AT LAST!

Thatís infotainment

WORDS JOHN CAREY

A Jaguar good enough to rival the Germans

ITíS BEEN a long wait for the most important new Jaguar of this century.

There was the over-the-top official reveal of the XE in London last September. Then a drive of very early and obviously unfinished pre-production examples in Portugal in January.

Now, at last, the moment of truthÖ The throttle of the red XEís 250kW supercharged 3.0-litre V6 has been pinned wide open since exiting the tight right-hander onto the pit straight at Spainís Circuito de Navarra.

Now weíre in the upper end of fifth gear, heading for the 3.9km trackís evil-fast kink.

This time, as coached by instructor ĎPortuguese Georgeí, I roll into the steering smoothly while easing out of the throttle. The Jaguar arcs gracefully this time, rewarding gentle treatment of its quick, accurate and fabulously fluid steering.

Now trailing the brakes, we pass by the neighbourhood of the apex of the following quick right-hander. But I havenít dispensed with enough speed for the much tighter one that follows and I feel the small change in steering weight thatís the unmistakable signal of understeer.

Bugger! Maybe next lapÖ Much more than me, the XE S is up for this kind of stuff. This rear-drive Jaguar has the precision, poise and grip to make lapping a fast and technical track like this an enjoyable challenge, not a futile exercise in brakebaking, tyre-trashing frustration. Instead, the XE S feels like it could put another 50kW to effective use.

Maybe even 100kW.

Though Jaguarís drive program involves track time only in the S, the roads outside the circuit are scarcely less challenging. Northern Spain is paradise for drivers.

Ribbons of well-laid bitumen snake along fertile valleys, through sleepy Basque villages and over pretty passes. Traffic is light. We spend about 500km on public roads sampling a variety of XE models.

When it reaches Australia there will be a choice of four engines, all teamed with ZFís fine eight-speed auto. There are 147kW and 177kW versions of Fordís 2.0-litre Ecoboost turbo four (to be replaced by a Jaguar Land Rover-designed petrol-burning Ingenium four in a year or two), a 132kW 2.0-litre Ingenium turbo-diesel, and Jaguarís familiar supercharged 3.0-litre V6 already mentioned.

There will be three standard chassis set-ups, with an optional adaptive damping system for one model grade taking the total to four. They all work well, at least on the often smooth roads of northern Spain. And thereís not a dud among the engines, either.

Having set out to make the XE the best driverís car in its class, Jaguar seems to have succeeded. Thereís proper pleasure to be had behind the wheel in even the most humble version of the XE; great steering, sorted suspensions, solid brakes and capable engines.

On first acquaintance, this Jaguar has the modelfor- model measure of both the BMW 3 Series, which

Thatís infotainment

THE XE is the second model to feature Jaguar Land Roverís new InControl infotainment and connectivity system and its 8.0-inch central touchscreen; the new Discovery Sport was the first.

German parts giant Bosch provides the basic tech platform for InControl.

JLR doesnít have exclusive rights to it, which means other carmakers will in time adopt it, though they will brand it with a different name than InControl.

InControl is a competitively capable system.

It can put some smartphone apps on the carís screen, and the number of compatible apps will increase rapidly from the current 15 or so as more developers push them through Boschís approval process. overís nd ystem hc reen; very s s

All three standard chassis set-ups work well, and thereís not a dud among the engines, either

Architectural significance

D7A is the name of the architecture introduced by XE.

To build the XE and future D7Abased vehicles, the company has added production capacity at its Solihull UK plant, where Range Rovers are also produced. Flat-out, the new line will be able to spit out an extra 168,000 Jaguars a year.

Last year, the brand sold 81,570 cars worldwide, so as imminent D7A-based newgeneration XF and the F-Pace crossover SUV are launched, thereís plenty of room for production rates to increase.

is unimpressive unless fitted with optional adaptive dampers, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which in its most capable ĎAirmaticí form prioritises comfort over agility. But winning customers away from the compact rear-drivers of the established German brands, which the XE must do, will require more than just dynamic prowess and satisfying performance.

Jaguarís designers have certainly played their part.

The good-looking XE has the right amount of thrusty tension in its proportions and stance, and the shapeís calm surfacing and restrained detailing let it speak loud and clear. Itís plainer, yet prettier, than the 3 Series and C-Class.

The interior isnít so attractive. The instrument panel design is a scaled-down version of the big XJ sedan, including the unifying pillar-to-pillar arc Jaguar borrowed from the cockpit design of an Italian maker of high-class powerboats. While this ĎRiva Hoopí delivers a nice low cowl, the design also creates a large expanse thatís devoid of visual interest. The centre stack with its eight-inch touchscreen is rather plain, too.

Jaguarís trademark pop-up rotary gear selector brings a welcome touch of novelty, but the XEís interior lacks the glamour, sparkle and luxury feel of Mercedesí still fresh C-Class.

