For a car maker to survive these days, huge sales volumes are required. Even the specialist makers who used to build a three figure total of cars in a year have had to increase both production and sales by a significant number, as without, it proves impossibly hard to generate the funds to allow continued compliance with ever-changing and tightening regulations let alone the funds to allow for the development of a new model, something which will be needed sooner rather than later in a world where the buying public seemingly always the latest product. The German premium brands managed to grow at quite some pace when they extended their ranges downwards to compete at a price point which was always likely to generate far more sales than had been the case when they were only producing executive saloons and costly sports cars. Volume has begat more volume, with massive economies of scale, thus allowing for more competitive pricing and financing whilst still generating the funds to create yet more new products. Jaguar Land Rover spotted this trend and tried to do the same, with the Jaguar part extending beyond the single saloon model range that had served them well since the 1968 launch of the XJ Series when in the autumn of 1998 they launched something a little smaller and cheaper, the 1998 S Type. They went down a further segment in late 2000 with the X Type, which was aimed directly at the 3 Series, C Class and Audi A4. Initial reviews were quite promising, but quickly the Press and Public turned against complaining that it was essentially a Mondeo with premium ambitions and pricing. Sales were correspondingly underwhelming. The larger S Type did not do that well, either. But when it was replaced by something that cast aside any hint of retro-styling with the XF of 2007, the prognosis looked better for Jaguar’s sales volumes to start to rise. Certainly there was nothing wrong with the car, though even after diesel engines and the Sport Brake model had joined the range, it still did not have the number of variants offered by its rivals, all of which had built up a strong following. A smaller car was called for, and after a wait of many years, rumours started to circulate that this was exactly what Jaguar were planning. The result was the XE, which was officially launched at the 2014 Paris Show, with sales starting in early 2015. Looking like a slightly smaller XF, the on-paper promise seem to be matched by the driving reality, as the press reported when they finally got behind the wheel. The XE comes only with a saloon body, but it does have a range of petrol and diesel engines, rear or all-wheel drive and on paper, it looked ready to give its German rivals a bloody nose.
I’ve been keen to try an XE ever since the car was first launched. Indeed, so impressed was I by what I saw and read that it was on the short list of cars to replace my much-loved Audi S5 Sportback, back in 2016. I tried to drive one then. But continued lack of responsiveness by the local dealer, and a failure even to come up with a ball-park price, let alone a test car, crowned by finally having an appointment to fix these which the salesman cut short by making another appointment taking most of the schedule time away meant that I gave up. As is well documented here, I ordered a Maserati instead, with which I am extremely happy. However, I did continue to wonder just what the XE would have been like. As supply built up, they started to appear in various rental fleets around the world. In early 2017, Hertz in the US took delivery of a batch of them, along with the larger XF. Both have proved popular with customers, so it’s taken a while to source one, as whenever I asked, the ones I saw on site were reserved for another customer, but finally, I spotted one in the Presidents Circle part of the Ultimate Choice area at LAX. It was even in an interesting colour, which Jaguar call Odyssey Red, a rather nice deep shade which makes a change from the mainly white ones that Hertz have purchased. It was first plated in April 2017, and so was from the early batch of cars that Hertz US had received, and was showing 24,000 miles. It was mine for a day, and I took it up the coast to Ventura and Santa Barbara and thence on into the mountains to see what it was like.
There was a 25t badge on the boot of the car. I’ve still not quite got my brain around Jaguar’s latest badging scheme, but remembering that the XF that I sampled six months previously had borne 35t badges, and that turned out to be powered by the 3 litre six cylinder engine, I guessed that this one would be the smaller four cylinder. My guess turned out to be correct. This is the entry level unit offered to US customers, who are also offered the 2 litre diesel (surprisingly) and the 3 litre petrol. Much has been written about Jaguar’s new Ingenium units, and not all of it entirely positive, with many citing a lack of refinement as making it less impressive than similar sized units in rival products. I found little to complain about in this respect, though equally, there was nothing to get excited about, either. There’s no aural pleasure to be found with this engine, but it goes about its job in a decent enough way. Where it disappoints is probably more a fault of the software programming in the standard eight speed automatic gearbox, which has a habit of hanging onto a higher gear than is ideal for any form of acceleration. This can make the XE seem almost sluggish at times, but the solution is to press the accelerator pedal harder than you might expect you would have to do, and then there is sufficient extra shove to make the car actually seem pleasingly brisk. It is not outright fast, and I was mindful of the fact that the previous day, I had been driving a Mercedes-AMG C63, which most certainly was, but even so, there was plenty of whoosh when it was needed, especially climbing some of the slopes up over the Carritas Pass towards San Ysidro. The engine never really got that noisy, and at a steady speed, was nicely muted, which, along with low levels of noise from the wind and road meant that this was a restful freeway cruiser. It proved to be quite an economical one, too. I covered 305 miles in the day, and the fuel gauge was showing only just under half full before I brimmed it, meaning that there is decent range. I put in exactly 10 US gallons, which gives a consumption of 30 mpg US, or 35.84 mpg Imperial, a good result. There is a Stop/Start system, fitted (which you can disable, though – surprisingly- the last renter had not done so). It was a bit abrupt when cutting in and out when edging along in the notorious traffic of the 405 freeway headed back to the Hertz facility.
