Jaguar XE VS Lexus IS
- Outstanding ride and handling
- Great horsepower for your buck
- Though, good looks
- Rear seats are tight
- Small boot
- Optional safety tech
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
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|
No it isn’t an all-new car. It might look like it, but the 2021 Lexus IS is actually a heavy facelift of the existing model, which originally went on sale way back in 2013.
There have been significant changes to the look of the new Lexus IS, including a revised front and rear end, and the company has widened the track and made “substantial chassis changes” to make it handle more adeptly, too. Plus there is a whole raft of newly added safety features and in-car technology, despite the cabin being, largely, a carryover affair.
Suffice to say that the new Lexus IS 2021 model - which the brand describes as having been “reimagined” - carries over a few strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. But does this Japanese luxury sedan still have enough quality traits to compete with the likes of its main rivals - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The new-look Lexus IS takes several steps forward over its predecessor - it’s safer, smarter, sharper to look at and still pretty well priced and equipped.
It is feeling its age inside, and the competition has moved on in terms of engines and EV tech. But even so, if I was buying a 2021 Lexus IS, it would have to be the IS350 F Sport, which is just the most fitting version of this car, though the IS300h Luxury does have plenty to like for the money, too.
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.
You either get the Lexus look or you don’t, and I think this latest version is possibly more agreeable than the IS in years gone by.
That’s partly because the brand has finally done away with the odd spider-eyes twin-section headlights and daytime running lights - now there are more traditional headlight clusters, which look a lot more resolved than before.
The front end still features a bold ‘spindle’ grille, which gets different treatment depending on the grade, and the front, to my eye, looks better than before but still very much stuck in its ways.
At the side you’ll notice the giveaway windowline hasn’t changed, despite the chrome trim line having broadened as part of this facelift, but you can tell the haunches have muscled up a bit, with the new IS now 30mm wider overall, and the wheel sizes are 18s or 19s, depending on the grade.
The rear accentuates that width, with an L-shaped lighting signature now spanning the entire re-sculpted boot lid, giving the IS a pretty tidy rear end design.
Overall dimensions for the IS are 4710mm long, making it 30mm longer nose to tail (on an unchanged 2800mm wheelbase), while it now spreads across 1840mm (+30mm) and is 1435mm tall (+5mm).
The exterior changes really are impressive - I think it is a more purposeful but also more pleasant looking car now than it ever has been in this current generation.
The interior? Well, there’s not a whole lot to talk about in terms of design changes, aside from the repositioned and larger media screen - which sits 150mm closer to the driver because it’s now a touchscreen with the latest smartphone mirroring tech. Otherwise it’s a carryover affair, as you can see from the interior pictures.
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.
The interior design of the IS, as mentioned, hasn’t changed dramatically, and it is starting to feel old compared to some of its contemporaries.
It’s still a nice place to be, with comfortable front seats with electric adjustment and heating across all grades, and cooling on many variants, too.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is a nice unit, and means you can essentially do away with the silly trackpad system that still resides near the gear selector, so you may still end up bumping it accidentally. And the fact the IS now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though neither are wirelessly connectable) does further its appeal on the multimedia front, as does the standard 10-speaker Pioneer stereo - though the 17-speaker Mark Levinson unit is an absolute blinder!
The centre stack below the media screen retains a CD player, and still has the electromagnetic temperature adjustment sliders as well. That part of the design is dating it just as much as the transmission tunnel console area, which looks a bit out of touch by modern standards, though still incorporates a pair of cup holders and a reasonably large centre console bin with soft armrest padding.
The front doors feature trenches with bottle holders as well, while in the rear doors there is still no drink storage - a carryover annoyance from the pre-facelift model. However, the middle seat in the back doubles as an armrest with pop-out cupholders, and there are rear air vents too.
Speaking of that middle seat, you wouldn’t want to sit in it for long, as it has a raised base and uncomfortable backrest, plus there’s a huge transmission tunnel intrusion eating into leg and foot space.
Outboard passengers also miss out on toe room, which - for my size 12s - is an issue. And it’s hardly the roomiest second row in this class for knee room and headroom, as my 182cm frame was a touch squished behind my own driving position.
