Audi RS3 VS Jaguar XE
- Lovely and powerful five-cylinder engine
- A joy to drive
- Still looks amazing after all these years
- Lacking some advanced safety tech
- Shorter warranty than some rivals
- About to be replaced
- Outstanding ride and handling
- Great horsepower for your buck
- Though, good looks
- Rear seats are tight
- Small boot
- Optional safety tech
You might have noticed that there are new rivals to the Audi RS3 sedan.
The Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan could be considered a competitor. Or maybe the new-generation Mercedes-AMG CLA35, or the even more expensive Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S. And you can’t forget the all-new BMW M240i Gran Coupe.
This is a segment with plenty of action. So where does one of the older players in this part of the market stand against its new competitors? Well, you might be surprised just how well it still stacks up, despite having first launched here more than three years ago.
There’s an all-new, powered-up RS3 expected in 2021, but the brand is seeing out the current model range with a new variant, the Carbon Edition, which is tested here. Is it still worth considering? You’ll have to read the lot to find out.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz has the C-Class, BMW has the 3 Series, Audi has the A4 and Jaguar has the one people in Australia seem to forget – the XE.
Yep, the default setting we seem to have when it comes to buying a prestige car is as strong as buying the same brand of milk every week.
There’s a decent choice of milk, but it can sometimes seem that there are only three brands and we tend to zero in on the same one again and again. Same with prestige cars.
But all milk is the same, I hear you say. And I’m inclined to agree, and that’s the difference, cars vary greatly despite them having the same purpose.
The latest version of Jaguar XE has arrived in Australia and while it’s very similar in size and shape to its German rivals there are some big differences, and some compelling reasons to add it to your shopping list.
I promise, there are no more mentions of milk.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
There may be newer competitors, but it could be said that the Audi RS3 - despite being a seasoned player in its segment - is a sweet spot offering for those after a compact, sporty and eye-catching car. I'd certainly have it over its closest rivals, even if it is getting long in the tooth.
It is due for some big changes soon and you just know the next-gen model will step up the game big time in terms of interior design and improved technology. But as a swan song, the final versions of the current RS3 in Carbon Edition trim see it out on a high.
The Jaguar XE is a dynamic, prestige mid-sized premium sedan, for those who are more concerned with engaging driving than cargo space and rear legroom.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry R-Dynamic SE. Buy that one and option the handling pack, and you'll still come in under the costs of the HSE.
Would you pick a Jaguar over a Mercedes-Benz, Audi or BMW? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
I’ve long thought the Audi A3 sedan, and therefore the Audi RS3, is the most compellingly design small sedan of the modern era - possibly ever. Not many compact three-box models have the proportions and lines that this model has, and even seven years after the current-gen A3 launched this body style still looks gorgeous.
And in RS3 guise it cuts a striking figure, with the Carbon Edition adding plenty of eye-catching elements including different gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black exterior styling pack (logos and Audi rings in black), a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, and Carbon mirrors. The Carbon Pack also gets rid of the matt aluminium window surrounds in exchange for black finishes.
All told, it looks extremely sleek and surprisingly modern, given the age of the platform. The interior isn’t quite as up to date, though - more on that below.
But this particular test car had the RS design package inside, which adds a number of nice additions such as black armrests with red stitching, Alcantara trimmed knee pads on the centre console (also with red stitching) to stop you bumping your knees against hard plastic when you’re out on the track, as well as red surrounds on the air vents, red trim on the outboard seat belts, and floor mats with RS3 logos and red stitch.
In terms of size, it is still a compact and urban-friendly offering, with dimensions of 4479mm long (on a 2628mm wheelbase), 1802mm wide and 1406mm tall.
This freshen up of the XE sees a sharper, wider look for the mid-sized sedan with sleeker headlights and tail-lights, plus redesigned front and rear bumpers.
From front-on the XE looks low, broad and planted, a black mesh grille and the way it’s flanked by much larger air intakes is tough, and the signature Jaguar long bonnet curving down towards it looks magnificent.
The rear of the car has benefited greatly, too. Gone are those overly simple tail-lights, replaced by more refined units with a strong resemblance to the F-Type's.
How much smaller is the XE than its big sister the XF? Well, here are the dimensions. The XE is a mid-sized car at 4678mm long (276mm shorter than the XF), 1416mm tall (41mm shorter in height) and 13mm narrower at 2075mm wide (including the mirrors).
The XE’s cabin has been updated, too. There’s the new steering wheel which has a more minimalist and cleaner design than the previous tiller, the rotary gear shifter has been replaced with an upright trigger-grip device (another functional improvement), and there’s the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
New materials and trims are used throughout the interior. Both grades have premium carpet mats, and aluminium trim around the centre console.
