Historically, Jaguar has differentiated itself from the established fleet of luxo-barges by projecting a British image. If you ask what that image might be made up of, the answer lies somewhere between wood panelling and leather surfacing applied to create a “clubby” environment. That in turn means a less clinical approach to design but the reality is that time moves on and Jaguar simply had to find a way of blending traditional elements with modernity or risk sinking into the annals of history.
The XF model led the new design direction and was soon followed by the mildly-controversial XJ-series which found particular favour at No.10 Downing Street. Both models received enthusiastic reviews in the global press but from a strictly business point of view, volumes simply don’t exist at this relatively stratospheric end of the car market.
If economies of scale were to be realised, Jaguar had to expand into territory jealously guarded by three rather well-known German marques. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call this the “compact sports saloon” class — more generally tagged the D-segment — a formidable space to contest, for sure.
Jaguar’s answer is the XE, an aluminium-intensive entry-level luxury sedan kitted out with double-wishbone suspension and enough Jaguar design cues to make absolutely sure it cannot be confused with those pesky Teutons.
Three engine options are available, namely 2.0 litre petrol and diesel derivatives plus a 3.0 supercharged petrol V6 which is the subject of this assessment.
Aside from the modern underpinnings, about which more in a moment, the XE is unashamedly created to project a sporting image and of all the powertrains available, the 250kW six is the best-equipped even if the greater mass of the bigger motor weighs upon the front suspension.
At start-up, achieved via a push button, this V6 roars its intentions until the cold-start sensors slow the rate of rotation and ensure that a creamy and less extrovert idle delivery is summonsed. A glance behind showed that my opposite neighbour was indeed interested in the source of this predatory roar. She would have been unaware though, that the traditional rising gear selector was summonsing my left hand to start the day’s action.
Even with the blurring effect of lace curtains, she couldn’t fail to identify this as a Jaguar as all the design cues of the bigger XF are present and correct, albeit it in a more compact execution marked out by sporty detailing. For sure, the XE adopts a sporting stance on its 235/35R20 rubber which is wrapped around sexy-looking Y-spoke alloys.
The theme continues with gaping honeycomb front grilles and swept-back xenon lights complementing gloss black sill extensions and a vestigial boot spoiler. A faux black diffuser completes the rear end although I did think the two circular chromed exhaust outlets could have been massaged for more visual effect.
Happily, the anthracite metallic paintwork showed off a deep gloss and not too much orange peel, albeit that I did note a few minor alignment variations around the window frames. The important point is that the XE holds its own when it comes to external visual appeal.
Open a door via the keyless entry facility and the Jaguar design cues continue, particularly in terms of the sweeping line that extends from the dashboard extremities into the front doors. This element creates a cocoon-like environment which is further accentuated by the low-set and extremely supportive and comfortable leather -clad front seats that enjoy electric adjustment with memory.
Curiously, the primary instrument cluster, featuring a coarsely-marked rev counter and speedo which flank a digital read out, is off-set to the left such that the leather-bound steering wheel partly obscures the left side of the cluster. And talking of visibility, this Jag is constructed with rather hefty roof pillars which confer a secure feeling but also impair visibility, especially to the rear, so the presence of a rear camera is reassuring.
Happily, the latest infotainment installation lays to rest the bugbears of old with a much more simple and more intuitive 8–inch display that controls excellent Meridian sound, air con, sat nav and phone. Sub-menus are accessible via a swipe motion while driving modes can be changed via small switches behind the rotary gear selector. Rest assured that the XE lacks for little in terms of equipment, full details of which can be accessed on www.jaguar.co.zw.
While the overall ambience is very smart, there are some elements of the cabin, not least the speaker housings, lower reach plastics and window switches as well as the front, outer air vents that could usefully be upgraded in terms of tactile and visual qualities. And please, Jaguar, get rid of that stalk-controlled light switch and install a dash-mounted rotary switch ….. just like the Germans do.
If the front occupants are well looked after, those in the rear will find their space somewhat confined, especially in terms of knee room. The seat is unashamedly shaped for two and serves up unusually high levels of support for a rear pew, but that shortage of space cannot be evaded. The auto-opening/closing boot, however, is commodious enough at 455 litres.
It won’t have escaped your notice, I trust, that the XE places a high emphasis on its sporting prowess. With the supercharged XE-S, this begins under the bonnet and ends at the tailpipes. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to a 1950s Jag D-type on full song, you’ll know that this XE comes from the same bloodline.
When pressed hard to achieve the scintillating 0-100 time of 5.1s, the motor howls a delicious six pot melody while the exhausts emit a baritone bark that tells you there’s real energy at play here. Indeed, in Dynamic mode, any application of the throttle creates an aural response from the rear quarters, as well as sharpened responses all round, but what makes this motor so pleasing is its dual personality.
In normal drive mode, the XE cruises peacefully and isolates mechanical and wind noises with aplomb. It’s also acceptably parsimonious on fuel while cruising which means around 10.2l/100 km but don’t expect much better than 14.0l/100 km in regular use. On smoother surfaces, the big low profile tyres are also commendably subdued but on coarse tar, some road noise intrudes although never to a debilitating extent.
As you’d expect, directional stability is first class but it’s the Jag’s ability to shrug-off broken road surfaces taken at speed that is stand out. Sure, the ride is adjustable but despite the low profile rubber, there’s an underlying pliancy at work that doesn’t in any way instil a sloppy feel in the chassis. Indeed, the harder the XE is pushed, the more its chassis shines, particularly in terms of assured turn-in.
Even the electric power steering manages to feel alive in whatever mode is selected and provides easy wheel movement at parking speed with a firmer, more responsive feel on offer at higher speeds. The brakes too are near flawless with a perfectly weighted pedal providing powerful retardation without a hint of over-assistance that can make feathered stops so hard to achieve.
As for the auto gearbox, this 8-speed ZF device made its mark a long time ago and is a paragon of virtue, slurring changes when throttle loads are low and changing with alacrity when the pressure is on. Aside from having convenient paddle shifters which facilitate manual override, the box rarely does things you wouldn’t expect and gives the lie to any stories that auto boxes spoil driving pleasure.
So, how does the most aero-efficient Jaguar ever produced, shape up? For serious drivers, the answer can be sourced in two words – extremely well.
Its dynamic qualities are hugely rewarding thanks to its abilities to remain unfazed even in the face of some decidedly hard driving. It does though, suffer from poor rear space which for some may be an insurmountable issue. There are also some signs inside that the bean counters have had a say here and there in the selection of trim materials, but these glitches are minor in relation to the excellence of the overall package.
Those Germans do indeed have a serious rival on their hands especially as the Jaguar, in the sub-Sahara Africa market, is sold with a comforting and all-encompassing five-year/150 000 km warranty backed up in Zimbabwe by Premier Auto.
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