Children will be better catered for in the back, and there are two ISOFIX anchorages and three top-tether attachment points for baby seats.
The boot capacity varies on the model you buy. Choose an IS300 or IS350 and you score 480 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity, while the IS300h has a battery pack that robs it of some boot space, with 450L available.
Price and features
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.
The updated 2021 Lexus IS range has seen a number of pricing changes, and a reduction of variants, too. There are now five IS models available, down from seven prior to this update as the Sports Luxury model has been axed, and you can only get the IS350 in F Sport trim now. However, the company has expanded its “Enhancement Pack” strategy across the different variants.
Opening the range is the IS300 Luxury, which lists at $61,500 (all prices listed are the MSRP - not including on-road costs, and are correct at time of publishing). It has the exact same equipment as the IS300h Luxury model, which is $64,500, and that ‘h’ stands for hybrid, which will be detailed in the engines section.
The Luxury trim is equipped with items such LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, a 10.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation (including live traffic updates) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, plus a 10-speaker sound system, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory settings for the driver, and dual-zone climate control. There’s also auto headlights with auto high beam, rain sensing wipers, power steering column adjustment, and adaptive cruise control.
Indeed, there’s a raft of safety technology included - more on that below - and there’s also a number of Enhancement Pack options.
Luxury spec models can be equipped with a choice of two Enhancement Packs: the $2000 Enhancement Pack adds a sunroof (or moonroof in Lexus speak); or Enhancement Pack 2 (or EP2 - $5500) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, cooled front seats, high-grade leather-accented interior trim, and a power-operated rear sunshade.
The IS F Sport trim line is available across the IS300 ($70,000), IS300h ($73,000) or the V6-powered IS350 ($75,000), and it adds a number of additional features over the Luxury grade.
As you can probably tell, F Sport models get a sportier look, with a body kit, 19-inch alloy wheels, standard fit adaptive suspension, sports front seats with cooling, sports pedals, and five drive modes to choose from (Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom). The F Sport grade also includes a digital instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch display, as well as leather-accented trim, and scuff plates.
Buying the F Sport grade allows customers to add further goodies by way of the Enhancement Pack for that grade, which costs $3100 and includes the sunroof, 17-speaker sound system and rear sunshade.
What’s missing? Well there’s no wireless phone charging in any grade, and no USB-C connectivity either. Note: the spare wheel is a space saver in the IS300 and IS350, but there is only a repair kit in the IS300h as there are batteries where the spare wheel would go.
There’s no go-fast IS F model sitting at the top of the tree here, nor is there a plug-in hybrid to compete against the circa-$85K BMW 330e and Mercedes C300e. But the fact the IS models all come in below $75K means it’s a pretty decent value proposition.
Engine & trans
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 engine specs depend on the powertrain you choose. And at a glance there’s no variance between the earlier version of the IS and the 2021 facelift.
That means the IS300 model still runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor producing 180kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 350Nm of torque (at 1650-4400rpm). It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all IS models, it is rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD) - there is no all-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) model here.
Next up the spectrum is the IS300h model, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol motor teamed to an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine is good for a 133kW (at 6000rpm) and 221Nm (at 4200-5400rpm), and the electric motor produces 105kW/300Nm - but the combined total maximum power output is 164kW, and Lexus doesn’t provide a maximum torque figure. The 300h model runs a CVT automatic transmission.
The big horsepower offering here is the IS350, which runs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, producing 232kW of power (at 6600rpm) and 380Nm of torque (at 4800-4900rpm). It runs an eight-speed auto.
All models have paddle-shifters, while the two non-hybrid models have seen tweaks to the transmission software that is said to “estimate driver intentions” for better enjoyment.
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 still no diesel model, no plug-in hybrid and no full electric (EV) model - which means that while Lexus was at the forefront of electrification with its so-called “self-charging” hybrids, it is falling behind the times. You can get plug-in versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the Tesla Model 3 plays in this space in full-electric guise.
As for the fuel-sipping hero of this trio of powertrains, the IS300h is said to use 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle fuel test. In reality, our test car’s dashboard showed 6.1L/100km across a mix of driving.
The IS300 with its turbocharged 2.0L engine is next best for fuel use, claiming 8.2L/100km. On our short launch drive of that model, we saw 9.6L/100km on the dashboard.