In the SE four types of two-tone leather upholstery can be specified as non-cost options, while another four which are $1170 options in the base grade are available free in the HSE.
The standard cabins of both grades feel luxurious and premium.
I mentioned the interior is starting to look a bit old, and that’s because this design - while revolutionary back in 2013 when this generation of A3 sedan launched - hasn’t changed much over the years.
Sure you can now get it with the tech you’d want, like the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster which looks amazing, and the media system with the latest smartphone mirroring tech and wireless phone charging. But the screen itself isn’t touch-capacitive, and that means you have to use the rotary dial to go through menus - that’s not how smartphones were designed. You’re supposed to touch the screen.
So the concept of phone mirroring is flawed, here. It is good to be able to use your phone’s apps, but it’s not as easy to use as it should be.
Thankfully the media unit is teamed to an excellent, punchy sound system, and it’s the sort of car you’ll want to listen to your favourite albums in, rather than boring time-burning podcasts. It takes a certain drive experience to elicit that reaction - well, for me it does.
It’s a shame the dashboard design is looking rather plain by modern standards. The pop-up (even retractable) media screen is comparatively tiny, and while the ergonomics are good and all the buttons and switches feel of a high quality, it just isn’t quite as special feeling inside as the price tag suggests it should be.
Well, that’s until you see the sports seats. These are artworks, with beautiful stitching and superb bolstering and comfort. They really lift the ambience, and combined with the high-quality materials it feels sporty, but luxurious too. And the interior has the option of the black and red trim seen here, or black with rock grey stitching, or the blue-jeans-repelling Moon Silver with grey trim.
The seats are great, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to sit myself a little lower. I loved the feel of the part-Alcanatra steering wheel, too. There’s something about an abundance of Alcantara that just works (it’s on the door trims and the optional padded knee sections, too).
Of course there is dual zone climate control, seat heating and rear seat air-vents, and the aforementioned wireless phone charger is hidden in the centre covered armrest, and that also has twin USB ports plus a auxiliary jack.
Most other newer models have those ports and charge pads in front of the gear selector, but in the RS3 there’s not much usable space there. You can fit a wallet, but not much else, and behind it there are twin cup holders, and there are bottle holders in the doors.
Back seat space is okay but not great. My knees were hard up against the seat in front when it was set for my 182cm (6’0”) frame, and my head was scraping the lining as well. If you’re taller, you’ll also have to watch your noggin getting in an out as the door apertures are quite small.
There’s also limited foot space because of the transmission tunnel reaching from front to rear. But the seat comfort is very good.
The back seat amenities comprise a 12-volt outlet but no USB ports, and in the doors your find bottle holders while there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders as well, plus twin mesh map pockets.
While adults might find things a bit squishy in the rear (don’t expect things to be much better in any of its rivals!), there are dual ISOFIX outboard seat anchors, and three top-tether child seat points.
Boot capacity is small at 315 litres, especially for a sedan. That’s 20L less than the Sportback hatch’s rear capacity, but you can fold down the rear seats if you need extra room, with 770L available.
Mid-sized sedans have a tough job on their hands when it comes to practicality – they need to be small enough to park and pilot in the city but big enough to carry at least four adults comfortably along with their luggage.
I’m 191cm tall and while space up front for me is plentiful, space behind my diving position is limited. Headroom in the second row is getting tight, too.
The small rear doors also made entry and exit a bit of a challenge for me.
Boot space is also not the best in the class at 410 litres. I’m being kind. See, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a cargo capacity of 434 litres, while the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 have 480 litres volumes.
Up front you’ll find a USB and a 12-volt outlet, but if you want the wireless charger for your iPhone or Android device you’ll need to option it for $180.
Price and features
The list price of the regular Audi RS3 sedan is now $86,500 plus on-road costs, which means it’s a bit pricier than when it first launched (at $84,900). That comes down to currency fluctuations over the past few years, as nothing has really changed over the period since launch in March 2017.
It’s worth noting there is a new addition to the 2020 RS3 sedan range - the RS3 Carbon Edition, as tested here - which lists at $89,900 (MSRP) and has no mechanical changes compared to the standard model, but gets a number of design changes which we’ll cover off in the next section.
That means it is considerably more expensive than the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe ($72,990) and even the Mercedes CLA35 ($85,500), though the RS3 has considerably more grunt than those cars - in fact, it’s closer in terms of engine specs to the CLA45 S, though that model lists at a huge $111,200. More on horsepower below.
And of course, the RS3 sedan is only one part of the RS3 range - you might also be interested to look at the Sportback hatch version, which is more affordable ($83,800). You can get it in Carbon Edition trim, too, at $87,200.
