Driven: Jaguar XE

Recently refreshed after a mid-term facelift, Jaguar’s baby saloon now features a more assertive face (assertive, you note, not aggressive…) courtesy of a new bumper and slimline, LED headlights. The rear end has been similarly tweaked but the biggest changes have been reserved for the interior, which is now attractively modern and minimalist while managing to retain the wood ‘n’ leather style that Jaguar has made its own. It’s a neat conjuring trick and probably unique in its class.

Both petrol and diesel engine options are offered: the two-litre petrol Ingenium engine can be had in 250PS and 300PS guises, and the sole oil-burning Ingenium engine produces 180PS. While the diesel is an attractively flexible option thanks to its superior low-down torque (as well as being much more fuel efficient, of course) I felt it was the petrol engine that best suited the car’s sporting nature. (Company car drivers will almost certainly disagree because the rear-wheel-drive diesel models – an all-wheel-drive option is available with both fuels – is certified as RDE2-compliant and so doesn’t attract the 4% supplement to the Benefit-in-Kind tax.)

Part of the petrol car’s appeal is that it is more sporting than luxurious; while the interior boasts all the refinement and soft-touch surfaces you could ever reasonably expect, the XE is a car that begs to be driven long and fast. Just like every decent Jag always has.

Dynamic mode is standard on all XE models, and switching to this gives faster gear shifts, a sharper throttle response, and increased steering weighting. Acting in a supporting role to the well-tuned double-wishbone front suspension and a super-stiff, largely aluminium bodyshell, it works very well. Lucky enough to be able to spend a couple of hours threading it along the Route Napoleon in the south of France, I discovered that the XE simply flowed along the sinuous mountain road shrugging off poor surfaces and adverse camber bends with equal aplomb.

This was in large part due to my test car’s optional R-Dynamic handling pack, which hunkers the car down and damps body movement more firmly. It makes an astonishing difference to the way the XE feels; so noticeable, in fact, that both I and another motoring journalist independently commented on the huge improvement in the car’s feel after only a couple of hundred yards behind the wheel.

Nor does this sporting handling come at the expense of comfort, because the XE retains almost all of the standard car’s ride quality despite the emphasis being moved towards the sporting end of the spectrum. Thus equipped, it’s a remarkably accomplished car and one that Jaguar’s engineers have every right to be proud of.

As they should the interior. The XE now has the I-PACE’s steering wheel and and very nice it is, too. The XE has also gained hidden-until-lit graphics and capacitive switches. The result is attractive as well as being far more intuitive than the touchscreens many manufacturer’s seem to be obsessed with. Having to select and scroll through multiple screens to make even the simplest of changes makes them downright dangerous.

The seating position is also very comfortable, and the seats themselves are supportive. Boot space is good, and rear-seat legroom is decent, if not best-in-class.

But, I loved the XE’s new ClearSight rear-view mirror best of all. Capable of being switched between a conventional rear-view mirror and a screen that uses external cameras to give a wide-angle view that includes the blind-spot that every other mirror misses, it is a stroke of genius. The image might be ever-so-slightly out of focus, but I thought it was an effective system and a major leap forward in safety.

The Jaguar XE range starts at £33,195.