Jaguar XE S: Driven

If you'd clicked on this Jaguar XE review to read all about BIK friendly diesels hoping to reclaim the nation's motorways from the stranglehold of 320ds, A4 2.0 TDIs and their ilk then, sorry, you're in the wrong place. For sure, the smaller engined diesel and petrol XEs are the ones that will ultimately decide whether Jaguar's huge investment - emotional, financial and physical - pays off.

Base model ticked off time to have some fun...
Base model ticked off time to have some fun...
But working on the basis everyone else will be concentrating their reviews on these critical models and paying only passing notice to the 340hp V6 S we felt if anyone should stick up for the one with the big petrol motor it should be PH.

Following pre-production drive for this full launch we did dutifully drive a four-cylinder diesel with the tax-busting manual gearbox (99g/km in basic 163hp form) and all-new Ingenium engine. And it is ... a four-cylinder diesel. One clothed in handsome bodywork and with above-average ride and handling on the sportier of the passive suspension options. But still a four-cylinder diesel. You'll be able to read more about that everywhere though. So to the most PH-worthy model in the range, at least until they do the decent thing and put a V8 under the bonnet, an R badge on the boot and give AMG, M and Audi RS something to really think about.

We'll have to wait for that one though. In the meantime the F-Type engined S carries the torch for the XE most likely to make you finally feel - apologies - XE.

Irrelevant but plenty of fun!
Irrelevant but plenty of fun!
Up to speed
Working on the basis that over the previous months (feels like longer, right?) you've already read a fair bit about what's gone into the XE we won't dwell too long on that. A quick re-cap for those who weren't listening at the back though; we've got an all-new aluminium platform that will underpin a number of future Jaguar products, F-Type inspired double wishbone front suspension and JLR's 'integral link' rear axle, electric power steering, the first application of the aforementioned Ingenium diesel and petrol four-cylinder engines and a range of new in-car tech all wrapped in the latest evolution of Ian Callum's new-school Jag design language. Not that anyone was going to gift them a platform this time anyway but this is about as far removed from the 'posh Mondeo' X-Type as it's far to get.

It's clearly fired up the designers and engineers who've worked on it too, the recognition it's a very, very rare privilege to start from a completely blank sheet of paper for platform, engines, cabin and even production facilities not lost. Add in a whole ton of expectation, some finely honed rivals and a fiercely competitive sector in which to launch and you are left with one conclusion. It had best be bloody good.

Cabin has style aplenty; quality fits bill too
Cabin has style aplenty; quality fits bill too
The journey to Navarra circuit where we'll drive the V6 S is conducted in a second-rung 180hp four-cylinder diesel with a manual gearbox. You'd only pick the latter if the fleet manager made you, frankly, but it's a smart and refined car which would be very well suited to pounding up and down the nation's motorways. Given that's where most XEs will spend their lives what's the relevance in taking even the 340hp S onto the track?

None whatsoever. But rude not to. Standing in the pit lane awaiting our first go and hearing the V6's noise echo off the concrete pit wall first impressions are very good. It sounds lovely, a hint of supercharger whine apparent as the cars appear out of the final turn and onto the straight and a proper six-cylinder howl as they fly by and shift down into the first complex. Shared with the entry-level F-Type there's enough of that car's character, albeit without the more theatrical pops and bangs. Most of all it sounds authentic and a lot more inspiring than the businesslike four-cylinders. So you'd hope for £45K though.

Piling on the £s
That's a burly starting price, given the equivalent 333hp Audi S4 begins at £38,665 and the 306hp BMW 335i M Sport kicks off at £38,265 for the manual or £39,815 for an equivalent eight-speed auto. Accepted, the starting price on cars like this is just that and this may even out somewhat after a bit of spec sheet and options number crunching. But still. Lurking over the horizon is the 367hp Mercedes C450 AMG 4Matic, pricing for which is yet to be confirmed but that beats the Jag, Audi and BMW on every number you care to compare, from performance to emissions and mpg.

F-Type's V6 is only carried over engine
F-Type's V6 is only carried over engine
Against competition like that the XE needs to work the emotive thing for all it's worth. Other than the slightly anonymous rump both proportions and detailing are disciplined and assertive. The hatch-like profile carries off Callum's desired cab-rearward stance better than Mercedes' attempt at the same with the C-Class and inside the XJ-inspired 'Riva Hoop' both envelopes you yet makes the cabin feel bigger than it is. Predictably the flashier trim details of the S show it off better than the more basic diesel but from the deeply dished wheel to the low-slung driving position it all feels decidedly sporty.

