There can be no understating the importance of the new Jaguar XE for the historic English-made, Indian-owned brand.
Its arrival in the compact premium segment - pitting it against such as the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C-Class - means that Jaguar now has a full suite of models with which to compete.
Of course Jaguar has - albeit under different ownership - tried to crack this particular nut previously with the ill-fated X-Type, a car based on the Ford Mondeo platform and utilising many of that car’s components. It was a tentative and ill-considered venture which, from the get-go, was doomed to a level of mediocrity which was not what Jaguar either needed or desired.
Indeed I remember the launch of the car in France when, having flown a bunch of British and Irish hacks on a charter flight to some bleak French Air Force base in central France, Jaguar let us loose in various iterations of the X-Class.
It was not a successful launch and the majority of those present were deeply perturbed when one of the testers shed a wheel - not just the wheel, in fact, but the whole passenger side front suspension assembly - while being driven by two Irish colleagues.
The sight of a panic stricken Jaguar PR team vainly papering over the cracks as they tried to explain away the incident as being the result of pre-production problems, was not pretty. In truth it was damn ugly and was the precursor for a model blighted by a raft of problems which only served to highlight the second-rate nature of the beast.
It may have been that the disaster that was the X-Type hastened Ford’s decision to palm Jaguar (and Land Rover) off to Tata - who knows - but it is certainly safe to say that the car was not one of those which either history or Jaguar afficianados will remember fondly.
In many ways the whole X-Type debacle served only to remind us just how big an ask it is for any company to try and crack the compact premium market, and, given the marque’s history in this arena it also highlights just how brave Jaguar is to have a second attempt at doing so.
The historical context also means that the stakes for Jaguar and the XE are now enormously high and the necessity for the company to manufacture a model range, which is not only a genuine contender but also a desirable commodity, is massive. No pressure at all, then.
When we saw the pre-production pictures of the XE last October, however, we pretty much knew that Jaguar had certainly not repeated the mistakes of the past and had not simply lashed together any sort of a quick-fix job simply to create market presence and public awareness.
No, nothing of the sort. Even without having driven the car you knew, by the style and elegance of the design, the purposefulness of the look and the promise of mechanical and design excellence, that the XE was definitely going to be the Jaguar that rattled the Germans’ collective cage. And now, having actually driven it, I can confirm all of the above to be true.
I must confess though that I was initially a little shocked because I’d managed to convince myself - not having properly read the press blurbs - that the XE Prestige Diesel I was driving was fitted, not with the new Ingenium range of engines, but with an old Ford knocker that had been lying around somewhere. I was completely wrong, of course - and probably foolish to have even entertained the thought that Jaguar would even consider such an idea, given the success they have had with such as the XF, the XJ and the wonderful F-Type - as the new engine is indeed part of the package here.
But, when I first fired it up it seemed to me to be rather gruff and unsophisticated and certainly not a match for the two litre turbodiesels fitted in its German rivals. In truth I was a little alarmed. I should not have been.
Once it warms to its task, this new unit reveals a velveteen character which will prove it to be a landmark unit for the marque and will see it ultimately having many applications within the Jaguar line-up. The facts and figures of the unit are illuminating: there is with some 180 bhp on tap (there’s also a 161 bhp version), an impressive 430 Nm of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, a top speed of 230 kph and a 0-100 kph time of just 7.8 seconds. These put it in a very competitive place indeed.
Throw in a consumption figure of 4.2 l/100 km (67 mpg) and emissions of just 111 g/km (for an annual tax bill of €200) and you’ve got not just a competitor, but a real challenger.
Allied to the eight speed ZF box which we tested, the engine showed plenty of willingness for hard work and an appetite for road but without the slaking thirst such qualities usually promote.
Stir into the mix a chassis which is 75% aluminium - bolstered here and there by high strength steels - and which is based on a new iQ platform which will be the basis of many future Jaguar/Land Rover products as well as the double wishbone front suspension and the ‘integral link’ rear set-up, and you got a superb handling package on your hands.
Everything about the XF is pretty much equally indelible. The interior is as classy and well executed as it should be and it does not fall short in terms of specification either.
Some might cavil about the look of the car not being as outstanding as it might have been, but I disagree. I think that yet again designer Ian Callum has come up with a delightful looking car and am confident that anyone who takes a close look at the XE will feel the same way too.
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