Jaguar XE 25t Portfolio India review, test drive
18th Feb 2016 2:18 pm
The British carmaker finally has a C-class and 3-series rival in India, and this is what it's like to drive on our roads.
What is it?
It's a car that's been a long time coming. Jaguar’s model range has thus far been two sedans and a sportscar, and that's never been enough to keep up with the German Joneses on sales numbers. There will be an SUV coming later, but first there’s this, the new XE. A crucial model to win Jaguar more customers in the increasingly popular and high-volumes entry luxury segment, alongside the the 3-series, A4 and C-class. It's a car Jag just has to get right.
No complaints at all about the way it looks, which is like a smaller, tauter version of its attractive bigger siblings, the XJ and XF. It’s got a lovely long bonnet with a prominent bulge at the centre that leads into a curved roof and a very short tail, all of which really reinforces its positioning as a rear-wheel-drive ‘sports sedan’. There’s a smart design for the 17-inch wheels too, although we hope Jaguar offers larger options for those who don’t mind sacrificing a bit of comfort for a bit more style. The ‘J-blade’ signature LED running lights on this car look great at night, making the XE seem a lot wider than it is, as do the LED accents in the tail-lamps, designed to mirror those of the F-type. Finally, down the sides, there’s a lovely chrome exit vent and some very subtle sill extensions that do so well to liven things up.
Jaguar has chosen to launch the XE with only a petrol engine for now, with the new ‘Ingenium’ 2.0-litre diesel engine coming later on. To give customers some choice, however, there are two petrol variants - the 198bhp, lower-spec ‘20t Pure’ trim, and the fully loaded, 238bhp ‘25t Portfolio’ that we’re driving now.
What's it like inside?
The sporty demeanour of the exterior is reflected inside, but you also see some elegant touches from the bigger XJ limousine incorporated here. The most obvious is the ‘Riva Loop’ - a continuous band of trim that runs around the rear of the dashboard and unites the two front doors. The multi-layered door pads take a little getting used to, with pockets, grab handles, seat controls and window controls placed at four seperate levels, but it’s quite a unique-looking design. You’ll love the way the dash is laid out though - simple and classy, with a wide central stack incorporating AC controls and the InControl touchscreen, culminating in Jaguar’s signature rising ‘hockey puck’ gear selector, which will be a great novelty in this segment.
The seats look rather simple, but slip into them and you’ll find they’ve been beautifully engineered. Snug, well cushioned, widely adjustable and with incredible support, it’s easy to get comfortable here. What’s also easy is seeing out the front of the XE even if you’re short, thanks to a nice and low dash that lets you see the end of that long bonnet over the thick steering wheel and racy dials. Quite the opposite is the visibility behind - the rear deck is high and the windscreen small, meaning you only see the tops of cars coming towards you. Get used to using the wing mirrors and the rear-view camera, which, incidentally, is not available on the ‘Pure’ trim. Quick mention has to be made of Jaguar’s new InControl touchscreen system, standard on all XEs. It’s a huge improvement on the ancient system you’ll find in other Jags and Land Rovers, with better functionality and smoother, quicker operation. However, it’s still a little off the high benchmark set by the likes of BMW’s i-Drive and Volvo’s new touchscreen.
As for the all-important back seat, Jaguar seems to have taken a leaf out of BMW’s book to maximise space here. The bench is placed low to get enough headroom out of the low roofline, which is also scooped out a little. This makes ingress and egress a little tedious, and it’s not helped by the really long rear door and the fact that the seat is placed a bit far back in the cabin too - you effectively have to climb around the rear wheel arch. Once you’re sat here, though, it’s a pretty solid experience - good thigh support, good legroom and surprisingly decent headroom too. But a tall, wide transmission tunnel, big rear AC vent and a heavily contoured seat make this all-but-unusable for a third passenger. The flat, wide boot is very usable and the best part is, unlike some rivals, you get a space-saver spare tyre tucked under the floor.
What's it like to drive?
In a word, brilliant. Ever since the XF, Jaguar has been challenging BMW, segment by segment, as the maker of fun-to-drive luxury cars, and though we haven’t had a chance to drive it head to head with a 3-series yet, we strongly feel this might be the case with the XE too. A few significant things to note about this car are its aluminium intensive monocoque chassis - a segment first, its trick integral link suspension that allows greater stiffness without compromise to comfort, and its electric steering - Jaguar’s first ever. These all have a huge bearing on the way the XE drives.
But first, the engine. It’s the same one we’ve sampled in the XF and the XJ, and even in those big cars, its 237bhp and 34.67kgm felt ample. As you can imagine then, it makes the small, light XE feel like a rocketship. Flatten the throttle and the punch you get is just immense, and it just courses on a relentless wave of torque to the redline thereafter. It even makes a pleasing buzz at higher revs. 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, hesitate sometimes when you want a sudden change of pace 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.
Apart from this Sport mode for the engine and gearbox, there’s also four drive modes you can choose from - Eco, Normal, Dynamic and Winter - which affect the steering, engine and AC performance. There’s also stop-start for eking out that little bit more fuel from your drive.
Where the XE really impresses is the chassis. Jaguar really seems to have nailed the ride-handling balance with this car, and it works with the maturity of something far more luxurious and expensive. You could put some of this down to the choice of 255/55 R17 tyres, but credit where it’s due is to the suspension. For one, it rounds off sharp edges really well and barely thunks and thuds at all, and it does this while still riding completely flat at high speeds.
More than that, Jaguar has absolutely nailed its first ever crack at electric power steering. The amount of weight and feedback you get from the wheel makes it feel as good as any of the old-school hydraulic units we’ve experienced on all the company’s previous models. It’s perhaps not the quickest steering rack, but it makes up for that by letting you feel every millimetre of lock as you twirl it, and body control too is properly impressive. This all makes the XE an absolute delight from behind the wheel.
Should I buy one?
Going on driving impressions alone, yes, you absolutely should. This is one of the best driving sedans around, and it’s not even an all-out performance model. And it manages to do this while being incredibly comfortable, luxurious and well equipped too. It perhaps doesn’t have the outright space of some rivals, but it’s more than enough by the segment average.
The catch is the price. At Rs 46.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the XE 25t Portfolio is considerably more expensive than its rivals, coming perilously close to the segment above. For that you get a strong and punchy engine, brilliant dynamics and all the equipment you could want. In this segment of powerful, compact, rear-driven petrol luxury sports sedans, however, driving pleasure is paramount, and for that reason, we would say the extra spend is worth it. But if it just doesn’t make economic sense to you, the 198bhp ‘Pure’ version loses some equipment, but still gives you most of the XE experience at a far more reasonable Rs 39.9 lakh.
Jaguar XE gallery