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Mid-size sedans were once the ultimate measure of a premium carmaker; not just the biggest seller in a brand's portfolio, but the ultimate gateway drug for young executives who would (hopefully) step up to bigger and more expensive models as their pay-packets ballooned.
But then, SUVs happened. And suddenly sedans didn't matter quite so much. If at all.
Take BMW, for example. The German marque shifted a total of 4451 units across its 3-Series and 4-Series range last year, a number now dwarfed by the 5171 units across the X3 and X4 SUV family over the same period.
And that shift is even more pronounced with a smaller brand like Jaguar. The UK marque shifted just 791 units of its XE sedan last year, while the F-Pace SUV moved 1275 units over the same period. And that’s a gap that will only get wider.
And yet, having just spent a week in the snarling Jaguar XE S - all supercharged V6 and howling exhaust - we are left with one truly burning question; why?
Why are we climbing out of super athletic sedans and into stodgy SUVs? Why are we trading dynamics for ride height? And why do I have to give this back?
|Jaguar XE 2018: 35t (280kW) S|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Car designers must thank the automotive gods when they’re asked to design a mid-size sedan instead of a big and hulking SUV, and the Jaguar XE looks predictably small, sporty and swift. Personally, though, I’m not sure it looks quite premium enough.
Its best view by far is from directly in front, where the blacked-out mesh grille, hugely domed bonnet and slim and sweptback headlights give the XE S an angry and prowling appearance. From the side, though, it looks a touch plain and featureless. Although the jet-black alloys and red brake calipers of our test car do help inject a little excitement into the XE's profile.
Step inside, and it’s a snug but stylish space. Granted, our test car had received a $2000 interior upgrade, which added fine-grain leather seats, but even without them, it’s a nice space to spend time.
The 8.0-inch screen takes pride of place in the dash, and it's mounted below two perfectly positioned air vents that blow cold air into your face so directly it feels like a design masterstroke. The wide central tunnel is wrapped in a wood-grain finish, and the thin leather steering wheel feels great to touch.
It’s not, really, to be honest. The XE’s 4686mm length and 1967mm width is about on the money (the Mercedes C-Class, for example, is the exact same length) but space in the front has clearly been prioritised in the Jaguar, meaning there’s not much room left for backseat riders.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “who cares? I don’t sit back there”. And you’re probably right. The good news, then, is that space is ample for both driver and passenger up front.
Snuggle into the sports seats and you’ll find two cupholders separating driver and passenger, which are hidden beneath a gloss black sliding cover. The door pockets are on the skinny side, but there’s room for small bottles there, too. The central storage bin is home to USB, power and HDMI ports, too.
Climb into the back and things do get a bit tighter. The middle seat, for example, is really for decoration purposes only, and sitting behind a tall driver will cull a window-seated passenger’s legroom. The strange aperture of the open door makes climbing into the backseat a little more challenging, too.
There are vents for backseat riders (but no temp controls), and a single power source. The phone-sized storage shelf is clever, though, and means you have somewhere to put your phone when you’re charging it. There are also two cupholders in a pulldown seat divider, and two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
The boot opens to reveal a 415-litre storage space, but you can drop the rear seats (by pulling on a decidedly old-school wire fixed to the top of the boot) to improve your storage potential.
The XE S will set you back $92,700, which is about right for the sportiest model in a mid-size sedan line-up. BMW’s very handy 340i M, for example, lists at $91,200.
That money will buy you 19-inch alloy wheels with red brake calipers poking through, along with rain-sensing wipers, proximity unlocking and bi-Xenon headlights with 'J'-shaped DRLs. Inside, you’ll find leather-and-suede seats (electric in the front), push-button start and dual-zone climate control.
On the tech front, look for a nav-equipped 8.0-inch touchscreen. It’s a tad slow and clunky to use, though, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto do not feature.
Now, a quick word on options. There are plenty of them, and they ain’t cheap. Our test car went from $92,700 to $112,890 with a few boxes ticked, including a $3790 stereo upgrade, a $2160 surround-view camera and a $1890 sliding panoramic roof.
