If you want to sell big, you have to sell small – it’s a principle that applies quite universally to car companies, and more so in India. It’s no wonder then that Jaguar’s been languishing in fourth place in the luxury car market here. So far, its model range has just been a mid-size and a large sedan, and a sportscar. Now, however, it’s just launched the new XE, which joins the fray in possibly the most popular luxury segment of them all. The thing is, that puts it up against some of the best in the business. Being a compact, sporty, rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan, its two direct rivals are obviously the BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class, but there’s a catch here. Jaguar has chosen to launch the XE with only a petrol engine, while BMW has just launched the updated 3-series with only a diesel engine. Mercedes, thankfully, has both options, so it’s the C 200 petrol that will be stepping up to the crease to defend Germany’s honour this time around, as the top-spec versions of both cars go head to head.
British chalk, German cheese
They may share a similar drivetrain layout, but the way these cars have been designed shows two very different ideologies. Jaguar calls the XE a sports sedan and it shows in its very shape. It’s got a long bonnet, a swept-back passenger cell with a curved roof and a blunt, short boot. The Mercedes, on the other hand, has a more classic, limo-like three-box profile. Even in the surfacing, while the XE has taut, muscular lines, the C-class is softer and more contoured. They both draw heavily from their full-size siblings too, with more than just a hint of the XJ and S-class in their look. It’s in the detailing where things really start to get different, however. The Jag could be seen as the subtler one, relying more on its sharp proportions to get your attention. You’ll like the ‘J-blade’ signature LED running lamps, the big chrome-lined grille, the chrome side vent and even the F-Type-like LED pattern in the tail-lamps. The C-class has a lot more bling though, with really intricate full-LED head- and tail-lamps, a big three-pointed-star on the nose and even more chrome embellishments all around the car. Whatever your preference is, there’s no doubt the C-class makes a stronger first impact.
Past, present, future
These same themes carry on inside, where the XE’s cabin is modern and sporty, and the C’s is classic luxury. Still, the Jag is not without its interesting flourishes, like the ‘Riva Loop’ – a band of trim that runs behind the dash, beneath the windscreen, connecting the two front doors. It’s also got really unusual door pads, split into different ‘levels’ for the window buttons, seat memory controls, door handles and pockets. The dash, however, is really clean and nice, flowing out from a wide central stack that houses neat AC controls and the touchscreen infotainment unit. The driver focus becomes clear thanks to a chunky steering wheel that sits in front of a very racy set of dials, and of course, there’s Jag’s trademark rotary gear selector that rises out of the centre console.
XE cabin design is clean and sporty. Low dash gives a good view out. Quality is decent, but not as good as Merc.
The Merc, on the other hand, is all glossy wood and brushed aluminium, with plenty of retro touches like its round AC vents and flowing dashboard. And though quality of materials in the Jag is nothing to scoff at, the perceived quality inside the Merc is just on another level. A particularly stunning detail is the knurled finish on the metallic switches and toggles; they just look so classy. There are a few modern touches too, like the iPad-esque screen for Merc’s COMAND infotainment unit, and the touchpad and click-wheel that control it. Even on their own, some of the buttons and switches in the XE look and feel a little too ordinary for a Rs 40 lakh-plus car.
Kit for a king
Speaking of infotainment systems, the XE’s new InControl Touch system is so much better than the old JLR unit – feeling smoother, quicker and more modern. Mercedes’ latest system, however, just looks so much sharper, brighter and easier to read than the Jag’s. Mind you, we will say the XE’s system is simpler to use; Merc’s ‘push-pull-twirl’ system is just inherently non-intuitive. On the kit front, the XE Portfolio and C 200 Avantgarde are pretty closely matched, both getting goodies like keyless entry and go, engine stop-start, auto headlamps and wipers, and selectable driving modes. The Merc edges ahead by getting a dual-sunroof and a drowsiness sensor, while the Jag does have the advantage of 360-degree cameras around the car. Also, rather critically, Mercedes’ space-saver spare tyre sits on the boot floor, compromising the space on offer, while the Jag’s is placed unobtrusively under the boot floor.
Merc spare eats up boot space; Jag’s is tucked away.
Back and forth
Unlike their larger, more expensive counterparts, there’s a much greater chance of these cars being driven by their owners rather than chauffeurs, so the front seats are just as important as the rear’s. The XE’s chairs might look plain, but slip into one and you’ll find them really comfortable, plush and supportive. The leather feels soft, they’re cushioned just perfectly, and from the driver’s seat, you get a great view out thanks to the low-set dashboard. The Mercedes’ seats are bigger and sportier looking, but in practice don’t feel as plush or as supportive to sit in as the Jag’s. What’s more, the free-standing COMAND screen can be quite distracting when you’re driving. Where the Merc does score a little better is rearward visibility, which is just atrocious on the Jaguar, whose high rear deck has led to a tiny rear windscreen.
