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Jaguar XE diesel 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Paul Gover road tests and reviews the Jaguar XE at its international preview in Portugal.

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Standing before me is the most important new Jaguar in the company's recent history, the compact XE.

It is still months from local showrooms, but the company has lined up a group of specially-built prototypes in Portugal for an early preview.

This is the first chance to pass judgement on the Jaguar that must — finally — provide an affordable and attractive starting point for people joining the brand.

And a Jaguar that finally can go head-to-head with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

XE, for now, is the most important Jaguar product

There are giant "test car" stickers on the doors of the press cars, and the cabins are far from the final finish, but as the test car's 250kW V6 propels us into the hills outside the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, it immediately makes a positive impression.

It's a real driver's car, from the steering response and slick-shifting eight-speed automatic to the way the suspension soaks up Australian-style bitumen acne.

There is some coarseness in the turbodiesel engine, and I wonder if there is enough rear-seat legroom, but that's about it for complaints. It will take a long drive at home, as well as final pricing information on a car that needs to start just below $60,000 to battle the Germans, before we really know about the XE.

But it's clear that the car is good and there is huge commitment from Jaguar as it expands the compact end of its line-up with its F-Pace SUV and other versions of the XE, including a coupe and probably a shooting brake wagon.

"XE, for now, is the most important Jaguar product. It's about delivering relevance for the brand," says Matt Wiesner, the man who takes control this week of Jaguar Land Rover in Australia.

"This is the beginning of Jaguar becoming a very relevant brand. It gets into the fat of the premium car business."

Wiesner won't say it, and neither will the engineers in Portugal, but the XE must also finally bury the demons of the disastrous X-Type Jaguar. It was also a starter car but, because it was little more than a thinly-disguised Ford Mondeo, it was never remotely a prestige contender.

"We think XE is a far more compelling vehicle than the X-Type. This is our car, not inherited from anyone else," Wiesner says bluntly.

Looking at the XE, it's the start of a new lightweight architecture at Jaguar — much like the platform for the latest Range Rover models on the other side of the JLR family — with a northwest engine installation and rear-wheel drive. The cabin is sized against the 3 Series, there will eventually be V8-powered R models, and the design team under Ian Callum has deliberately gone youthful on the inside without losing Jaguar signature items including the pop-up rotary gear controller and the sweeping curve below the windscreen.

The last time a serious new player came to attack the Germans was when Lexus introduced its IS line, but it was never big enough, sharp enough or luxurious enough in the early days. And its chance passed.

For Jaguar, the basics are in place, but it is claiming a unique difference for the XE.

"Let me start by making a promise: the XE is a true driver's car," the chief program manager of the XE, Nick Miller, tells CarsGuide in Portugal.

That starts with a body shell that's 75 per cent aluminium, and panels that are thinner but 20 per cent stiffer than the larger XF. The suspension is double-wishbone in the front with Jaguar's "integral link" design in the rear, including lots of aluminium parts for strength without weight.

There are two engine choices on the test drive, the 250kW/450Nm V6 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel with 180kW/430Nm, both with R-Sport setup.

I'm certain that this car is a modern-day Spitfire going into battle

But these first cars are prototypes, not showroom cars, and Jaguar has its excuses ready.

"There will be improvements before the final sign-off. Don't expect that the car will come to showrooms exactly as you're driving it," Miller says.

"These cars are going to the crusher. They will never be sold."

There are obvious glitches in the cabin, from mismatched plastic parts to incorrect sealing of the airbag cover, that back his claims. But, in general, the two cars I drive are fault free.

The big thing I notice in the first five kilometres is the quietness. I've almost forgotten that Jaguar claims the lowest interior noise levels in the class while I'm busy checking the boot space (cavernous), the front seat design (supportive), the brake feel (impressive) and the rear-seat comfort (good, but not great).

I cannot ignore the Lexus IS in the morning sprint with the V6 XE, because the car has a feel that's nothing like the Germans, but in the afternoon with the diesel I'm certain that this car is a modern-day Spitfire going into battle.

The real problem with the preview drive is not the cars, but the Portuguese weather. It's very chilly and damp, which means there is no real chance to push hard in corners.

I know the wipers and aircon work well, but this is supposed to be a sports sedan and my only dry-road running comes in the diesel. And it's lacking the top-end punch that makes the V6 the right choice for people who enjoy driving.

But the torque vectoring under brakes makes the car impressively stable, and the 18 and 19-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in grippy — but potentially noisy on Aussie bitumen — rubber, while the suspension is never remotely unsettled by the worst bumps and undulations.

Verdict

I'm happy and I'm impressed but, ultimately, not convinced about the XE. I like it and I know it's good but I will not know exactly how good until I can get one at home and run it up against the Mercedes C-Class that was crowned our Car of the Year in 2014.

Pricing Guides

$38,990
Based on 53 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$33,495
Highest Price
$44,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
20D Prestige 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $33,888 – 38,990 2015 Jaguar XE 2015 20D Prestige Pricing and Specs
20D R-Sport 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $33,980 – 36,000 2015 Jaguar XE 2015 20D R-Sport Pricing and Specs
20T Prestige 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $33,495 – 35,990 2015 Jaguar XE 2015 20T Prestige Pricing and Specs
20T R-Sport 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $39,490 – 39,990 2015 Jaguar XE 2015 20T R-Sport Pricing and Specs

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EXPERT RATING
8