It is the other driving dynamics which led the XE to be placed at the top of its class by an enthusiastic (UK) motoring press, and for it to receive high praise from those in other countries. And they were right to be so positive, as even from what you could discover from public roads, this is an impressive machine. There is a nice chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel, though after a year’s rental car use, it was very shiny and smooth to the touch. But it is what it connects to that was more important. This Jaguar steers very nicely, with a lovely precision to it, leaving you very clear as to exactly what those steered wheels are going to do. The handling is excellent, too. There is no body roll to speak of, and the XE simply corners as readily as it goes in a straight line, with plenty of grip, and no understeer to speak of. It would take a track to find the limits, but even in this relatively low powered car, you are sure that in most cases, the car will be capable of far more than the driver. On public roads, with sheer drops on the side in places, I was not going to find out! The test car had relatively high profile and small 225/50 R17 wheels on it, and no doubt these contributed to the ride quality, which proved to be excellent. This really is a comfortable car to be in, and it coped with the very varied and often truly awful surfaces of California’s roads in a way that the AMG Mercedes could only dream about. If you want to change things, there are different suspension settings which you can play with,. but for most of the test, I left it in standard “comfort” mode and was happy with the results. There were no issues with the brakes, which proved powerful, and with excellent feel to the pedal. There is an electronic handbrake, set with a small button in the centre console. The only gripe from behind the wheel was visibility. It was angled junctions where I had the problem, as the B pillar is extremely thick, and – perhaps exacerbated by where I had the seat positioned – there were several times when I struggled to see at all the piece of road I needed to. Otherwise, all was good, and there was a rear-view camera to help when parking up, though the stubby tail meant that judging the back of the car was not that hard, and the Jaguar proved quite easy to place on the road and to manoeuvre. There was a heated front screen, and you could just about see the elements in the screen, but these were not really intrusive, and this feature would be a boon in icy weather.
The interior of the XE manifests the family style. The overall design is neat, and unfussy looking, and mostly comprises some nice quality materials, though the downside of the gloss black inlays around the gearlever are that a combination of fingerprints and dust make it look like it needs a clean within minutes of setting off. The instruments are housed under a curved binnacle, and there are two large analogue dials for speed and the rev counter, with a trip computer display between them, the various options for which you cycle through by pressing the selection buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke. Be warned that depending on what the display is showing, some of these will change the radio station as well. Two chunky column stalks are used, for lights and indicators on the left and wipers on the right. There are also wheel mounted paddles for manual gear shifts if you want to override the automatic function. Cruise control is from the buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. The centre of the dash has the integrated 8″ touch sensitive colour display unit, which has some buttons on either side of it. This operates the audio unit, which rather surprisingly lacked XM Satellite radio, various settings and also navigation, though when I touched this, it told me that there was no SD card in the car, so no navigation! There’s a double row of buttons beneath this for the dual zone climate control, and beneath these, to one side, is the engine Start button. In the centre console, you will find the cylindrical gear selector which rises up when the engine is started. It proved very easy to use. Plenty have complained about the interior of the XE relative to its rivals, but I saw nothing here to warrant their criticisms.
If the mark of a sports saloon is that you feel you are sitting in it as opposed to on it, then the XE scores well, as that is certainly the impression I had, especially after I adjusted the seat to get my optimum position. There are electric adjusters on the side of the seat for height, seat backrest rake and fore/aft. The column adjusts by twisting a release that is marked with a lock symbol on it, on the right hand side, and it telescopes in and out as well as up and down. I would have appreciated a height adjuster on the seat belt mounting, as it was too low for me. The leather trimmed seat proved especially comfortable, and with a low setting to the seat and plenty of light coming in through the sunroof, this was a nice place to be.
Those in the back may not agree quite so readily. Space here is tight. Far tighter than in rival products, and this is the one drawback of the car which cannot really be fixed until a redesign occurs. With the front seat set well back, legroom is marginal indeed, and even with it set well forward, as it was for my driving position, there is less room here than you will find in the XE’s rivals. There is a sizeable transmission tunnel, as well, so a middle occupant would get quite a raw deal There is a drop-down armrest, which has a pair of cup holders in its upper surface, but no cubby. Indeed, oddments space in the cabin in general is limited, as those in the back are also deprived of map pockets, so they only get some rather modest door bins. Those in the front get a reasonable sized glove box, a cubby under the twin-lidded central armrest which is quite deep but nothing like as bid as the lids would lead you to expect, door bins and a pair of cupholders in the centre console.
