Jaguar XE by Richard Webb

Richard Webb

Jaguar is a founding member of the sports car segment, with a rich sporting bloodline stretching over 75 years. But can it hold its own against the compact premium favourites from Audi, and Mercedes-Benz? Richard Webb makes the pilgrimage to Spain to find out. narrativemedia.u

Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport nestles in the mediaeval capital city of the Basque Community in the beautiful province of Álava in northern Spain. I select a Glacier White Jaguar XE from the 15 or so test cars lined up, which was fitted with the refined 2.0 litre i4 turbocharged petrol engine. Rising from a muted hum to an addictive roar, it reaches 100km/h in 7.8 seconds. I pass Vitoria’s imposing plaza and cathedral and head south-east onto the A-132, where agricultural villages gracefully give way to a deeply forested and hilly playground for cars. If Jaguar wants to take the fight straight to the heart of the premium German brands, it’s here, in these demanding mountain curves that it must shine. 

And shine, it does! As the corners become more demanding, the view becomes more distracting. But it’s the car that wins your attention – and your affection – as the XE reveals itself to be proper drivers car. Underneath its sports car-inspired – yet aesthetically restrained skin – is an all-new aluminium-intensive modular architecture, a new family of engines, and a class-leading list of new technology. 

After the mountains, the pace slows sufficiently to experience the interior more thoroughly. The signature ‘hoop’ that travels from the doors to the windscreen (called a Riva Hoop) cossets the occupants in a conservative but well-appointed way. The InControl touch-screen runs iOS and Android, voice control, WiFi and navigation. It’s instinctive to use, but I feel Mercedes’ COMAND and BMW’s iDrive still leads the way in graphic-appeal and responsive interfaces. Quality of materials is right up there with the best Germany has to offer. 

A brilliant laser head-up display shows my speed versus speed limits with navigation directions and cruise control details. I slow as I enter Pamplona, the historic capital city of Navarre, famous for the ‘Running of the Bulls’– that delightful 14th century folly of dashing through the streets in front of a group of angry bulls. As I ease the Jaguar past the town’s neoclassical architecture on my own automotive bull-run, I point the car to the next spectacular mountain pass. It’s here that the XE feels right at home. Agile and athletic, it refused to be ruffled by mid-corner ruts and undulations. It’s the first Jag to have electric power steering and 

it feels superb. It synchronises assistance and damping according to speed, and even compensates for road camber changes. It’s one of the most intuitive electric steering set-ups I’ve experienced. 

Circuito de Navarre in Los Arcos is 3.9 km racetrack with sweeping switchbacks and devilishly tight turns and is capable of catching out even experienced drivers. So obviously it made sense to try the 3.0 litre supercharged V6 XE S to feel how it made full use of its dynamic chassis and 8-speed electronic automatic transmission. At idle on the start line, it emits a faintly primal growl, but show it some love and the twin-vortex supercharger escalates it to an enraged, adrenaline inducing bellow as the speed surges to 60mp/h in just 4.9 seconds. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the front-end grip, and pin-sharp turn-in thanks to torque vectoring braking during cornering, giving the car impressive balance on the track. This is a seriously quick car, but it was the drive through to Elciego in the heart of the Rioja wine region that confirmed the marque’s reputation for cosseting comfort. I press on hard through the rolling honey- coloured, vine-laden landscape to my destination for the night, that extraordinary mass of silver, gold titanium and burgundy ribbons that is the Marqués de Riscal (it mimics the colours on bottles of Marques de Riscal wines and coincidentally is some of the shades available for the XE). 

Rioja has until recently been was a well kept secret. However, this 43-room Frank Gehry designed hotel has changed all that. Gehry, the man who gave Bilbao the Guggenheim, has described the hotel as a marvelous creature, with hair flying everywhere, which launches itself over the vineyards '. And what of the XE? It could be a perfect car for gourmands and style-seekers, but it’s much more than that. 

Although many buyers are moving away from saloon cars into SUV’s, (Jaguar will have that covered with their F-Pace SUV) I am confident that Jaguar has, in the XE, the right stuff to tempt buyers from its German rivals. The XE is a convincing, stylish alternative to the offerings from Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. This XE is a different species of cat and it’s a wake up call for every other car in its class.