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Jaguar XE S: Driven

The last of the line for six-cylinder small Jags, and what a fine way to bow out

By Matt Bird / Tuesday, May 08, 2018

So the six-cylinder Jaguar saloon is done, dusted, and never to see the light of day again. Well certainly for the XE and XF that is, and who would bet against the XJ one day following? It's hardly a new engine, after all. Loath though we are to admit it, the decision to drop the petrol XE and XF S models is eminently sensible: they accounted for just two per cent of sales and, with emissions under ever-increasing scrutiny, an XE that emitted just 5g/km less than an Audi RS4 must have been hard to justify.

On paper, then, the move is entirely understandable. Trouble is, the process of driving, of owning and using a car, doesn't take place on paper. It takes place in the real world, with senses and feeling and emotion involved, without wishing to Queef all over your Monday afternoon. And when you get to the business of driving, the XE S remains a fine device.

Predictably a 380hp swansong hasn't cured some of the baby Jag's biggest bugbears. For a car of this size, there isn't enough room in the back. For a car of this price, some of the materials don't feel expensive enough and the infotainment doesn't work slickly enough. And for a car of this category, there is still a suspicion that a Jaguar badge may not sway buyers as convincingly as an Audi, BMW or Mercedes one.

They should drive the Jaguar; that would help. Because despite the foibles, despite the strength of the opposition and despite this particular car now facing its demise, the XE S is still a delightful car to drive. It fulfils the sports saloon brief so convincingly that you wonder why others struggle to match it; there isn't a super shouty circuit setting, because cars like this won't go on track. By the same token there's not a mode that makes everything super stiff (again often purporting to be sporty) or gearbox calibration that kicks down at the merest toe flex. The XE isa relaxing yet engaging car to drive quickly in Britain, comfortable yet charming and rather good fun, too.

The engine is a key part of that appeal, and it would be a huge surprise to find the four-cylinder replacement able to equal it. A V6 twice the size of a Fiesta ST's engine (and with twice the cylinders) probably looks indulgent nowadays, but what it means is that the XE always has a delicious surfeit of power and torque. Not in a wild, uncontrollable, muscle car kind of way, rather the kind that means you always have the performance you need in any gear, at any revs. The XE is as accommodating of shuffling through the ratios on a broad torque curve as it is singing out to 7,000rpm, supercharger providing instant throttle response and speed disdainfully accrued. We're used to supersaloons toting more than 600hp now, though don't forget the XE's 380hp peak comes with a 1,635kg kerbweight; an E39 M5, by comparison, boasted 400hp and 1,825kg, so it's certainly fast. Really bloody rapid might describe it a bit better, if only that didn't sound so uncouth.

And it sounds fabulous. V6s aren't absent in this sector - see the Audi S4 and the Mercedes-AMG C43 - though there's something more purposeful and authentic about the Jag's noise. The sharp, angry bark is familiar from the F-Type, albeit at a slightly more subdued, marginally less boisterous volume here. Again, this much engine noise may seem a bit gratuitous - but, hey, if you've got it then flaunt it, right?

Combine this engine with a good gearbox and a chassis of real talent and it's easy to see why the XE is so likeable. It's better damped than a 340i, more engaging than an S4 and more nimble than a Kia Stinger. The Jaguar is not a car for on the limit (or beyond), but that's entirely the point; the XE feels like it's been designed with brisk road driving in mind, because that's what saloons do, and that's where it excels. The ride retains some Jag suppleness, even on big wheels, yet also deals authoritatively with what the road offers up. The steering remains one of the best EPAS set ups out there and the balance of grip between front and rear is spot on - familiar comment though it may sound, this is a beautifully sorted Jag chassis.

That's most likely true for all other XEs; what make this one different of course is what's being lost, and what we keep banging on about: a rousing, potent, exciting supercharged V6, an engine that makes a great sound and delivers all the performance you could ever realistically need. When we drove this engine in the XF, it was described as "deeply likeable", concluding that being "a more traditionally luxurious offering is perhaps the strongest asset it has." And the same feels true for the XE; you probably don't need a supercharged V6 with the best part of 400hp, but it's very, very hard to think of going with anything less after a drive - it really is lovely. The significant test for the four-cylinder replacement will be in whether it can deliver the same level of emotional appeal as this V6, and not simply produce the numbers to match it. The two per cent who did opt for a V6 chose very well, because, while flawed, this XE is a joy to drive. And with secondhand, 340hp examples from just £22,000, there's arguably more reason than ever to plump for one now.


Engine: 2,995cc, supercharged V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 331@3,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.0secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,635kg (kerbweight)
MPG: 34.0 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 194g/km
Price: £48,045













Images: Dafydd Wood


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