Y’s motoring expert Alvin Thomas finds the Jaguar XE is one of the best compact sedans he’s driven.
Let’s rewind the clock back to 2001: Jaguar has just unveiled its all-new X-Type saloon, a small compact vehicle that aims to dethrone cars produced by the holy trinity – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – and subsequently takes the car market by storm.
A few months into the release, the X-Type becomes Jaguar’s best-selling car of all time. However, Jaguar’s dreams of taking over a share from the Germans doesn’t quite pan out, as all three brands post sales numbers that overshadow those of Jaguar by quite a significant margin.
But today, as I stand in front of the new Jaguar XE – the successor to the X-Type – there’s no denying that I am looking at arguably one of the most vengeful vehicles to be released on the car market in recent times. This is vengeance served up in attractive attire and is exactly what the compact car market has been missing for decades.
This marks the dawn of a new battle: the battle for prestige. So, is this newcomer all set to bring down the Deutschland trio?
To start things off, the Jaguar XE looks like nothing else on the market. This is arguably the best-looking compact sedan that I have ever driven.
Sharp lines dominate much of the exterior posture of the car, with lines flowing across the bonnet as well as the sides of the door, which blend in with the rear panels. Even the headlights are sharp and chiselled – as if they are frowning or staring down its competition.
My “R-Sport” variant came with blacked-out exterior panels and “R-Sport” badges to enhance the overall sporty appeal of the car.
The interior of the Jaguar is fairly reminiscent of that of the F-Pace we drove a while back, but there’s no denying that it still is an excellent place to be in. My tester’s interior was wrapped in soft-touch leather materials, for the most part. However, the bottom panels are finished in plastic – which is quite normal for cars in this segment.
In terms of practicality, the XE shines with good leg and headroom in the back. The seats are extremely comfortable and are also wrapped in leather. The driver and passenger seats in the front particularly receive excellent side bolstering and lumbar support.
But Jaguar steals the show when it comes to sheer excitement. For instance: push the “Start” button, and you’ll witness the automatic gearbox controller rise dramatically from between the front seats.
Powering the XE is a 2.0-litre turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine, which pumps out an astonishing 240hp and 340Nm of torque. What’s more interesting is that the motor sends power down to the rear-wheels via an eight-speed automatic ZF gearbox.
So how much fun is 237hp going towards the rear-wheels? A lot! And I’m not exaggerating here.
The car is incredibly quick and it handles like nothing else in this market segment – it’s perhaps as good as the BMW 3-Series – a car that has been touted as the one of the best handling sedans in the world.
The chassis is incredibly stiff and that brings the car alive in corners. I found myself driving the car in “Sport” mode and using the paddle shifters more often than I would in any other sedan.
The car absolutely devours corners with precision and accuracy. The steering – which is electric assisted – has very quick response times and leaves its German rivals, shall I say, flat-footed?
The steering also provides a fair bit of feedback, which cars in this segment usually lack. In comparison, my Nissan Maxima’s steering feels light and dead (even in “Sport” mode).
If you’re planning on having more fun, you can also turn off the traction control system. But upon doing so, you better be prepared for some quick counter-steers. The car loves to oversteer (drift) and even though it has wide rear-tyres, it still feels nippy – and incredibly alive.
Despite all the drama, the XE is tameable: anybody can drive this car. You really don’t have to be a skilled racing driver to take this car quickly around sharp corners. Much of the work is done by the car itself – all thanks to the brilliant engineers who tuned it.
The car can also pull itself to 100kph from a standstill in a respectable 6.8 seconds, despite a fair bit of turbo-lag from the engine at low RPMs. Of course, you can counter that by holding the gears using the steering mounted paddle-shifters.
The gearbox itself is the same one you’ll find in most Jaguars. However, this one has been tuned differently. Initially, I felt the gear ratios to be quite short but I soon figured out that it was because the XE was gaining speeds quite swiftly.
In normal mode, the gearbox is quite quick to shift up, but, it doesn’t kick down as fast as I expected it to. That could be because it prioritises fuel economy and comfort over sheer acceleration.
On the comfort front, however, the car does an exemplary job in soaking up the bumps on the roads.
For the most part, the ride is incredibly smooth and compliant. And yet, when you need it to, it changes into a car that can outrun most of its competitors on track.
There was a reason why people who look for a premium compact sedan ended up buying a German car: they’ve been known to provide drivers with the right amount of comfort and sportiness. But with the XE, Jaguar has not only accomplished that, but also added an extra bit of zing. And that is exactly why I believe that the Jaguar takes the cake.