Jaguar XE review
The Jaguar XE is our 2016 Compact Executive Car of the Year and offers a fine balance between performance, efficiency and luxury
Make a list of the pros and cons of the Jaguar XE and, frankly, you don’t end up thinking it’s a five-star car. But an objective assessment can’t get across just how good Jaguar’s junior executive saloon feels: subjectively, it’s quite brilliant. It’s beautiful, comfortable, great to drive and has a certain x-factor that the usual German suspects – BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 – just don’t equal. So it's no wonder that it was named our Compact Executive Car of the Year for the second successive time in 2016.
Sure, it’s not perfect – it can feel cramped front and back, and some of the lower level plastics feel a little cheap – but overall it’s a fine ownership prospect, with efficient engines making it very cost effective.
The XE saloon was introduced at just the right time for Jaguar. It filled a hole left by the brand's underwhelming X-Type (axed back in 2009) – arriving just after the new Mercedes C-Class and ahead of the updated BMW 3 Series and all-new Audi A4. It shows just how far Jaguar has come in the past decade, representing a huge leap for British engineering.
Based on a brand new aluminium chassis, and with diesel power from a new engine called ‘Ingenium’ – designed from scratch by Jaguar – the XE may be entry-level Jaguar ownership, but it still demonstrates much of what’s best about the company today.
It’s not perfect, though. It does occasionally veer into ‘built down to a price’ territory in the cabin, particularly the lower level plastics, and it’s missing some of the ‘surprise and delight’ features of the bigger, more expensive XF saloon. You’d probably expect that, in fairness, but the XE cabin is a conservative effort compared to the flamboyancy of Jaguar’s other interiors.
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It’s a little cramped too, in all directions – there’s not a great deal of headroom, rear leg room is restricted, and by volume the boot is the smallest in the junior executive class. Jaguar would argue that these are prices worth paying for the XE’s coupe-like design – and you might argue that too, because the XE is far from space deficient.
There’s no estate variant (yet), but there’s a big selection of trim and engine combinations, meaning the range goes from a zero-VED road tax, 99g/km, 161bhp diesel version to a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol with 335bhp and a soundtrack to match.
Every version comes well equipped enough to feel like a proper compact executive car – touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and parking sensors – but Prestige models upwards have a true high class feel, with leather upholstery, heated seats and brushed aluminium in the cabin.
The range splits into two flavours above Prestige, with R-Sport focusing on sportier elements like bigger wheels, a body kit and stiffer suspension, while Portfolio is more luxurious and less aggressively styled.
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But whatever XE you choose, you’re guaranteed one of the most satisfying blends of ride and handling in the business. It smothers the road, ironing out bumps really well – though slightly less so with sports suspension and bigger wheels – while its rear-wheel drive chassis handles with loads of steering feel.
That sense of quality and driving prowess makes the fact that there’s a VED-free 99g/km version even more impressive, although for that you’ll have to specify a manual gearbox that doesn’t really suit the manner of the car. We’d always choose an automatic in this segment.
But overall, this is a package with such an impressive scope of abilities and options that there’s something suitable for everyone – be they private or business buyers. And it also has that most rare of qualities: character.
Engines, performance and drive
Behind the wheel, the overriding characteristic of the Jaguar XE is the way it feels dynamic yet comfortable at the same time – a difficult trick to pull off.
Jaguar has managed it by using a relatively lightweight aluminium chassis and a sophisticated multi-link suspension setup that smothers the bumps while keeping the wheels firmly in contact with the road, so there’s lots of feel.
The rear-wheel drive chassis always seems firmly planted but there’s a definite sense of the car being pushed from the back and steered from the front – great balance, in other words. Jaguar also introduced an all-wheel drive version of the XE in late 2015, which loses some of that balance in favour of increased traction and stability.
Either way, the XE’s dynamic prowess becomes more significant the further up the engine range you go, with the two most powerful petrol engines – the 237bhp version of the 2.0-litre and the 335bhp supercharged V6 – veering into high-performance territory to a greater or lesser extent.
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However, most XE buyers will go diesel, for running costs reasons. And it must be said that the lower-powered of those engines – the 99g/km 161bhp 2.0-litre – lacks punch. It never quite feels as fast as a Jaguar should and it’s actually a little noisier than you’d want it to be too – a little boomy and harsh at higher revs. Unlike rivals from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Jaguar doesn’t offer a six-cylinder diesel XE, which would bring the option of more smoothness.
Nonetheless, our preferred drivetrain – the 178bhp diesel with an automatic gearbox – is suitably refined for an executive car. That little bit of extra power (and torque) means you don’t have to work the engine as hard for overtaking, while the gearbox is as smooth as you like.