XE rear visibility very poor thanks to small windscreen.
As for the back seats, the C-class has the more conventional one, in that it’s easy to get into and has a decent amount of space. Headroom is a little tight, but then the Jag’s is a little tighter. The only things we don’t like is that the Merc’s backrest is a little too reclined and that the short seat squab doesn’t give you enough thigh support. The XE’s back seat, on the other hand, is superbly comfortable and supportive, just like the front bench. However, getting in is a bit of a chore as the bench itself is placed really low and far back, which means you have to almost climb over the rear wheel arch to get in. Neither back seat is ideal for a middle passenger, but in a pinch, you could squeeze one into the Mercedes. The Jaguar feels too narrow for three, the transmission tunnel is too wide, and the seat contours force you towards the centre.
A tale of two 2.0s
Both cars have 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines, but that’s where the similarities end. The XE uses the same motor we’ve tried out in the XF and XJ, and it makes a whopping 237bhp and 34.67kgm of torque. The C 200, on the other hand, makes ‘just’ 181bhp and 30.59kgm. Unsurprisingly, then, at 6.98sec, the XE is over a second quicker to 100kph than the C, and the gap just widens from there on.
More than just the numbers, however, it’s the way these cars feel on the road that’s just so drastically different from one another. The Mercedes, in isolation, feels plenty quick enough and most wouldn’t call it slow. In fact, thanks to its very linear power delivery and quick-reacting seven-speed gearbox, you can make really smooth and seamless progress every time you punch the accelerator. In fact, in kickdown acceleration, the Mercedes is barely 0.2sec behind the punchy Jag from 20-80kph. Its only downside is that it’s marginally less refined than the Jaguar engine, but again, by itself, it’s not too bad.
The XE’s engine, though, is just something else. Flatten the throttle and the punch you get is just immense, and it just cruises on a relentless wave of torque to the redline thereafter. Even in mundane city driving, there’s enough pep low down in the rev range to make smooth progress. And for the most part, the eight-speed ZF gearbox does a good enough job. It does, however, tend to hesitate, after which it engages abruptly. When you want a quick change of pace, even at part throttle, it will suddenly shift down, giving you a huge hit of power when all you need is a small increase in pace. This can be worked around if you use the shift paddles, however, and it’s significantly less pronounced in Sport mode.
Ride and handling – both hold equal weightage in a ‘sports luxury sedan’. The Jaguar may have an ‘aluminium-intensive’ monocoque, but then the Mercedes uses quite a lot of aluminium in its construction as well. They both wear 17-inch wheels, but the C-class has slightly lower 50-profile tyres to the XE’s 55-profile. There’s no question about it though, the Jaguar is the better riding of the two, and by a long shot. For one, it rounds off sharp edges really well and barely thunks and thuds at all, and it stays pretty flat at high speeds, only starting to wander a bit beyond 150kph. Yes the C-class is possibly even flatter at high speeds, but it’s sprung a bit too stiffly, and so it moves about a lot more over an uneven road, and crashes much harder over ruts and sharp edges.
The best part is that the Jag’s amazing ride quality hasn’t come at the cost of driving dynamics, as it is an absolute hoot in that department. Jaguar’s first attempt at electric power steering is a tremendous one, and it twirls with the feel and weight of a hydraulic unit – high praise indeed. It makes chucking the XE around a set of curves a whole lot of fun, something that’s only multiplied by tight body control. The C 200 may have a lighter steering, and the nose is quite eager to dart into corners, but it just doesn’t have the same quality of feedback you get from the XE’s helm. Another point to note is that while the Jaguar’s brakes feel stronger than the Merc’s, they are quite grabby, so you’ll have to get used to how quickly they bite at the top of the pedal’s travel.
Make or break in India
Like we said at the start, the XE is the most important car for Jaguar in our market, so has
it done it? There’s no doubt that it is the superior car in this test. Yes, the Mercedes has a bit more bling, and the interior feels a lot nicer too, and perhaps has a wee bit more space as well, but in every other facet, the Jag just eats it up. It’s better to drive and be driven in and it’s luxurious enough too. There is, however, one massive hitch, and that’s the price. At Rs 46.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) the XE Portfolio is pushing into the next segment, and makes the Rs 40.7 lakh C 200 look like tremendous value. But in this segment of petrol-powered, rear-drive, sporty compact luxury cars, we feel driving pleasure plays a big part, especially as many owners choosing such a car will be driving themselves. If you’re one of them, we think the premium is worth it. If you’re not, you can still have an XE ‘Pure’ with less power and equipment for Rs 39.9 lakh. We’re sure it’ll be almost as good.