It might look like your average tabby but don’t be fooled – this feline packs some enviable performance fangs, writes Thomas Falkiner
I saw you gushing over this car on Instagram. It looks rather ordinary to me, so what gives?
Well, that’s exactly it. In a world of overly aggressive sports sedans (cue anything with an AMG or M badge tacked to its rump) the Jaguar XE S grabs my attention for being quietly understated. For even with those handsome 19-inch alloy wheels, bodykit and dual exhaust tailpipes, this well-proportioned machine kind of just blends into the automotive periphery.
To an average Joe, the XE S comes across as yet another upmarket saloon built for circumnavigating office parks and golfing estates. Lies — all of it. Beneath this innocuous façade lies a peach of an engine and a chassis more polished than any of its German rivals can muster.
So it’s a sleeper — a Q-car — then? Is that what you’re saying?
Absolutely — if there was ever a remake of Ronin then this Jaguar could easily land the leading role. Pop the hood and you’ll discover a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 that whacks out 280kW and 450Nm worth of torque: numbers that bestow the XE S with some potent real-world pace.
Whether firing off the line or punching out of corners, there’s enough muscle on tap to keep you satisfied and, perhaps more importantly, fend off most other metal you’re likely to encounter. As I mentioned before, the motor is an absolute gem and a testament to how good the art of supercharging can be. For unlike turbocharged equivalents, there’s zero lag at low revs and a crisp immediacy to throttle inputs that can rival naturally aspirated motors.
It also keeps pulling hard all the way up to the rev-limiter. Jaguar could have done more, perhaps, to make it sound more sporty, but then I guess any extra noise would detract from its otherwise stealthy demeanor. Fuel economy? Well this is the one disadvantage to supercharging: no matter how carefully I drove the XE S I couldn’t get it to dip under 10l/100km.
Let’s talk handling. Is this XE S as good as the equivalent 3 Series?
No, actually, it’s better. Simply because the Jaguar engineers have given it one seriously trick chassis. Hewn from lots of high-strength steel, aluminium, plus a cheeky dollop of magnesium, the XE S feels incredibly stiff and rigid — qualities you want in a car with sporting pretensions.
Then there’s the suspension. The front, like you’ll find in the excellent F-Type, features a double-wishbone setup while the rear makes do with an equally effective integral link arrangement. Don’t know what this all geek-speak means? Okay, well it simply translates to a car that negotiates changes in direction with noticeably more precision and control — especially over the rougher surfaces you find up in Joburg. Throw in adaptive dampers and you get a saloon that is an absolute joy to chuck through corners. It’s taut and nimble and planted and so much more involving to drive than, say, the BMW 340i.
There’s a playful side to it too: disengage the traction control and you’ll discover a world of easy, progressive drift that never fails to get your inner-hooligan sneering with maniacal delight.
Downsides? Well apart from the electric power steering that could do with some more feel, there’s not much to dislike about the XE S. In its class it’s the dynamic king of the jungle.
What’s life like inside the cabin?
Pretty damn good if you ask me.
What immediately struck me was the excellent seating position. The steering wheel offers plenty of fore/aft adjustment (a real boon if you’re abnormally tall like I am) while the S sports seats grip your frame just right. They’re comfortable too, which means you can devour longer distances without getting stiff.
Though the optional Touch Pro infotainment system is starting to feel its age (a sign of just how fast the automotive tech game is busy trotting along) and lacks digital advancements such as Apple CarPlay, it’s still easy and intuitive to use. Checking this box also means that you get a digital instrument cluster à la Audi Virtual Cockpit plus an 11-speaker 380-watt Meridian audio system that packs some real sonic wallop.
Jaguar Drive Control is standard and lets you alter the map settings of the engine, transmission and brakes with four modes: Eco, Normal, Rain and Dynamic. Speaking of the transmission, an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox is the only option here and it works well with up and down shifts as snappy as any dual-clutch equivalent.
So you’d recommend it over the BMW 340i then, would you?
Wholeheartedly, yes. From a subjective point of view I’ve always preferred more understated cars and I think that this is an area in which the XE S excels. Those under-the-radar looks should help you avoid any unwanted attention while at the same time giving you the power to surprise when it comes to an impromptu drag race.
Objectively I must concede that the Jaguar has the BMW beat in terms of handling prowess and overall feel-good factor. Its ultra-modern chassis is a class act that will reward keen drivers for a long time to come.
While the Jaguar is more expensive (just under R200k more expensive) than a base-spec BMW 340i (but who orders a base-spec car?), I do think it’s a price worth paying considering the extra sophistication — not to mention power — you’re getting. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: 2018 Jaguar XE S
Engine: 2995cc supercharged V6
Power: 280kW at 6 500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 3 500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 5 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel: 14l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 194g/km (claimed)
Price: From R1 004 800