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Compact Executive Car of the Year 2016: Jaguar XE

The Jaguar XE is the 2016 Auto Express Compact Executive Car of the Year, with the BMW 3 Series and Lexus IS commended

After years of striving, Jaguar finally cracked the compact executive market in 2015 – and its excellent XE has held on to top spot this year.

Other upmarket small saloons are more efficient, roomier or better equipped, but none can match the baby big cat’s beguiling mix of talents. With its sleek looks, cosseting cabin and perfect ride and handling balance, the Jag feels a cut above its rivals.

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Like all of the brand’s recent models, the XE is underpinned by a lightweight aluminium structure that helps deliver punchy performance, responsive driving dynamics and remarkable efficiency – some models boast CO2 emissions as low as 99g/km. At the heart of the car is the brand’s Ingenium diesel engine, which is available in 161bhp and 178bhp guises. Both come with a slick six-speed manual box as standard, but for a little extra you can get an eight-speed automatic, which makes the most of the eager 2.0-litre engine’s torquey delivery.

Best executive cars on sale

Another highlight is the XE’s agile and engaging handling, which is aided by the rear-wheel-drive layout and quick and accurate steering. Yet the Jag’s party trick is that it combines this back-road prowess with a remarkably supple ride.

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Of course, there’s more to a top compact executive than sharp driving dynamics and eager acceleration. Inside, the XE is a little more cramped than some, but the typical Jaguar feeling of being cocooned offsets any shortfall in space. And while it’s not quite as tightly constructed as rivals, the use of soft leather seat coverings and classy trim inserts proves a true understanding of luxury.

Jaguar XE Long term test - front tracking 4

You get plenty of kit, while the brand’s latest touchscreen infotainment system is a match for the best. What’s more, the addition of a four-wheel-drive option has further boosted the XE’s appeal.

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Factor in the car’s handsome lines, low running costs and top-notch dealer service, and it’s clear the competition has plenty of catching up to do.

Our choice 

Jaguar XE 2.0d R Sport auto (£34,775)

Racy R Sport styling additions give the handsome XE a subtle injection of aggression, while stiffer suspension sharpens handling without damaging ride comfort. Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre diesel mixes effortless performance with penny-pinching running costs. We’d recommend the eight-speed automatic gearbox, too.

Commended

BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series 2015 320d - cornering

The BMW 3 Series is still the best exec to drive thanks to its sublime rear-wheel-drive handling balance. It’s also available with a wide range of engines, from turbo three-cylinder petrols to mighty straight-six diesels. It’s not cheap to buy, but the classy BMW is worth every penny.

Lexus IS

While most compact executives stick to a tried-and-tested template, the Lexus IS dares to be different. Under the sleek body is a petrol/electric powertrain that mixes decent performance with low emissions. The bold interior sets the standard for fit and finish.

Auto Express New Car Awards 2016 

For complete, in-depth coverage of the New Car Awards 2016, buy your collector's edition copy of the Auto Express magazine now or click here to subscribe...  

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