Ah, to the heart of the matter at last. The XE S is the quickest and most aggressive in the range, compliments of its supercharged V6 engine.
The rorty unit will generate 280kW at 6500rpm and 450Nm at 3500rpm, shifting that power to the rear wheels courtesy of an eight-speed automatic transmission. That’s good enough for a 5.0-second sprint from 0-100km/h and a flying top speed of 250km/h.
Jaguar claims its XE S will sip 8.1 litres per 100km on the claimed/combined cycle, but it would take saintly levels of self-control to get near that. Expect 10 litres-plus in real-world conditions.
Emissions are pegged at 194g/km of CO2, and the XE sports a 63-litre fuel tank.
The sea-sickness mobile. Admittedly not the most glamorous of tags, but the very one my wife applied to the Jaguar XE S. And to be fair, I can kind of see where she’s coming from. It just doesn't feel as refined in its most comfortable settings as some of its premium competition.
Drive it hard - the way it really should be driven - and it feels tight and composed. The acceleration (in its sportiest setting) is super sharp, and is accompanied by this fabulous howling soundtrack; not a deep guttural rumble, but a higher-pitched note that sounds fantastic.
But the downside of all that frantic fun is that, when you’re just bumbling around the city, it can feel like its surging - like it’s straining at its leash - and it requires the smoothest of inputs to make it feel silky smooth. Otherwise, it's the sea-sickness mobile…
That is but a minor gripe for a car that's this much fun, though. Unleash the XE S on a twisting road and you'll find the steering feels perfectly connected to the front wheels, while the adaptive suspension stiffens the Jaguar enough to make holding a cornering line comically simple.
One downside, though; the suspension soaks up most road imperfections with no bother, but the nose will scrape over steep speed bumps or driveways, leaving you grimacing behind the wheel at the grating noise coming from the front end. And more than once I found myself on my hands and knees looking for damage.
But the real issue with the XE S isn't how it drives, it's more that it just doesn't feel as polished as a car in this price bracket really should.
For one, the multimedia system is slow and glitchy - it never truly linked with my mobile, despite me trying with two different phones. Likewise, some of the trim materials feel cheaper than you might expect, and don't get me started on the exposed metal in the boot, or on the old-school wire you need to pull to lower the seats.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Expect six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain), along with a '360-degree parking aid' (think of its as sensors everywhere), lane-departure warning, AEB and a rear-view camera as standard fit. Our test car was then fitted with lane-keep assist ($960), blind-spot assist with reverse traffic detection ($480) and a head-up display ($2060).
The XE was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2015.
A three-year/100,000km warranty is the norm here, which is admittedly the same length as most of its premium competition, but still a touch disappointing. Ready for more disappointment? All F-Types and XJ Jaguars get five years free scheduled servicing. The XE? Not so much.
Service intervals are a healthy 12 months or 26,000km, though, and you can buy a service plan which prepays your maintenance costs for the fist five years or 180,000km, for $1800.
|20d (132kW) LANDMARK EDITION||2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$58,520 – 67,320||2018 JAGUAR XE 2018 20d (132kW) LANDMARK EDITION Pricing and Specs|
|20d (132kW) PRESTIGE||2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$41,990 – 69,990||2018 JAGUAR XE 2018 20d (132kW) PRESTIGE Pricing and Specs|
|20d (132kW) R-SPORT||2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$45,860 – 84,275||2018 JAGUAR XE 2018 20d (132kW) R-SPORT Pricing and Specs|
|20t (147kW) LANDMARK EDITION||2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$56,540 – 65,010||2018 JAGUAR XE 2018 20t (147kW) LANDMARK EDITION Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||8|
“I've always been a little baffled by our sudden shift to SUVs, and spending time in the Jaguar XE S only confuses me more. It's fun and frantic at pace, comfortable enough around town and small enough to make parking a snap (yet big enough to fit most small families). If cabin technology and fit-and-finish are high on your priority list, then some stuff here will definitely bug you. But if you're all about the twisting tarmac, the Jaguar XE S serves up plenty of smile-inducing thrills.”