We got a good look at the car last Monday at the Solihull factory where Jaguar will start building it from the end of this month, and we can say that seen in isolation it looks exactly how we'd want a modern sports saloon to look: longish bonnet, short front overhang, sloping rear roof and some nice Jaguar-specific detail. Unsurprisingly it resembles a slightly shrunken, tauter XF.
Weights and measures
They're still holding back certain details until the full reveal at the Paris motor show next month, details such as the exact weight of car. This figure should be good - for example the weight of the unpainted body without closures (doors, bonnet etc) is 251kg. By contrast the figure for the Volvo V60 is 321kg. The target we'd imagine is around 1,400kg, which is 100kg below that of the BMW 320d - the car the 163hp 2.0d competes head to head with.
The 75 per cent aluminium content of the body is key to the weight reduction. This is costly material, but Jaguar reckons that the entry price of £27,000 for the single-turbo diesel model (a twin-turbo is also coming) matches the BMW spec-for-spec, dispelling fears that the privilege of running the more exclusive car would whack the wallet harder. The Jaguar is also better on CO2 - officially recording 99g/km and 75mpg for the diesel.
The bonded and riveted aluminium body is said to be 20 per cent stiffer than that of the XF, better enabling the suspension to do its job. Up front the XE has a double wishbone arrangement instead of the more usual MacPherson spring-over-damper struts. At the back is what Jaguar calls an integral link set-up that it reckons delivers the perfect compromise between smoothness and taut handling. At the top end the XE will come with adaptive dampers.
Steering? It's electric
In a first for Jaguar the XE is also fitted with electric power steering. As we know this fuel-saving technology has been hit and miss so far, but we're told this system has more feel that set-ups elsewhere. XFR steering response is a pretty high target.
The proof of claims that the XE is the new sport saloon benchmark will come with the first drive of the 3.0 V6 supercharged S with its 340hp, 332lb ft of torque and a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.9 seconds. We've seen no price yet, but expect a figure pushing £40,000 to pitch it against the (lower powered) BMW 335i M Sport.
No manual version was mentioned but the auto was confirmed as the eight-speed ZF 'box that Jaguar has used to good effect elsewhere. We'd also bank on all-wheel drive being one of the new derivatives Jaguar has said it plans to launch "every three to six months".
Ingenium family as the new diesel. Instead it'll be the old Ford turbo unit shared by the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and even the Jaguar XJ in certain markets. It's not clear if we in the UK will even be offered this initially.
Other models in the range are a given and the factory is set-up to be as flexible as possible on this front - we've already seen the SUV concept and five'll get you 10 there's an estate in the pipeline too. A two-door coupe is fairly certain, although designer Ian Callum told us that that coupe swoop of the rear meant there was little point doing a four-door coupe.
Despite that falling roofline, a sit in the car revealed there's an acceptable amount of headroom in the back and we can well believe executives when they tell us it's one of the roomiest Jaguars ever (not a surprise to anyone who's had to squeeze into the back of XJs prior to the X350). The boot is pretty big too at 455 litres, although behind the 3 Series at 480 litres.
The cabin has plenty of toys such as in-dash apps that migrate from your smartphone and other gizmos, but we'd say the quality of the dash was the one let-down from our static test - after an initial poke it certainly didn't feel up to Audi A4 levels of quality for example, and that car's getting on a bit now. Safety gadgets include automatic emergency braking and a low-speed cruise control that lets the car decide throttle inputs on slippery surfaces like snow for better grip.
As an ownership proposition the Jaguar looks pretty good. Service intervals for the diesel are an impressive (or scary, depending on whether you're leasing or buying) 21,000 miles. Jaguar is trying mollify those for whom owning an aluminium-bodied car sounds potentially cash-munching if it gets hurt, principally by making the bumpers and the first bit of chassis they attach to removable. In a light bump that tacked-on crash structure soaks up the impact and the whole lot can be replaced. Actually, we discovered in a separate bit of research that aluminium suspension parts for the X350, the first Jaguar to go big on the lightweight metal, are coming down in price, with arms dropping from £420 to £195, according to one Jaguar specialist we spoke to.
It's still expensive to build in it though, and financial analysts who pore over JLR's spending reckon that the saloon XE in its most popular diesel form won't be profitable - it'll be the other, more expensive models like the SUV using the same architecture that'll make the £1.5 billion investment pay off. Which means anyone splashing out on the £27K on the entry model will theoretically be riding around in a far more expensive motor. Which should mean it'll drive like one too - fingers crossed.