Lessons I learned about Jaguar's new XE saloon second time around
WE don't often get a second bite of the cherry with driving a new car abroad but that's exactly what I've had with the Jaguar XE. You might remember I drove prototype versions of this compact saloon-with-coupé looks some months back. Now I've just driven the real thing.
As I've told you so much about it before, a brief recap should suffice before getting down to the nitty gritty.
The XE is the single most crucial car in Jaguar's history. They've spent a couple of billion developing it. Failure is not an option. Jaguar/Land Rover chief executive Dr Ralf Speth sees it as one of the major motoring developments of modern times - and the start of big things (new XF and Crossover later this year). He told me as much as I waited to drive the XE V6 on the track. What an enthusiastic man. If buyers remotely share his enthusiasm, the XE will be a huge success. But we know it's tough in the real world and the XE faces a big task to establish itself alongside the BMW 3-series, rejuvenated Mercedes C-Class and imminent new Audi A4.
As you probably know, the XE is rear-wheel drive, has an aluminium body, double wishbone front suspension, Integral Link at the rear and finely tuned electric power steering. It also has an excellent infotainment system.
The big engines for Ireland will be the brand new 2-litre Ingenium diesel with either 163PS (75mpg, 99g/km, €180 road tax) which wasn't available to drive, or 180PS (from 67.3mpg; 109g/km, €190 road tax) which was.
We also drove the 240bhp 2-litre petrol (a Ford engine) and the exceptional supercharged 3-litre V6 340PS (special order). There are 6spd manual and 8spd automatic transmissions.
You are going to feel either spoilt or confused by the variety of suspension settings. They impact hugely on how this can drive. Your basic suspension is Comfort. It's got Eco, Normal and Dynamic (this tightens steering, throttle and gear-change response). That comes as standard on Pure and Prestige trim spec (there is also R-Sport, 'S' and Portfolio).
When you select R-Sport you get Passive Sport suspension. This has different anti-roll bars, dampers and springs. Then with the V6 'S' petrol you get Adaptive Dynamics. This is super tuned-in to adapt to how you are driving. You can have this on all the other grades for €1,200 extra (180bhp diesel and 2-litre this year; next year on 163bhp diesel). Worth considering. Remember, within all three suspensions you still have the Eco, Dynamic modes etc to tweak response.
The suspensions on my drives totally affected the car's entire feel and dynamic. The R-Sport 2-litre petrol I drove was in the Sport Passive category. Frankly I wondered if I was in the same car I had taken to so warmly in prototype guise. The steering was too remote and the car felt like a comfortable, passive sedan. To be fair, this is a global car and mega markets such as China demand that sort of touch. Which explains why there are so many variations.
My second drive was the 6spd automatic 2-litre 180bhp Ingenium diesel. This too had Sport Passive but felt better, partly because I used dynamic mode.
But it wasn't until I drove the 8spd auto R-Sport version with Sport Adaptive Dynamics settings that I could see why I'd loved the car on my previous drive.
This gave the steering and the chassis the chance to engage me. Now I could pinpoint where I placed it at higher speeds on corners and get that sense of grip and energy I found immediately on the prototype. The 2-litre 180bhp diesel is one decent piece of work. Look forward to the 163bhp.
And then there was the 3-litre V6 petrol with Adaptive Dynamics. What a great drive. Special order in Ireland. Loved it, especially around the track.
The XE's design is a mix of strong looks at the front and a roof-to-rear bumper sweep that gives it a coupe look. I'm still not convinced the rear is distinctive enough for you to instantly recognise it and say: "There's an XE."
You sit low in the cabin, meaning you've excellent headroom but I couldn't gauge the corners of the bonnet as easily as I'd like. Jaguar say the idea is to make you feel part of the car from within. I'm not that persuaded.
But I was impressed with the amount of elbow room for driver and front passenger. The sloping roof means a bit of a crouch for taller passengers to get into the rear but there's decent room (leg and head) once ensconced. There's a long boot with reasonable aperture.
And they have taken the slightly raucous top-end noise from the diesel compared with the prototype.
Expect prices to start around the €40,000 mark in line or a little below the 3-series. First here, by the end of the month, will be the 180bhp diesel automatic and special-order V6 petrol.
By September we'll see the 180bhp diesel manual, the 163bhp diesel (manual and automatic) and 2-litre 240bhp petrol. The vast majority of buyers will opt for diesel (70pc 163bhp and 30pc 180bhp).
Of the 3,500 compact luxury saloons we buy each year, the 3-series and A4 account for two-in-three.
It's going to be fascinating to see how the new Jaguar fares in that company. There are billions of euro riding on it. I think it will appeal to a lot of buyers - just make sure you get the suspension that suits you.