There are two gearboxes for the XE, a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic, though the manual is only available with the diesels. It’s a pleasant gearbox, light of shift action yet precise, but to be honest it doesn’t really suit the nature of the car; a Jaguar feels like it should be powered by an automatic gearbox.
That’s for two reasons: firstly the eight-speed automatic is very good indeed, shifting gears quickly and unobtrusively so that the power feels as uninterrupted as possible. The convenience enhances the XE’s relaxing properties, yet the auto is snappy enough to suit a more aggressive driving style.
But secondly, the rotary gear selector dial that rises from the centre console is the main bit of cabin theatre taken from the bigger XF saloon, and it starts any drive off with something a little bit special. This sounds trivial but it really makes a difference that anyone choosing a manual XE misses out on.
All XE models ride with smoothness and refinement, whether on 17-inch standard wheels or 18/19-inch R-Sport ones – it’s firm but forgiving, and feels exactly how you’d want a small sporting Jaguar saloon to feel.
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The electric power steering is quick to react and offers plenty of feel when away from the slightly numb straight ahead position. Throttle response is good, too, especially if you sharpen things up with the Configurable Dynamics system that allows the driver to select sharper throttle reactions and firmer suspension settings.
There are three available engines for the XE, but five outputs. Of those, the vast majority of sales will go to the Ingenium 2.0-litre diesel engine, available with 161bhp or 178bhp. The alternative 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine has either 197bhp or 237bhp.
Finally, the high performance S model is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol engine putting out 335bhp and giving the XE a 5.1-second 0-62mph sprint.
The headline-grabbing 99g/km car, which means zero VED payments, is the 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox. On paper it looks the business, endowing the XE with a swift 8.4-second 0-62mph time, with its 380Nm maximum torque coming at just 1,750rpm.
However, it’s a little noisy and never feels as quick as that time suggests. You’ll often find yourself shifting gears at lower speeds to get the engine into its narrow power band. It’s generally not befitting of an executive car – especially if you’ve plumped for that engine/gearbox combo in a more expensive R-Sport or Portfolio specification.
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It’s much better, we think, to go for the 178bhp unit with an eight-speed automatic. It’s the same basic engine, yes, but it has significantly more torque (430Nm also at 1,750rpm) so it has noticeably more shove. Jaguar’s automatic is one of the smoothest in the class too, as mentioned earlier.
The four-cylinder petrol engine, a 2.0-litre unit with 197bhp or 237bhp, lacks character compared to the six-cylinder engines offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But it does have the sort of top-end pace and smoothness that the diesels do not, so if you’re less bothered about running costs and more concerned by getting the most refined XE experience possible, it’s the one to go for. The 237bhp one especially feels quite rapid – both in a straight line and through the corners.
The flagship XE (at the moment) is the 3.0-litre supercharged V6 in the S and its stats are remarkable: 155mph and 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds. You’ll also draw a smile from the knowledge that it’s an engine also found in the F-Type sports car.
The noise it makes here is more muted than in the snarling Jaguar coupe, but it’s still a visceral roar, and really gives the XE that extra dimension – a ‘proper Jaguar’ engine. That said, it’s ultimately not quite as ‘kick-you-in-the-gut’ rapid as you might expect.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Jaguar developed the XE’s 2.0-litre diesel engine from scratch and builds it in a purpose made factory in the UK. While it doesn’t set the world alight performance-wise, it’s a very clean unit.
Available in two power guises, the lower 161bhp version puts the XE into VED band A with a manual gearbox, while the 178bhp unit with a manual is in band B with 109gkm – that’s remarkable for what is a strongly performing executive saloon.
Our favourite XE, though, is the 178bhp diesel with Jaguar’s eight-speed automatic gearbox. It emits just 111g/km CO2, which sadly pushes it into band C, but you’re still looking at just £30 per year in VED – less than half a tank of fuel. Even the all-wheel drive version, introduced with a model update in late 2015, emits just 123g/km.
That all means you’re looking at 74.3mpg at the best end of the diesel scale and 60.1mpg at the other, which means in any event you’ll comfortably exceed 50mpg in daily driving – and 60mpg in the lower powered manual. It also means that the benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax you’ll outlay on the XE will be relatively small, a combination of reasonable list prices across the board and low CO2 emissions; the BIK rating of the 161bhp manual is just 15%.
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It is worth noting, however, that the Jaguar’s two main rivals – the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class – have much larger engine ranges and therefore lower entry prices. The base price for a BMW 318i is some £2,000 lower than the cheapest XE, for example.
