Jaguar XE

Pre-production prototype shows promise

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

JAGUAR’S XE, the company’s most important all-new model in decades, is lustrously brilliant in some respects and needs extra polish in others. Fortunately, there’s still time to make this reardrive sedan what it needs to be – a genuine challenger in the premium compact class.

The new Solihull assembly line isn’t scheduled to start fullscale XE production until March.

Jaguar no doubt understands it is a risky strategy to expose a new car in unfinished form, but inviting select international media to drive some of the first XE pre-production prototypes has powerful potential. It’s an opportunity to build the buzz surrounding this crucial new car.

Of the dozen XEs freighted to Portugal, half are 2.0d models powered by the first of JLR’s new Ingenium modular engine family, a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel four. The remainder have the company’s familiar 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol. All feature ZF eight-speed autos.

Both engines will be included in the XE line-up scheduled for an August launch here. The turbodiesel is to be produced in two versions, but Australia will only see the gruntier 132kW version.

This is what we drove in Portugal.

The supercharged V6 will deliver the same 250kW as it does in the XF, XJ and base F-Type in the S version of the XE, which, at least initially, will be the top model. The line-up will also include Ford-made 147kW and 177kW 2.0-litre turbo-petrol fours.

These are destined to be phased out when JLR’s own 2.0-litre turbo four goes into production.

Starting the Ingenium turbodiesel from cold is a rude shock.

It sounds coarse and clattery, and there’s way too much vibration coming through the steering wheel and floor. It’s quieter and smoother when warm, but never brilliant. The car is R-Sport spec, fitted with Jaguar’s stiffer suspension. It’s brusque and busy on the rubbish roads east of Lisbon, and there’s too much road noise and vibration infiltrating the cabin.

But the XE steers beautifully.

The electric-assist system feels frictionless, precise, quick and consistently weighted. And the integrity of Jaguar’s aluminium body is unmistakable.

Turns out Jaguar’s engineers know which areas need attention; drivetrain man John Pepperell admits “there’s a bit to do on refinement” of the diesel. The car we’ve driven doesn’t have final production engine mounts or engine control software, he says.

Vehicle integrity engineer Graham Moss adds that these pre-production XEs aren’t fitted with some key sound-deadening material and lack correct boot linings. Production cars will be much quieter. They’ll ride better, too, says XE engineering manager Jon Darlington. The Sport suspension we’ve driven has springs 30 to 40 percent stiffer than the standard set-up, he says.

For the drive back to Lisbon, we swap into an XE S. The supercharged V6 is less raucous than in an F-Type, but it has the refined authority of a well developed performance engine.

Equipped with Bilstein adaptive dampers, the XE S rides well in both Normal and Dynamic modes.

With the grace and pace of Jaguar’s famed slogan, this pre-production XE S shows how near Jaguar is to achieving its aim of being the driver’s car in its German-dominated category.

The Ingenium turbo-diesel, on the other hand, is a reminder of how far is left to go before the XE is properly prepared to wage premium compact class warfare.

PLUS & MINUS

Work needed before it’s fit for production Brilliant steering; obvious structural integrity; exterior style

01 INTEGRAL LINK

Jaguar labels the XE’s rear suspension Integral Link, the same tag used for the new multi-link rear end in the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

There are design similarities, but Jaguar engineers say no components are shared.

02 ROOM TO MOVE

XE’s driving position is just fine, the interior layout user-friendly.

Rear seat roominess is adequate rather than outstanding, but the 455-litre boot behind the 40/20/40 split backrest is sufficiently spacious.

03 STYLING

XE’s looks are classic British understatement made metal.

It’s the sleekest Jaguar ever made, with a Cd of 0.26.

Turbo tease

JAGUAR dropped a none-too-subtle hint about future engine developments at the XE event. A version of the 2.0-litre diesel with twin sequential turbos was visible in the engine bay of the tech-cutaway car on display. Only single-turbo versions of the engine are confirmed for production.

The twin-turbo looked production-ready and would likely produce 150kW and 500Nm, though Jaguar engineers declined to divulge details. One thing you can be sure of; if they’re showing it in public, they intend to produce it.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW 320d $62,800

JAGUAR is yet to set prices for the XE range in Australia, but the 320d is surely the target for the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel auto version. While the Brit will outdo the Bavarian for looks, and possibly handling, BMW’s 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is a very hard act to beat.

Mercedes-Benz C250 BlueTec $70,400

MERCEDES-Benz’s 150kW 2.1-litre turbo-diesel isn’t the most refined engine in its class, but for overall goodness the C-Class is the best there is. Jaguar needs to pitch its XE diesel below the C250 BlueTec’s premium price to win vital customers.