Friday 30 September 2016

Key players that make 'hell' of difference to XE

New Jaguar hits highs and a few lows

Published 16/08/2015 | 02:30

Jaguar XE
Jaguar XE

I'm going to steal Alex Ferguson's three-word summation of the so-called beautiful game to give you an insight into where I found myself with this week's review car.

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After Manchester United won the 1999 Champions League final by grabbing two late goals, Ferguson uttered the immortal: "Football, bloody hell." May I presume upon your patience by replacing 'football' with 'cars'?

Just when I thought I had the measure of Jaguar's new XE compact executive sports saloon, I found myself in a quandary.

The XE is the most important car in Jaguar's history as it is made to rival the BMW 3-series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS. They've spent billions developing it - and a new Ingenium engine line (which will cater for other models in the Jaguar/Land Rover group).

The XE is rear-wheel drive, has an aluminium body, double wishbone front suspension, integral link rear (vital for balance and handling) as well as finely-tuned electric power steering.

And here's how my XE 'bloody hell' moment arrived. I drove the sports saloon abroad as a prototype (truly impressed) and subsequently as a production car (bit less so).

Last week, I took it on test here. I had the 180bhp 2-litre diesel, 8spd automatic Prestige trim version (from 67.3mpg; 109g/km, €190 road tax).

There is a 163bhp version too (75mpg, 99g/km, €180 road tax). And you can order a 6spd manual transmission.

In Racing Red, my test car looked great. The big broad bonnet and graphic grille mean you'll know it's a Jag in the rear-view mirror. The rear is less distinctive but the sweeping 'coupé' lines and stance earn it marks, though it is not radical. None of the rivals is either, though I think the C-Class is better looking.

I love Jag interiors. I'm old fashioned, maybe. I like my cream leather, wood inlay effect. I wasn't that taken with the dark (Jet) leather in this. I happen to think the dash, fascia and central console make it a better designed cabin than the 3-series (and on par with the C-Class) but in this guise it was too dark and, I believe, undersold itself. Trust me, it is a lovely interior with the right colour combination.

Getting in wasn't as easy as I would have wished either. Because the seats are quite low, I had to adjust mine upwards a fair bit to get my 'spot'. But that cut into the vertical space I had for getting in and out; I had to crouch more. The rear was worse and there wasn't as much leg or knee room as I'd like.

Surprisingly, that new 2-litre diesel was noisier than I remembered abroad, too. I just happened to have driven a lot on shorter journeys here; in and out of town, 40kmh/50kmh motorway trips, etc. Each time I felt the same: I shouldn't have heard as much of the engine - its performance figures are excellent by the way.

Cars, bloody hell.

I think they've done a wonderful job with the handling and steering; the balance of the car is exceptional. I loved the feedback and the agility from the integral rear-axle. The 3-series is possibly a better straight-line drive but the XE's remarkable ability on the bends and twists that we are more likely to encounter here, gives it a distinct edge. This is a key differentiation.

It is important too to drive this as you want; there are several suspension/engine modes. I urge you to have your dealer explain them in detail. It can get complicated but it makes an enormous difference to the feel and drive of the car.

To a lot of people, all this ould guff about handling and drive is largely irrelevant. They want a stylish, economical motor with room for the golf bags (excellent boot) and is, let's be blunt, a Jaguar. The name carries enormous prestige.

Alongside excellent handling, energy, feedback and emphasis on driving, as well as a proper luxury feel within, the XE's plus points do outscore the negatives - though not as outright decisively as I anticipated. Like United's late win, its surprises and thrills mask some areas I'd like improved.

Cars, bloody hell.

Facts & figures

Jaguar XE 2.0 D Prestige auto (180PS, 111g/km, €200 road tax).

Standard spec includes a large spread of passive and active safety elements, several airbags, and driver's aids. Price: €46,150.

Options on the car tested included: satnav, metallic paint, rain-sensing wipers, 10x10-way electric front seats (electric lumbar support), space saver alloy, bi-function xenon headlights, parking pack, blind-spot monitor with reverse traffic detection; memory pack with electric/folding/adjustable/heated mirrors. Total price: €56,965

My side of the road

I'm not sure how many times I had to stop this past week as people flung open car doors without ever bothering to check to see if there was anything coming.

Wouldn't you think it would be second nature now? It's not. It's particularly prevalent on suburban roads and in car parks. Which makes driving more slowly even more imperative for the rest of us.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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