While the driving position and controls make the Jaguar easy to use and the level of infotainment tech packed behind the central screen is highly competitive, the interior has other shortcomings. Thereís not a lot of storage space; the glovebox is small, the front door pockets skinny, the lidded centre console bin isnít very large and the adjacent cupholders are kinda shallow.

The rear seat is reasonably roomy, despite the slick silhouette (Jaguar claims a low 0.26 drag co-efficient for the XE). Thereís headroom for someone of my 1.85m size and just enough knee space for comfort. Behind the three-section 40/20/40 split-folding backrest is a 450-litre cargo compartment, slightly smaller than the 3 Series and C-Class.

The rear-drive XE has the precision, poise and grip to make lapping a track enjoyable driv

The XE boasts more aluminium, but is no lighter than its BMW and Mercedes rivals

JAG BE NIMBLE

Use the free viewa app and scan this page to hear Careyís verdict on the new Jaguar XE

Jaguar boasts that the XE contains more aluminium than anything else in the class, and its 75 percent proportion is higher than the competitor that comes closest, the new C-Class. But carefully comparing official weights indicates the Jaguar is no lighter than its BMW and Mercedes rivals. As a consequence, the Britís performance and fuel efficiency numbers are broadly similar to the equivalent German models.

Since driving the pre-production prototypes around Lisbon early in the year, Jaguarís engineers have worked some real magic with the Ingenium 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. Final touches to its calibration and engine mounts have banished the noise and vibration evident in January. Itís now competitively quiet and smooth, with a strong band of useful mid-range torque.

The Ford-sourced 2.0-litre turbo-petrol is similarly refined, all the way to the top of its wider working rev range, while Jaguarís 90-degree 3.0-litre V6 is less raucously vocal in the XE than in the F-Type sports cars, as befitting a sedan.

Shift quality with the eight-speed automatic is fine in all versions. However, gradually adding throttle at light engine loads in Drive doesnít get you a lower gear as soon as desired, and when the transmission finally figures out whatís being asked of it, it often over-reacts, kicking back two or even three gears. Itís better to use the paddles.

The Australian market wonít get the most basic XE, a cloth-upholstered version called SE in the UK and Pure in other markets. Our line-up will instead open at the leather-seat Prestige level. All three four-cylinder drivetrains will be offered in Australia, in both Prestige and R-Sport grades. The latter brings a firmer passive suspension (with the option to add adaptive damping) and a small spoiler to go with its package of cosmetic embellishments.

While prices are yet to be fixed for the XEís September introduction in Australia, something close to $60,000 is promised for the 147kW Ecoboost 2.0-litre turbo-petrol in Prestige trim.

The luxury Portfolio grade brings richer interior materials, and will be offered only with the 177kW Ecoboost engine.

The 250kW supercharged V6 engine comes only in the XE S, which receives its very own interior, including suede cloth seat inserts, plus firm suspension with standard adaptive dampers, enlarged front air intakes and painted brake calipers. Itís likely to be priced between $90,000 and $100,000.

Jaguarís standard suspension set-up delivers a sweetly judged balance between ride and handling.

Choosing the R-Sport brings greater discipline to the behaviour of the XEís rear end, with barely any impact on ride comfort. The optional R-Sport adaptive damping system, on the basis of our brief Spanish experience, can be safely ignored. The XE S also rides quite well considering its handling talent, even in Dynamic mode, which firms the damping.

Thereís a lot riding on the XE. Itís our first chance to judge if Jaguar Land Roverís $4 billion investment will bring a great leap forward for the Leaper-badge brand. As well as the XE, this massive amount of money has produced an all-new architecture (which will also provide a foundation for the imminent next-gen XF and the F-Pace crossover SUV), the Ingenium modular engine family and a new plant to make them, plus a massive increase in production capacity at JLRís Solihull factory near Birmingham.

Now we know that the XE drives like it looks, weíre ready to call this car the beginning of a bright new era for Jaguar. Itís simply too good to ignore. ar e ra Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Jaguar XE 2.0 Diesel 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD 132kW @ 4000rpm 430Nm @ 1750-2500rpm 8-speed automatic 1565kg 7.8sec (claimed) 4.2L/100km (EU) $63,000 (estimated) September

Against type

ITíS BEEN five years since the XEís predecessor Ė the X-Type (2001-10) Ė was given the axe, leaving Jaguar slightly burnt from its first compactexecutive attempt since the 1960s. It was hoped the X-Type would sell 100,000 units annually, but it only managed half that in its best year (2003) before fading into sales obscurity. But was it really so bad? At its core, only 20 percent was shared directly with Fordís Mondeo, but X-Typeís fussy styling Ė reportedly the work of Detroit, not England Ė wasnít seductive enough to silence the bleating about its Ford DNA. The 3.0-litre V6 AWD sedan was actually a pretty tidy steer, but the front-drive 2.1-litre V6 automatic was an overpriced slug, and none were particularly roomy. Australian X-Type sales totalled a reasonable 5791 across nine years.