Classic Jag traits like light steering and a fluidity to the ride are present and correct, only Mercedes of the immediate rivals offering anything like this model of comfort and refinement. Compared with an A4 it's night and day more communicative; against the 3 Series with its numb steering and disappointingly heavy handed damping it's significantly more involving without confusing contrived control weight as a sense of sportiness.

XE S is happier - much happier - on the road
XE S is happier - much happier - on the road
Turning the screw
Navarra isn't a track to show a road car off in a good light though. With lots of big stops into sharp turns the XE feels like exactly what it is - a wafty saloon car out of its comfort zone. A fast one, mind. The V6 has a pleasing linearity to its power delivery, with no destabilising torque spikes and a smoothness and appetite for revs that contrasts with the rather strangled and diesel-like deliveries of the Audi and BMW rivals. The eight-speed auto responds crisply to manual commands from the paddles with just enough sense of the shift going through to maintain your interest in taking control.

The steering is quick and responsive too, with a pleasingly natural feel to it even if there's not a huge amount of feedback. Jaguar says it has been "optimised to reduce backlash and friction - the enemy of natural steering feel" but the variable weighting and damping can make it hard to be consistent and accurate on the tighter corners.

Maybe a bit too much Audi in the rear view?
Maybe a bit too much Audi in the rear view?
With an open differential there's very little sense of the rear axle playing a part in proceedings either, even with JLR's 'torque vectoring by braking' to nibble the inside wheel and send more power to the outside one. Given the amount of power and sporting pretensions it's a shame there's not more sense of the XE S being rear-driven, even in the more relaxed Trac DSC setting. If your greed on turn-in or throttle has provoked understeer there's no option but to back off or sit it out - hopes of tightening the line with power sadly dashed. Unless you turn everything off. Then, at last, the options you hoped for appear and a much more playful character emerges. This isn't irrelevant lock stops hack hoonery either (though we did do a bit of that too), just the ability to properly enjoy what is clearly a very nicely balanced chassis. A pity then they've been cautious about letting that show in the driving modes most will use every day.

Meanwhile, in the real world
But how many XEs will find their way onto tracks? Exactly. And on the road the S makes much more sense. The well rehearsed party line on the car's surprising kerbweight - it's 70kg heavier than an auto 335i M Sport for instance - is that mass saved on the overall structure has been 'invested' elsewhere. We are told that double wishbones up front are around 10kg heavier than struts, and more expensive too, but that the trade-off in steering precision makes it worthwhile. Likewise at the rear the integral link design means bushings can be independently tuned for lateral stiffness and camber control while maintaining longitudinal compliance for NVH.

What it adds up to is that very Jaguar sense of flow, even when surfaces get choppy. You quickly learn you can keep the power constant even when faced with a big mid-corner bump and you won't even get a flicker of DSC, indicating no interruption to the power and consistent, confidence inspiring poise. Only the slight variance in steering weighting and little flutters of the brake-based torque vectoring filter through but, thankfully, the XE doesn't come across as aloof or detached. Just nice. And the fangled Adaptive Chassis you'll pay an additional £800 for on other XEs? It's got a Dynamic mode and it's not what you'd call harsh. But Comfort feels about bang on. Stick with the passive set-up and keep the change if you get the choice.

How to sum up then? The XE has a restrained sense of style and assertiveness that could win over the Audi loving masses, enough sportiness to convince BMW drivers of a new ultimate driving machine and maturity and refinement to rival a C-Class over the long haul. It achieves this without ever feeling like it's just been relentlessly benchmarked to do so and with enough character of its own to stand out in its own right.

England expects and all that. And on first drive hopes of delivery are raised. The real test is just about to start though.

Some pointless but fun skidding at Navarra

2,995cc V6 supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Kerbweight: 1,665kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 34.9 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 194g/km
Price: £44,870















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Comments (75) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Matt UK 26 Apr 2015

    Looks promising - I hope though that in the quest to beat the German 3, Jaguars remain 'different' from the German 3. If you know what I mean.

  • Vee12V 26 Apr 2015

    Sounds like they're where it's at but it looks horribly outdated already and at the time I saw it at the Brussels motor show the quality of used materials in the cockpit was shockingly bad. Hope they've improved in the mean time but I'm still sceptical.

  • Shambler 26 Apr 2015

    Bloody Heavy old thing for all that aluminium

  • W124 26 Apr 2015

    Am I detecting some pretty faint praise for this car? I'm sure I am.

  • Matt UK 26 Apr 2015

    Shambler said:
    Bloody Heavy old thing for all that aluminium
    I think mass saved on the overall structure has been 'invested' elsewhere

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