What do you get in the RS3? Standard equipment includes: 19-inch alloy wheels in matt titanium, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators, matt aluminium window surrounds, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a body kit, rear spoiler, auto headlights with auto high-beam, auto wipers, heated side mirrors with passenger’s-side auto-dipping when reversing.
Further standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic assist, Audi drive select with four different modes (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual), electric front seat adjustment, front seat heating, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, 7.0-inch media screen with MMI touch dial controller, sat nav, Audi connect online services and Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, wireless phone charging, two USB ports and DAB digital radio, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.
For a full breakdown of the standard safety inclusions, see the safety section below.
Our test vehicle had Nardo Grey paint, one of several no-cost optional colours that also includes Mythos Black Metallic, Kyalami Green, Daytona Grey Pearl, Tango Red Metallic, Florett Silver metallic and Glacier White metallic. Two Crystal Peal colours will cost you an extra $728: Ara Blue and Panther Black.
Our car further had the RS design package for $1950. More on that in the design section below.
There are two members of the Jaguar XE family: the R-Dynamic SE which lists for $65,670, before on-road costs, and the R-Dynamic HSE for $71,940. Both have the same engine, but the HSE has more in the way of standard features.
Coming standard on both cars is a 10.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights with auto high beam and direction indicators, metal treadplates with R-Dynamic branding, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, digital radio, sat nav, proximity key with push button ignition, reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity and power front seats.
The R-Dynamic HSE grade adds more standard features such as a second touchscreen below the 10.0-inch display for climate control, swaps the 125W six-speaker stereo in the SE for an 11-speaker 380W Meridian system, also adding adaptive cruise control, and an electrically adjustable steering column.
The only other difference is that the SE has 18-inch alloy wheels while the HSE has 19-inch rims.
It’s not incredibly good value as far as standard features go and you’ll have to option privacy glass, wireless charging, the head-up display and a 360-degree camera on both grades.
Engine & trans
Unlike all of its rivals, the Audi RS3 gets an engine with five cylinders instead of four.
Yep, it’s a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 294kW of power (at 5850-7000rpm) and 480Nm of torque (from 1950-5850rpm). As you can see, the power band is linear - despite the uneven number of cylinders.
How does it compare to those rivals I mentioned earlier? The A35 sedan and CLA35 both have 225kW/400Nm, so you can see why I said it was a mismatch. The BMW M235i is closer, at 225kW/450Nm despite being a lot cheaper. And the CLA45? It punts them all on engine performance, with 310kW/500Nm.
Hey, there are rumours the next-generation RS3 will have as much as 331kW. So maybe wait for that car, if you’re really interested in horsepower heroism. But trust me - there’s ample grunt on offer here.
There’s one engine for both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE – a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four cylinder making 221kW/400Nm. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder felt strong and all that torque arrives low in the rev range (1500rpm) for good off-the-line acceleration. The transmission is also excellent, shifting smoothly and decisively.
It’s a shame the V6 isn’t offered anymore, but 221kW is a lot more power than you’ll get for this money in a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Audi RS3 is 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which is reasonable for a car with this level of performance.
On test, across a mix of driving, I saw a return of 9.1L/100km. Not too bad.
The fuel tank capacity is 55 litres, but you need to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded petrol.
Jaguar says that the XE will use 6.9L/100km of premium unleaded petrol when driven on a combination of open and urban roads.
After my time with it the trip computer was reporting an average of 8.7L/100km. Not bad considering the test drive would have been thirsty work for the four-cylinder turbo engine.
There’s something really special about a five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
The way that it builds pace and drama in such a linear fashion despite being inherently unbalanced is awe-inspiring.
The sound of your acceleration is actually more dramatic outside the car than in. When you’re driving and pushing the throttle hard, you’re rewarded with a muted roar - the sort you hear in movies when the kidnappee has been gagged with a cloth but can still make enough noise to get curious attention.
Outside the car it’s more prevalent, as the sports exhaust and heavy breathing air intake combine for plenty of road presence.
Audi has quite a history with this type of engine. And teamed with the brand’s “quattro” all wheel drive system and dual-clutch automatic transmission, the acceleration on offer is simply addictive.
The transmission is smooth and snappy when it shifts. In the sportier driving modes - with Dynamic selected, or in S on the transmission - the revs will rise and hold, before the transmission rapidly snaps to the next gear.
In more sedate driving - in Comfort drive mode in D - you will notice a little bit of low-rev turbo lag and transmission spool-up from a standstill. But if you do suddenly plant your foot on the throttle, it responds mightily no matter the mode.
