The Jaguar XE clings to the road and va-va-vooms past bends

Clingy” is not a word that one would readily associate with any kind of car review, unless one brought along an insecure girlfriend for the drive; but “clingy” is the word that springs to mind as the Jaguar XE I sit in spears through tight turns in a picturesque mountain pass in Western Cape, South Africa.

To say that we are cooking would be to underquote things somewhat; we are not cooking, we are boiling. The Jag is having its little neck wrung, and it is responding with barely a squeal.

The clinginess comes from the 245-section wheels and their endless grip, not the overbearing antics of a lover suffering from low self-esteem; though, to be honest, low self-esteem is what I will most probably contract before I get back home as I try to calculate how many more columns I will have to write before I can afford this car.

WHAT IS IT?

This is Jaguar’s newest; though they do have an SUV that is more or less ready for the showrooms; but still, this is Jaguar’s newest. It is also Jaguar’s smallest, and Jaguar’s cheapest.

From a hoon’s perspective, it is Jaguar’s best as well.

It is not the replacement for the old, defunct X Type, which was a Ford Mondeo in a fancy frock. This is a whole other car. However, it does occupy the slot previously darkened by the X Type. Motoring hacks have long memories and we do remember the wrong-wheel-drive X Type that seemed such a sellout for a company like Jaguar.

There is the company blurb that attempts to describe every line-up with  words like “dynamic”, “class-leading”, “segment”, “exciting” and God-knows-what-other-silly-adjectives. Somewhere in the pre-drive talk I heard the word “cosmopolitan” and I almost lost my mind. What was that again?

That word reminds me of yuppies: young, good-looking, overeducated and overpaid city-dwellers whose idea of a great night out is to swallow two glasses of some creatively named mildly alcoholic drink that glows in the dark; before dancing themselves into a sweaty headache and heading off to sleep at 3am to wake up two hours later in the daily grind that justifies their unfair capitalist salaries and… and… and this is not the Jaguar we know.

It just isn’t. I’d expect “cosmopolitan” to feature in a BMW ad. Or even a Lexus one. But Jaguar? No. Jags have since forever been the charming English ruffian to Audi’s focused contract killer, Mercedes’ domineering corporate mogul and BMWs egomaniacal Wall Street banker.

Jags were for cool people, slick cats who could talk their way out of trouble. A BMW buyer would swallow two glow-in-the-dark drinks and dance it off. A Jag owner would inhale several shots of whisky before leaving the premises with the Mercedes’ owner’s wife and then smile disarmingly when confronted about it. After all, he drives a Jaaaag… Where do you think Clarkson got that whole “Jaaaaaag” malarkey from?

The Jaguar XE is a four-door, 5-seater saloon car with rear wheel drive, which makes it a pukka Jaguar through and through (again, that X Type was not really a Jag), but about the five seats… this could be a problem. Read on…

THE INTERIOR

Unmistakable. Once you get inside, it is immediately obvious what car you are in. The design cues are heavy off the bigger and pricier XJ saloon and F Type thundercat, what with the circular steering wheel boss, the thick-rimmed wheel, the rotary gear knob, the infotainment screen, the lovely detailing, the stitching on the leather…. wait a minute, what leather? Is that leather or is it not? It sure does look like leather.

Turns out it isn’t. Strike one for the XE. Jaguar’s focus on “premium luxury” whatever-ness (again, PR press talk jargon) does not allow them to skimp out on the fancy stuff. It behoves them to be less frugal in the apportionment of costlies. What they use instead is something that almost looks and feels like leather but isn’t leather. Good news for the cows, I guess.

There is further evidence of cost control in the use of plastics around the dashboard. Some of it is scratchy. While the overall appearance is actually quite good; more so if you spec your car up with the dark interior; the cheapskate build materials are a bit of a disappointment, much as they are not immediately obvious.

You will have to be looking really hard before you spot them. Eschew the lightly hued interior too, which could easily show stains and also be a bit misleading.

Misleading? Yes, misleading, which is where the XE’s strike two comes about: the rear seat space. A  brightly coloured interior may give an illusion of space where there isn’t any.

The car may be a five-seater, but it will not seat five, at least not without considerable discomfort. Four up is also a bit if a pinch: the rear armrest is intrusive into the elbow room (and rib cage areas) of the flanking seats, which makes it less than ideal for use.

This is not looking good for the car.

To further exacerbate the absence of upper body wiggle room is the rear legroom, which is, for lack of a better word, terrible. Even with the front seats shoved as far fore as they could possibly slide on their motorised rails, knees in the back seat will squash into the backs of the front seats. This may force the rear seat occupants to sit a bit more upright than they would prefer to, but that too highlights yet another problem: there is no headroom.

There is an inexplicable dip in the rear roof lining that seriously robs the space in which to toss your heads during hard cornering manoeuvres… or during animated conversations that will surely crop up about claustrophobia, knee pain and armrests digging into ribs. The front is cosseting without being claustrophobic, and it is where you would want to be, as driver or passenger. The back seat is for kids.

The lack of rear space is not all that surprising, though, because before you get into the car you will have seen…

 

… THE EXTERIOR…

… and you may have noticed a few things. The face is as unmistakably Jaaaag as the dashboard design was. The bonnet has three strakes on it that resemble the claw marks of, well, a jaguar. This makes the car look aggressive from the front, but aggressive in an attractive way, not unlike a female superhero from a comic book. The side profile reveals the compact dimensions and high window line that solidly place this car right in the firing line of the Mercedes  Benz C Class and BMW 3 Series. The boot is short and stubby. All this makes the XE, for all intents and purposes, a small car; which then explains what was going on in the back seat in the preceding paragraphs.

