Price: from £30,275
Engine: 1,999cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 180bhp
Transmission: Six-speed manual or eight-speed auto gearbox, rear wheel drive
Performance: 140mph, 0-62 in 7.8 seconds, 67.3mpg, CO2 109g/km
The last time we saw the launch of an entirely new, all-British volume-production car made almost completely out of entirely new, British-designed and manufactured parts was 1986. That, like the car pictured here, was a Jaguar – a second-generation XJ6.
This time it's the Jaguar XE, a car intended to lure buyers from the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class – a middle-size "premium" saloon that's a new take on covetable middle-management transport.
Jaguar had its fingers burnt the last time it tried this lucrative market. The X-Type was not a success, looking too much like a pastiche of too many olde-world Jaguars and being based on overly expedient Ford underpinnings. This time, things are different.
For a start, the XE looks rakish, dynamic. Beneath the paint is a structure made of aluminium and, as in the BMW and Mercedes, there is a longitudinally mounted engine driving the rear wheels. (Four-wheel drive will come in due course.)
Most recent Jaguars have owed something to previous owner Ford. For its first year of production, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol XEs will use engines based on Ford's Ecoboost – but the turbodiesel versions use Jaguar's new Ingenium engines right from the start. This Ingenium family, built in a new British factory, includes petrol versions that will supplant the Ford-based units in the XE.
As soon as you sit in the car, you sense that it's a departure from the established offerings. A distinct rail runs from the doors across the top of the dashboard, intended to evoke the cabin outline of a Riva speedboat. The dash itself is smooth, clean, its controls simplified as some have moved to a large touchscreen.
You sit low, bounded on one side by the high, flat central tunnel, but there's no sense of claustrophobia. Stitched leather abounds.
First up, the 2.0-litre, petrol-fed automatic. It is fast and keen, but the gear shifts can be abrupt, the steering feels nervous and there's too much agitation over bumps. This is not the honed sporting saloon I was expecting.
The automatic diesel, sampled in 180bhp guise, however, powers the XE with a smooth, easy authority, augmented by precise, natural-feeling steering and an altogether calmer demeanour over bumps. This, surely, is how Jaguar intended the XE to be.
There's also a manual version of the diesel, which scores just 99g/km CO2 in 163bhp guise. This economy advantage must be the major reason for choosing a three-pedal Jag, as the gear change isn't great and the engine's response lag at low speeds is more obvious with no automatic downshift to mask it.
From this dip in pleasure, we leap, finally, to the XE-S with 340bhp from its 3.0-litre, supercharged V6. I love this car. It sounds fabulous with its brassy six-cylinder song and gentle crackles. It feels glued to the road yet eager to alter its cornering line with a dose of extra power, and it rides with an absorbency unusual in a car as fast and accelerative as this.
How fast? To 62mph from rest takes 5.1 seconds, which is impressive to read but doesn't convey the easy thrust available from any speed. It's nearly £12,000 cheaper than a BMW M3, and is rather more entertaining. After you've tried this or the 180bhp diesel, I'll wager you won't be buying German after all.Reuse content