The boot is actually quite a good size, but the stubby tail means that the area through which you would have to thread things is not that large, so you may struggle to get things in. There is a bit of space under the boot floor around the space-saver tyre. The rear seat backrests were fixed, so there is no potential to get longer loads in the car at all.
US market Jaguar XE models are available in four trims. Base, Premium, and Prestige trims come standard with the 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with the 2 litre turbodiesel engine available for an extra $1,500. This comes standard in the R-Sport trim. All but the base trim can be equipped with the 3 litre supercharged V6 for $4,200. All-wheel drive can be added to the Turbodiesel and V6 models for an additional $2,500. View of the US press is that buyers should stick with the well-equipped base model, as it has plenty of features, and you can add desirable extras like heated seats and a heated steering wheel for just a little more money. The Premium trim is several thousand dollars more but doesn’t add many meaningful features. The test car was a base model. This lists at $34,900 and comes standard with leatherette upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch touch-screen infotainment system, Bluetooth, a USB port, a six-speaker audio system, HD Radio, push-button start, a moonroof, and InControl Remote. The Cold Climate package ($1,000) adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a heated windshield, and heated washer jets. Standalone options, which cost a few hundred dollars each, include satellite radio, navigation, InControl Apps, and a rearview camera. The $37,500 Premium trim adds an 11-speaker Meridian audio system, a rearview camera, and driver’s seat memory settings. The Vision package ($2,400) comes with blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, and bi-xenon headlights. The Cold Climate package mentioned above is also available for this trim. Standalone options for the Premium trim include satellite radio, navigation, and a Wi-Fi hot spot. Priced at $41,400, the Prestige trim gets you leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, navigation, a voice recognition system, and InControl Apps. The Vision package is also available for the Prestige trim. The Comfort and Convenience package ($2,100) adds ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a power trunk lid, and a power rear-window sunshade. The Technology package ($2,700) gets you a 10.2-inch infotainment system, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a 17-speaker Meridian audio system. Standalone options, which range from a few hundred up to a thousand dollars, include an adaptive suspension, satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a head-up display. The R-Sport tops out the line and is priced at $46,500. It comes with unique styling elements, front sport seats, satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hot spot, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, active lane keep assist, and driver drowsiness monitoring. Aside from the Comfort and Convenience and Technology packages mentioned above, you can add the Driver Assistance package for $3,200, which adds adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, a traffic sign recognition system, and active park assist. Standalone options include adaptive suspension, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a head-up display.
I know that this car has been on fleet for a year, and don’t know what has happened to it during those 24,000 miles, though a lot of tiny stone chips on the front bumper and a slightly mis-aligned fit to one corner of it suggest a hard life. But that’s not unusual for rental cars. Even so it was disappointing to note that the entire door casing on one rear door was loose, and the side sill plate on the driver’s seat was also loose. One or two of the other interior fittings were not very well fitted, suggesting that Jaguar may yet have work to on quality and durability. The last rental Jaguar I had, an XF, suffered a “battery not charging” warning light, and I never made it out of the facility before swapping it out.
I liked the XE. It was good to drive, was frugal, comfortable, generally nicely equipped (though there were a few features you would need to add), and I think it looks good. The engine was the weak point. The chassis can clearly handle a lot more power, and so a more potent unit, with a better sound-track to it would probably alleviate that. Of course, Jaguar sell just such a car, the 3.0 litre S model. Indeed that is the one that I was interested in as a potential to be my own car. Put that under the bonnet, and you have a car where only the relatively cramped back seat is going to be something you would have to ask whether you can accept or not. When you look at the sales figures, though, you can see that buyers might be looking at the car (if they can find a dealer who is more interested in a sale than mine clearly was!), but they end up buying German. On the evidence of the tests I’ve made, I would select this XE over the petrol-engined Mercedes C Class without hesitation, as it has a rough unrefined engine (until the new generation units arrive), and the one I tested in the US had a ride that was truly terrible. I was less wow-ed by the 3 Series that I drove than the (UK) press had led me to expect, so that might be another easy scalp to claim. The Audi A4, though – again currently only sampled with a diesel engine and a manual box – I liked a lot. It had no weak points, and does have more space in it, and the interior fittings are of higher quality. Hertz US have a few of these, and I need to try one to see if in comparable spec, it is preferable to the Jaguar. But for me, the great unknown, still, and the car I think I would pick from the heart, regardless of what the head says, is the Alfa Romeo Giulia.