First Drive: 2015 Jaguar XE

First Drive: 2015 Jaguar XE

Companies always go out of their way to launch a new product – planning everything right down to personalised stationery for new hacks.

But they still cannot safe guard against the vagaries of the weather. Trust Cape Town to rain on the new Jaguar XE’s parade last week. The temperamental conditions of that hub, built around a gigantic rock, did not make for a ceremonious local introduction of what must be the most important model to come from the British automaker in the past decade.

Its shoulders carry a heavy burden – it has to claw its way into a fiercely competitive market the company never truly managed to master. You probably remember the X-type, Jaguar’s last effort in the premium medium sized sedan segment. That cat simply failed to endear itself to buyers, trounced on the sales charts by it peers from the German triumvirate.

It slinked away quietly in 2009, tail between legs, with a number of wounds to lick. One of them included a spot on Time magazine’s list of the 50 worst cars of all time. Anyway, times have changed since Jaguar and its sister Land Rover have been taken on by Indian – owned Tata. There is money in the kitty for research and development.

The iconic feline is returning to form. Jaguar has a halo product in the form of the F-type to get people excited again. And the new XE should help boost sales. With prices starting at R543 800, it is the least expensive entry point into Jaguar ownership. That is by no means competitive when you consider that the starter derivatives from competitors go for less.

But Jaguar believes it can find a way around this by positioning itself differently. At the launch, it was explained that it should not be thought of as a competitor to the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C Class or Audi A4. Instead, the carsmaker wants buyers to think of it as an alternative to, for instance the 4Series Gran Coupe and the S5 Sportback. Sounds a bit like a ploy to disguise the idea that the company struggled to get pricing closer to traditional players. We will have to see whether the public buys into this.

But what you will find easy to buy into are those looks. Sure, aesthetics are subjective, but I think Jaguar has pulled off that seemingly impossible task of creating something that is universally beautiful. Many will agree that this is a gorgeous piece of metal. Not even the old fashioned brownish hue offered on the colour chart is unflattering to the XE. The interior design also lends itself to some glowing reviews.

For example the top layer of the dashboard wraps all the way around, melting into the door panels. Those panels have an interesting shape that helps to optimise space or enhance the illusion of it anyway. And you can specify the interior of you XE several ways. As I write this, I am simultaneously exhausting data configuring my own ideas of how it should look.

After all it is good to be bad, to quote Jaguar’s advertising tagline. If you must know I picked the Italian racing red metallic exterior hue, 18-inch five spoke wheels and interior of sumptuous light oyster upholstery. But you wish a bit more attention was paid to tactile quality. There are surfaces that feel coarse and cheap, not befitting the persona of a car that costs half a million bucks.

And you will spot several items lifted from old Jaguar/Land Rover parts bit. The latest digital interface, while miles ahead of the system employed in soon to be revised offerings such as the XF, is still no match for the likes of iDrive, from BMW or MMI from Audi. The XE is launched with three engine choices. First up is a two litre four cylinder, turbocharged diesel mill.

We scurried into this unit on the first day of our drive- it is part of the new engine range dubbed in Ingenium – keen to see if it delivered on all those virtues promised by Jaguar in the last year. According to Jaguar, it is the most fuel efficient engine it has ever produced (4.2 litres per 100Km claimed) and it is entirely new, with no remnants from the Ford days.

An idle tone that erred on the clattering side was noted which appeared to subside as the Jaguar warmed up. It was noisier than expected under normal conditions, although its delivery is as smooth as extolled in the brochures. This whole sensation of easy momentum is certainly aided by that eight speed automatic transmission, which the basic model is equipped with.

The Ingenium petrol engine will follow later; for now, you will have to pick the boosted Ford power source that first found employment in the XF and XJ. So it might not be entirely new but it is still up to the job. It brings effusive acceleration, as well as sound that is surprisingly hearty.

If you seek something that is a little more feral, the XE S is the one to pick, until the rumoured R version seethe light of the day. This lifts the three-litre, supercharged V-6 from thrilling F-type. But in this execution the results is not as raucous as you may think. It feels like a gentlemanly racer rather than a hotrod for hoodlum.

Strangely the XE S does not have the assortment of the snaps, crackles and pops that characterises the sound of the F-type. Instead, you get a slightly more subdued, throaty howl as you move through those 8-gears and hurry to fearsome speeds. And at said rates of pace it is wonderfully composed, dignified even.

Now the tone of this report might sound ambivalent. From a critical point of view, there are several things to dislike about the XE, bearing in mind the stiff competition its price and those interior shortcomings. But let me conclude with the point that is unequivocal. Jaguar set up to shake up the sports saloon segment. And from a dynamic perspective it did.

It seems like it closely examined the best virtues of the German counterparts and applied them expertly. The XE moves through the corners with the poise and delicacy of BMW 3-Series. Except it feels more intuitive. It rides with gracefulness of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Except you do not have to specify optional suspension wizardly for it to do so.

But then you notice, for example, that the flagship XE S costs R908 100. And that you could have the forthcoming BMW340i (M Sport) for R680 600. just for a thought.

The facts: Engine: 1999cc turbo-diesel; 1999cc turbo-petrol; 2995cc supercharged
Power: 132Kw at 4000 rpm (2.0D); 177Kw at 5 500 rpm (2.0 petrol); 250 Kw at 6 500 rpm (3.0 SC)
Torque: 430 Nm between 1750 and 2500 rpm (2.0D); 340 Nm between 1750 and 4000 rpm (2.0 petrol); 450Nm at 4500 rpm (3.0 SC)
0-100Km/h: 7.8sec (2.0D); 6.8sec (2.0 petrol); 5.1sec (3.0 SC)
Top speed: 228Km/h(2.0D); 250Km/h (2.0 petrol); 250Km/h (3.0 SC)
Fuel Consumption: 4.2l/100Km (2.0D); 7.5l/100Km (2.0 petrol); 8.1l/100Km(3.0 SC)
CO2: 109g/Km (2.0D); 179g/Km (2.0 petrol); 194g/Km (3.0 SC)
Prices: R534 800 (2.0Diesel Pure); R590 400 (Diesel Prestige); R654 600(Diesel Portfolio); R614 000 (Diesel R-Sport); R638 900 (2.0 Petrol Prestige); R703 200 (2.0 Petrol Portfolio); R662 600 (2.0 Petrol R-Sport); R908 100(3.0 SC)

-Brenwin Naidu