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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JAGUAR XE V6 S
Engine: 2,995cc V6 supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@4,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Kerbweight: 1,665kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 34.9 (NEDC combined)