For me, the five-cylinder engine offers a more entertaining experience than its closest high-power four-cylinder rivals. It’s quick, tremendously enjoyable to accelerate in, and just a whole lot of potentially-licence-risking fun.
The adaptive magnetic ride suspension is firm but that’s to be expected of a sports sedan with this level of intent, and in Comfort mode it actually settles pretty well. Even over repetitive pockmarks it never felt like things were getting clumsy or that it was tripping over itself. In fact it’s a beautifully composed car even in the most sporting drive mode, Dynamic, and over my drive it never felt like it was doing the wrong thing despite some challenging road surfaces.
There was immense grip and traction in tight twisting corners, and while the steering mightn’t be as pinpoint accurate in Dynamic mode as I’d like, it was still really easy to sew together a series of bends without ever feeling like things were getting out of hand.
I actually preferred to set up my own Individual driving setting, with Comfort steering and suspension but Dynamic everything else. In regular Dynamic mode the steering is a little heavy and dull while in Comfort mode the steering is lighter and makes the car feel a little bit more agile.
All told, I didn’t want to stop driving the RS3 - even after 700km. It bodes well for the next-generation model, that’s for sure.
The launch took place on twisty country roads snaking away from the coast in Northern NSW, but I was only a few corners in before it became darn clear the R-Dynamic HSE was talented dynamically. Impressively so.
The HSE I tested was fitted with the $2090 'Dynamic Handling Pack', which adds bigger front brakes (350mm), adaptive dampers and configurable settings for throttle, transmission, chassis and steering.
Steering which felt a tad heavy in town became the XE's secret weapon as the roads curled through the hills. The confidence the steering, delivering great feedback and accuracy, gives the driver can’t be overstated.
This combined with the XE’s excellent handling and powerful four-cylinder engine makes it a clear dynamic standout among its competitors.
A comfortable ride even, on potholed roads, but flat handling regardless of how hard it was pushed through corners amazed me.
Sure, optional adaptive dampers were fitted to our test car, but considering the work out they were getting without skipping a beat, their response was impressive.
Following this I dropped into the seat of the red R-Dynamic SE you can see in the images. While this wasn’t fitted with the handling package the HSE had, the only real difference I could feel was in the comfort – the adaptive dampers were able to produce a more composed and cushioned ride.
Handling, however, felt sharp, sure and the steering gave me the same confidence I experienced in the HSE.
The Audi RS3 runs with a five-star ANCAP crash test rating that was awarded to the regular Audi A3 range way back in 2013, and things have changed a lot since then. But so has the safety offer in the A3/S3/RS3 line.
The RS3 has auto emergency braking (AEB) which Audi calls Audi pre sense front which includes low-speed pedestrian detection - but unlike other versions of the tech that run under the same banner, the one employed in this generation of A3/S3/RS3 doesn’t have cyclist detection - the next-gen model is certain to. Also missing is a surround view camera and front cross traffic alert, among others.
It does, however, have adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic function, not to mention Audi’s active lane assist tech which can keep you in the centre of your lane, as well as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert.
In the RS3 you get seven airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front side, full length curtain), and as mentioned above, there’s a reversing camera alongside front and rear parking sensors.
As mentioned, the game has moved on a bit - and we expect the next-gen A3/S3/RS3 to get considerably more safety technology, even if this existing model’s offering isn’t terrible.
The Jaguar XE was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015. Both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE come with AEB, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and automatic parking.
The HSE adds blind spot assist which will steer you back into your lane if you’re about to change lanes on top of somebody else; and adaptive cruise control.
The lowish score is due to the need to option safety equipment – it’s becoming the norm for advanced technology to be included as standard.
Audi offers buyers the option of choosing a pre-purchase servicing plan, rather than offering a conventional capped price service plan.
That means you’ve got the option of a three-year/45,000km service plan, at a cost of $2320, or a five-year/75,000km plan at $3420. It covers most standard items, excluding brake pads or discs and wiper blades. Compared to AMG rivals, those prices are actually pretty sharp.
As you may have guessed, service intervals are pegged at 12 months/15,000km.
The brand hasn’t really kept up with rivals such as Genesis and Mercedes-Benz (both of which offer a five-year warranty), and as such Audi still offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan at the time of publishing. That warranty cover also includes roadside assistance at no cost.
The Jaguar XE is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty. Servicing is condition-based (your XE will let you know when it needs a check-up) and there’s a five-year/130,000km service plan which costs $1750.
Again a low score here, but that’s because of the short warranty compared to the five-year coverage which has become an industry expectation and while there is a service plan there’s no service-by-service price guide.