The rear fascia is… an Audi A4. It very clearly is; we had a chance to drive behind another XE on the dual carriageway and an Audi A4 pulled up alongside it and, truth be told, at one point we were hard pressed to tell which car was which (both were silver in colour).

What gives? The XE’s design flowed so nicely from the bonnet leading edge, through the fancily high shoulder lines and sculpted metalwork, through the angular rakes of the A and C pillars, to the boot and then what? A plagiarised rear end? This is not to say it looks bad; it does look good, but then again it also does look unoriginal.

The distinguishing feature is the twin tail pipes which, in my view, seemed too close together (in the metal… in the pictures they seemed fine) and too close to the centre line of the car. Jaguar would do well to push them further out towards the ends, and add chrome tips for the plebeian 2.0 litre turbo four which has to make do without and the result is a cheapish appearance. At least the 3.0 V6 gets the chrome tips.

 

ACTIVE ENGINES

This may read like the absent-minded observations from a scatter-brained cynic; having started off by declaring the Jaguar XE as a good car that we like only to present it as a small car with a plastic dashboard, unusable rear seats and a stolen rump; but there is compensation for all these — admittedly minor — shortcomings from under the bonnet.

First up is the 2.0 litre petrol-powered DOHC 4-cylinder boosted by a single mono-scroll turbo.

This is the same engine we find in the Evoque, good for 240hp and 340Nm. You don’t need insane revs to reach these figures: peak power is available at “only” 5500rpm. It will propel the car to 100km/h from a dead stop in 6.8 seconds; and on to a top speed of 250km/h. Consumption figures are quoted as 7.5l/100km, which in Car Clinic-speak translates to 13.3km/l. Not bad at all, for a Jaguar.

The exciting unit is the 3.0 V6. Four valves per cylinder and DOHC work together with a twin vortex supercharger to yield 340hp and 450Nm, numbers that would cause a small tremble of excitement to shiver its way down a petrolhead’s spine, more so given that this urge is fed through a rear-drive platform.

The power is on a slightly higher shelf: 6500rpm, but is it ever lower whenever such numbers come up on a spec sheet? 100km/h comes up in a hair over five seconds and you will top out at 250km/h too, but this terminal velocity reeks of limitation to me. One might be able to pay Jaguar to dismiss the electronic nanny, in which case I’d say 290km/h would not be impossible. There was no confirmation of this, though: it is just clever speculation.

The economy may be comparatively worse at 12.3km/l (8.1l/100km in real world terms) but I seriously doubt if many will get these figures.

The supercharged car begs to be spanked, and spank you it will, meaning sub-10km/l outcomes are to be expected. None of it will be regrettable.

Both of these cars come with eight-speed ZF automatic transmissions that allow for pootling around at only 1500rpm (which then makes the consumption figures both possible and plausible). Both also have manual overrides via paddle-shifts mounted on the steering wheel. The suspension is multilink.

 

SWEETENING THE DEAL

Hands up if you think running a Jaguar will introduce economic strife to your otherwise carefully planned fiscal behaviour. Put those hands down and listen here very carefully, because this to you might seem as hard to believe as it was for me.

Buying a brand new Jag earns you a five-year/150,000km warranty. Yes, you read that right: for half a decade or the equivalent of three and a half trips around the Earth, your new baby will be under the protection of Jaguar Land Rover, well covered by a comprehensive warranty that stretches to the suspension gubbins as well.

This is particularly handy: multilink suspension tends to have many joints and knuckles, which in turn indicate a higher incidence of breakages; and given how much griping goes on about “African roads”, one can see why the running gear would be a especially sore spot in motor vehicle maintenance. Fear no more.

While all the details of the warranty are still unbeknownst to me, there were hints that some consumables might be covered as well. That means routine service might be either dirt cheap or damn near free of charge. Five freaking years; or three round-the-world excursions. Dang!

Speaking of service intervals: these come up at 32,000km, or three-quarter way around the Earth (nothing puts distances into perspective as much as referencing the Earth’s 40,000km circumference). That means some of the hand-me-down Toyotas people relentlessly pursue will have been serviced six times before the Jag goes in once.

The pricing is also unclear, and Jaguar will not commit to any numbers at this moment, but in the next few days they should have answers. This is because the company wants to consolidate the pricing in various markets to make it similar across the board irrespective of the prevailing tax regimes in a given country; and this is no simple task. While all countries levy taxes, some levy more taxes than others.

Tentative figures are about Sh5.5 million for the cheaper 2.0 litre vehicle and about Sh7 million for the pricier 3.0 litre alternative; which leads us finally to the big question:

WOULD I BUY ONE?

Yes. Hell yes! The XE really is a thing of beauty. The engineering in it is top-drawer, and the after-sales support is impressive to the point of being unbelievable.

Five years/150,000km is a long period of cost-free ownership, and the asking price is not even reflective of the give-with-one-hand-take-away-with-the-other type of mind-numbing contract detailing that certain dodgy manufacturers use to recoup some coins from such a sweetly outlandish offer.

The niggles I mentioned are not as bad as they sound (OK, the rear space is really not that good, but the plastics and non-leather can be easily tolerated).

You would be insane to walk away from such a deal, and I may have to write a few more columns to raise money for this car because this is one Jaguar that I really, REALLY want.

The biggest reason I want one is not even the warranty. Find out what it is next week as we slide into the driver’s seat and stretch the little cat’s limbs on a scenic mountain pass.

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