In general the XE doesn’t have the price advantage over rivals that some Jaguars have had, but all models tend to be slightly better equipped than rivals like-for-like. In such a hugely competitive sector, we’d expect maintenance costs for the Jaguar to be on par with rivals, too.
So, as ever the question of value is more complicated than asking which is cheapest, but still, low running costs can’t be claimed for the petrol versions of the XE. At its worst, the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 XE returns 34.9mpg combined with a gas-guzzling 194g/km CO2.
Saying that, even the entry level XE, with an auto and a 198bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, returns just 37.7mpg on the combined cycle – which means getting 30mpg in real life will be doing well. The more powerful 237bhp offers no trade off for the increased power output, though, so if your budget allows then we'd stretch to the fast car.
Insurance groups start at 24 for the 161bhp diesel manual, rising to 35 for the supercharged S, putting the XE on par with its rivals. A BMW 318d, for example, is also in group 24, while a BMW 335i is in group 38.
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Every XE comes with remote central locking, an alarm and an engine immobilizer, as you’d expect, but the ‘premium’ cost of parts and labour for accident repairs means insurance costs are suitably premium also.
The XE is such a new model that residuals are unproven – and those quoted for the model are likely to take a small hit given how popular the saloon is already proving to be. However, after three years and 30,000 miles Jaguar expects a 45% residual value, which is in keeping with rivals.
As usual, it’s important to spec your car wisely in order to protect its value, which in this segment means desirable specification like R-Sport, an automatic gearbox, leather interior and muted paint shades – not a base spec diesel on small wheels in flat red and with cloth seats, in other words. Jaguar has stated an aim to protect residuals by not discounting the car heavily.
Interior, design and technology
The Jaguar XE may look conservative in pictures, partly owing to a similarity to the bigger Jaguar XF, but on the road it has real presence; Jaguar has developed a strong, coherent look for all its models, with the XE, XF, XJ, F-Type and F-Pace all sharing traits. Those traits are wide, slim headlights, an upright grille and a low, sleek bonnet.
The ‘J-Blade’ daytime running LEDs in the headlights accentuate the car’s width at the front, while the rear LEDs do the same job at the back. The low roofline gives the car a coupe-like stance, although this is to the detriment of headroom in the cabin – a problem shared with Jaguar’s biggest saloon, the XJ, in fact.
R-Sport and range-topping S variants add beefier front and rear bumpers as well as larger alloy wheels, while there’s more chrome exterior trim in Portfolio models, to give it a more understated, classy appearance. But it’s the sporty stuff that really suits the XE most, with the more aggressive styling amplifying its proportions.
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The inside is simple yet stylish, with a wraparound fascia similar to the XJ’s, which makes the car feel welcoming inside. That said, there’s evidence of cost cutting in the cabin, most notably the lower level plastics, which aren’t soft touch, and the general plainness of the design.
Plainness means intuitiveness here too, however, so while you’ll miss out on the fun of fathoming out what all the buttons do – as per a DS 5, say – you’ll instantly know where everything is and what it does. Again, this adds to a sense of class from a cabin that will, for the same reason, probably age very well.
Jaguar XE models start out with the entry-level SE, and move up through to Prestige, R-Sport and Portfolio specs. The 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is only available in higher-spec R-Sport and Portfolio trims, and the range-topping V6 comes only in bespoke XE S trim level.
All XE models come with touch screen navigation, cruise control, climate control, 17-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard.
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Move up to Prestige and you’ll add leather upholstery, a rear armrest, heated front seats and aluminium trim. R-Sport specification changes the look quite dramatically, with 18-inch alloys, perforated leather sports seats, a body kit, lowered sports suspension and a black radiator grille. Portfolio, on the other hand, comes with an improved stereo, more luxurious leather chairs and a more classic Jaguar style chrome grille.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
One area where the XE really excels is in its infotainment technology. The car was launched with an eight-inch touchscreen interface, complete with ‘InControl apps’ that can be downloaded to a smartphone. They allow the car to be located in a car park and locked remotely along with all manner of other useful things, all from the phone.
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The system was upgraded with the late 2015 model update (which Jaguar called the “2017 model year,” confusingly), bringing a 10.2-inch screen with more sensitive touch functionality, quicker response and, by virtue of its size, a clearer display.
It includes features like Apple CarPlay and compatibility with an Apple Watch, and is a far more pleasant and intuitive system to operate than those from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The XE gets comfort spot on when it comes to ride quality. Regardless of wheel and tyre choice, it levels out most road surfaces in the spirit of a more expensive, more luxurious car. This is one of its most alluring qualities.