And the full-fat IS350 V6 petrol claims consumption of 9.5L/100km, while on test we saw 13.4L/100km.
The emissions for the three models are 191g/km (IS300), 217g/km (IS350) and 116g/km (IS300h). All three are Euro 6B compliant.
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres for all models, meaning your mileage range for the hybrid model could be considerably longer.
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.
With the engine at the front and drive to the back, it has the ingredients for a pure driver’s car, and Lexus made a bit of a big deal about the new-look IS being more focused thanks to chassis adjustments and track width improvements - and it does feel a pretty nimble and tied-down car in the twisty stuff.
It is competent at stitching together a series of corners, and the F Sport models are particularly adept. The adaptive suspension in those models includes both anti-dive and anti-squat tech, which is designed to make the car feel solid and flat on the road - and it does, thankfully without feeling twitchy or uncomfortable, with good suspension compliance even in the most aggressive Sport S+ drive mode.
The 19-inch wheels on F Sport models are fitted with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) and there’s plenty of tarmac tenacity.
The grip from Luxury-spec models on 18s could be better, with those Bridgestone Turanza tyres (235/45 all around) proving not quite the most enthralling.
Indeed, the IS300h Luxury I drove felt very different in character to the F Sport IS300 and 350 models. It was surprising how much more of a plush-focused model the Luxury grade feels, and likewise it wasn’t as impressive in dynamic driving due to the tyre grip and less-enthusiastic drive mode system. The non-adaptive suspension is a touch more jittery too, and while it’s not to the point of discomfort, you might expect better for a car on 18s.
Across all models the steering is accurate and direct enough, with predictable response and decent feel to the driver’s hands for this electric power steering setup. The F Sport models have even further retuned steering for “an even sportier drive experience”, though I found at times it could feel a little numb for rapid changes of direction.
As for engines, the IS350 is still the pick. It has the best zest, and feels the most fitting powertrain for this model. It sounds good, too. The auto transmission is pretty clever, there's easily enough pulling power, and it's probably going to be the last of the non-turbo V6s in Lexus's line-up when this cars life-cycle is up.
The IS300's turbo engine was the most disappointing, lacking some urge and constantly feeling bogged down by turbo lag, transmission confusion, or both. It felt underdone in enthusiastic driving, though in dull day-to-day commuting circumstances it came across as more acceptable, though the remapped transmission software was far less impressive in this application than in the IS350.
The IS300h was a lovely, quiet and refined experience all around. It’s the one you should go for if you don’t really care about all that go-fast stuff. The powertrain is proven, it accelerates with nice linear delivery, and at times it’s so hushed I found myself looking down at the instrument cluster to see if the car was in EV mode or if it was using the petrol engine.
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.
The facelifted version scores auto emergency braking (AEB) with day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection (from 10km/h to 80km/h) and car detection (10km/h to 180km/h). There’s also all speed adaptive cruise control with low speed following.
The IS also has lane keeping assistance with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, a new system called Intersection Turning Assist which will brake the car if the system judges the traffic gap isn’t big enough, and there’s also road sign recognition.
Plus the IS has blind-spot monitoring on all grades, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking (below 15km/h).
And beyond that, Lexus has added new Connected Services features, including an SOS call button, automated collision notification if an airbag deploys, and stolen vehicle tracking.
Where is the Lexus IS built? Japan is the answer.
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.
On paper, Lexus’s ownership offer isn’t quite as enticing as some other luxury car brands - but it has a strong reputation for blissful ownership.
The Lexus Australia warranty period is four years/100,000km, which is better for duration than Audi and BMW (both three years/unlimited km) but not as accommodating as Mercedes-Benz or Genesis, each of which offer five-year/unlimited km warranty.
The company has a three-year capped price servicing plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The first three visits cost $495 each. That’s okay - but Lexus doesn’t offer free servicing like Genesis, and nor does it offer prepaid service plans - for three to five years for a C-Class, and five years for Audi A4/A5, for instance.
There is complimentary roadside assistance for the first three years, too.
That said, the company has its Encore ownership benefits program that allows a number of experiences and deals, and the service team will collect your car and return it, leaving you with a loan car if you need it.