Cat In The Middle Class
Recently, I had the opportunity to test drive two recent entries into the class of mid-sized cars.
Originating from two different countries - the UK and Germany - and offering somewhat differing philosophies, this was quite an interesting comparison to make.
First, the Jaguar XE. Thanks to British Cars Landshut, the first retailer for Jaguar and Land Rover in this up and coming city, my first experience with a car from that island in the North Sea.
Predisposed to the experience in quite a positive way, because I watch(ed) Top Gear. Should be nice to get away with everything, in style.
And style is certainly the one thing this and other Jaguars have in abundance. You can’t help but notice it from the gorgeous design on the outside, and the feeling continues unabated when sitting inside.
Of course, then you start the engine, and behold, it’s a Diesel (in this case the one with 180PS and ZF 8-speed automatic). No, this combination seems not to fit, but something’s got to give in times of fuel prices™.
At least you still get that lovely rising gear controller rising from the centre console, which James May and all of us adored starting with the first XF.
The rest of the experience with the interior is…good. It is certainly on par with a BMW 3-series, but the haptic-obsessed people at Audi have it beaten. You also get softer and smoother leather at the four rings, if for a price.
The biggest letdown however, at least compared to its German rivals, is the infotainment. Graphics on the competitively sized touch-screen look nice, until you get to the map, which is a bit five years ago at least. Connection to an iPhone was “you can change volume and skip a track” Bluetooth only, and didn’t even get much better with the Jaguar InControl app installed on said iPhone.
Which means, that app is cumbersome, and pretty much useless. Jaguar should give up that train of thought very quickly, and just hop on the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto bandwagon.
Resting still then, the XE is a mix of impressions. Let’s hit that starter button, complete with pulsating red light, and see what it is like to drive.
With this engine, not too much excitement should be expected (for more, consider the V6 S-version). And indeed, nothing unexpected occurs when accelerating. The little Diesel that could certainly tries itself at some drama, happily revving up to 4000+ even in normal mode without really being asked to do that. The result, however, is rather a conversion of power to noise, not of power into acceleration.
Therefore, something unexpected actually did occur - the ZF 8-speed automatic, known for its sophistication in cars like pretty much every BMW (or Rolls Royce), seemed confused here and not very well suited to the task. It might have been an issue with the “learning” every automatic does, and this one did not have much of a chance to do so, the tested XE being quite a new car.
What it lacks in a straight line, however, this cat more than makes up for when the road gets twisty. Especially the steering is an absolute joy, aided by the inherent advantages of rear-wheel drive. Add a suspension which is just so and brakes that, indeed, do stop the car in time, the XE at least with this engine vastly prefers narrow and winding roads to a boring, straight Autobahn.
Most of its drivers may share that sentiment. And this might answer the question who this car is for - people who enjoy the occasional detour via backroads, love the styling and badge releasing them from the oppression of the Audi, BMW and Mercedes majority, love some good engine noise, and are not bothered when that noise does not necessarily translate to acceleration.
And who don’t care all that much about this modern nonsense called “infotainment”. Just tell me where to go, please, and maybe play something on the radio. CarPlay? Yes, I do play with my car, it’s called the Nordschleife.
So, the new Jaguar XE. Looks, fun and charisma. And, most importantly, you will be driving a Jaaaaaaaag.
For rationality, perfection and high-tech, the already mentioned German rival might offer a bit more. More on that later.