The driving position is pretty spot-on too, with plenty of adjustment – the wheel comes back some distance, and the chair is set low, again giving the XE the feel of a coupe. Taller drivers might find the roof lining a little too close for comfort, but it should accommodate all but the very tallest.
The chairs themselves are soft and comfortable too, even the sportier, more figure hugging ones in R-Sport and S cars.
The cabin isn’t perfect, though. The centre console does feel wider than those of rivals, and hefty A-pillars create a bit of a blind spot, especially if you sit as low as possible in the car.
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And as usual, the saloon format means that the standard boot space is your lot – there’s no folding the rear seats down for additional loading space. Technically, only the BMW 3-Series GT does that in this segment, and as yet there’s no XE estate.
There is a decent amount of storage in the cabin though, with good-sized door pockets and nets for rear passengers. The central storage bin is sizeable too, as is the glove compartment.
The XE of course conforms to the conventional ‘three-box’ shape of the executive saloon segment, but it’s actually a little longer and wider than the BMW 3 Series, while also being lower. The last of those properties explains the very slight headroom deficiency, and the coupe-like profile, although Jaguar could have perhaps squeezed a little more legroom and boot space from the cabin.
In terms of manoeuvrability the XE is fine, because despite the low seating position it’s easy to judge the corners thanks to its short overhangs and decent visibility.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The XE is a lot more fun when you’re sitting up front generally. That wide centre console hides a thick transmission tunnel, which is most obvious in the back. It’ll make things uncomfortable for a third rear passenger in the middle, and amplifies the XE’s main problem – cramped rear seats.
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You’d expect a car of this length (and in this class) to have more space behind the front seats. Anyone over six-foot might find their fancy haircut being flattened by the XE’s roof lining.
The doors open nice and wide at the front and back, making getting in and out easy, but that transmission tunnel means anyone sitting in the middle rear seat will have their knees apart and feet fighting for space with those of passengers sitting in the outer chairs.
The boot is an okay size, but it’s quantifiably smaller and noticeably shallower than those of rivals – the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Lexus IS all boast 480-litre boots, while the XE’s is 455 litres. That reduces by a further five litres if you specify a space saver spare wheel in place of the standard tyre repair kit.
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Pragmatically, you might struggle to squeeze two larger golf bags side-by-side into the boot, should you be the sort of Jaguar driver who conforms to that particular cliché.
Reliability and Safety
Jaguar has a fine reputation for reliability these days, coming an excellent second in the manufacturer rankings of out Driver Power survey for the last two years running (2014 and 2015). Owners love their Jaguars, it seems.
That said, Jaguar’s results tend to be do well more because drivers love their performance and handling rather than reliability – the XJ, for example, which finished eighth overall in 2015, came a poor 124th for reliability.
But Jaguar’s dealers are on top of their game when it comes to customer service, standard of workmanship and general attitude. They’re not the cheapest, as you’d expect, but Jaguar owners are generally far more satisfied with the dealership experience than BMW or Mercedes owners are.
With all that in mind it’s difficult to predict how the XE, a new model with a brand new chassis and diesel engine, will fare – but we’re not hearing of any major reliability concerns.
On the safety front there’s no need to worry, with the car achieving an excellent result in its Euro NCAP crash test. Its 92 per cent adult occupant rating in particular is brilliant, with six airbags, traction control, stability control and Isofix for child seats all standard.
More impressively, lane departure warning is standard fit too, as is emergency low speed automatic braking – a system that applies the brakes to mitigate a crash if it detects one is imminent. Those two very useful pieces of safety technology are often optional with other cars, so it’s good to see them included as standard.
The Jaguar XE comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, meaning business buyers looking to do big mileages can have peace of mind. It’s fairly standard aside from the mileage de-restriction, covering any mechanical or electrical parts that fail outside of what could be considered normal wear and tear. Jaguar offers a 12-month extended warranty too, also covering unlimited mileage and including car-hire and Europe-wide coverage.
As mentioned earlier, Jaguar’s dealer network has gained an exceptional reputation, partly owing to the work of the service departments, whose work is generally outstanding and comprehensively explained to customers.
And to mitigate the cost, Jaguar offers fixed price service plans, separated by petrol or diesel models. A diesel XE can have its servicing covered for five years or 50,000 miles for £475, or £659 for a high-mileage plan (up to 75,000 miles). Petrol engines are a little more expensive pro rata, costing £475 for a three-year/30,000-mile policy on a 2.0-litre engine, or £659 for a three-year, 48,000-mile plan on a 3.0-litre.
Usefully, the plans also cover costs up to £750 for repair and replacement of parts needed to pass the fourth- and fifth-year MOT tests.