable we are when we finally drive into the fantastically weird Hotel Marquis De Riscal in Elciego.
As I toss the keys to the valet, I can’t help but think how likeable the Jaguar XE is. Yes, the rear seats could use a bit more head and shoulder room and the interiors could have a little more sense of occasion but on most other counts, this new baby Jaguar is XES.