Cool cat

Jaguar tak­ing aim at its Ger­man ri­vals

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Harper

ELCIEGO, Spain — Jaguar’s first at­tempt to pump up sales and take mar­ket share from the Bri­tish com­pany’s es­tab­lished Ger­man ri­vals wasn’t ex­actly a home run. Though the com­pact-sized, all­wheel-drive X-Type was Jaguar’s best­selling model dur­ing most of its pro­duc­tion run (2001 to 2009), it proved no match for the Audi A4, BMW 3 Se­ries and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

It wasn’t that the X-Type was aw­ful when launched, but it was com­pro­mised from the word go, be­gin­ning with a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the plat­form it shared with the pro­le­tar­ian front-wheel-drive Ford Mon­deo (Jaguar be­ing owned by the Blue Oval at the time). The purists were less than kind; Jaguar’s ex­ec­u­tives, en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers less than happy.

Given a sec­ond chance to shake up the tough and crowded com­pact luxury sedan seg­ment — and no longer un­der Ford’s reign — Jaguar has launched the XE, un­com­pro­mised and with some­thing to prove, namely the bury­ing of the X-Type name and its skele­tons, once and for all.

The com­pany did not skimp. Light­weight con­struc­tion (thanks to an alu­minum-in­ten­sive plat­form), aero­dy­namic styling, sport sus­pen­sion and a good mea­sure of leather and luxury all find their way into the XE.

The lineup — which will not be avail­able in Canada or the U.S. un­til spring of next year — will in­clude the 20d and 35t mod­els. Each will be avail­able in Pre­mium, Pres­tige and R-Sport trim lev­els and, for Canada, all-wheel drive.

The 35t nam­ing con­ven­tion ap­pears rather strange, as it doesn’t seem to re­fer to en­gine dis­place­ment, the V6 pow­er­ing the car be­ing the same su­per­charged 3.0-litre unit as of­fered in the F-Type sports car.

How­ever, Jaguar says the “t” stands for forced in­duc­tion, while the three litres of dis­place­ment plus su­per­charg­ing is equiv­a­lent to a nor­mally as­pi­rated 3.5-L en­gine.

What­ever the ra­tio­nale, what counts for per­for­mance en­thu­si­asts is 340 horse­power and the claimed 5.1-sec­ond zero-to-100-kilo­me­tres-an-hour time, with an elec­tron­i­cally limited top speed of 250 km/h thrown in for good mea­sure.

More in­ter­est­ing is that Jaguar will fi­nally be bring­ing diesel power to North Amer­ica in the form of the 20d, which will have the com­pany’s new 180-hp, high-ef­fi­ciency, 2.0-L In­ge­nium four-cylin­der en­gine un­der its hood. Both pow­er­trains are mated to eight-speed au­to­mat­ics, the 35t with pad­dle shifters.

The first few hours were spent in a Euro­pean-spec 20d with a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. For those con­cerned more with fuel econ­omy than out­right per­for­mance, the diesel en­gine de­liv­ers amaz­ing flex­i­bil­ity. With an abun­dance of torque (318 pound-feet at 1,750 r.p.m.), it ac­cel­er­ates ef­fort­lessly and with just the usual thrum­ming that’s en­demic to a com­pres­sion-ig­ni­tion en­gine. Time spent in the au­to­matic ver­sion wasn’t as en­ter­tain­ing, but it worked just as ef­fec­tively with diesel’s low-end grunt.

The twist­ing moun­tain roads through­out the Rioja wine-grow­ing re­gion of Spain are a driver’s de­light, but they are smooth and paved, giv­ing lit­tle work­out to the XE’s dou­ble-wish­bone front sus­pen­sion and in­te­gral link rear setup. The ride was cos­set­ing with­out be­ing floaty, the car hun­ker­ing down and hold­ing a tight line on the curvy sec­tions.

The af­ter­noon had us lap­ping the Cir­cuito de Navarro race track in the rear-drive Euro­pean ver­sion of the 35t, mak­ing it the day’s high­light. Set the Jaguar Drive Con­trol to Dy­namic, ro­tate the shift knob to Sport, and, with fin­gers flick­ing pad­dle shifters, the XE was fast enough and for­giv­ing enough to hang a big grin on my usu­ally placid mug. The new elec­tric power steer­ing is light, yet pro­vides pos­i­tive feed­back of both road and track con­di­tions, its speed-de­pen­dent as­sis­tance and damp­ing func­tions vary­ing with the rate with which steer­ing lock was ap­plied. (It also com­pen­sates for changes in road cam­ber.)

And, even when mess­ing up some of the more com­plex cor­ners with too much speed and not enough brake — or too much brake and not enough speed — the 35t was un­fazed. A bit of cor­rec­tion, a lit­tle tire scrub — no drama there — and it was off like its fe­line name­sake to the next set of cor­ners. But, as good as the sport sedan is at higher rates of speed, it had many of us jonesing for the R ver­sion that will most as­suredly fol­low.

On the back roads to­ward Pam­plona the next morn­ing, the 35t was in its el­e­ment. Front-end grip was fan­tas­tic, even in hair­pin turns, and the am­ple torque from the su­per­charged six (332 pound-feet at 4,500 r.p.m.) al­lowed the sedan to power its way out of the cor­ners. In Dy­namic mode, though, the ride was a tad un­for­giv­ing on rip­pled pave­ment, jostling the oc­cu­pants.

All XEs will be equipped with some­thing called All Sur­face Progress Con­trol (ASPC). De­vel­oped with in­put from Land Rover and its ex­pe­ri­ence in off-road trac­tion, this sys­tem works like a low-speed cruise con­trol. Func­tion­ing be­tween three and 30 km/h, ASPC is de­signed to pre­cisely con­trol the brake sys­tem and pow­er­train to de­liver best pos­si­ble trac­tion in slip­pery con­di­tions.

At 4,672 mil­lime­tres in length, the XE is one of the larger mod­els in the pre­mium com­pact seg­ment. There’s plenty of room up front to en­joy all of the car’s ameni­ties, with de­cent legroom and head­room in the back for six-foot­ers, though get­ting the feet in is a bit of a nui­sance. The only other neg­a­tive el­e­ment is that the rake of wind­shield pil­lars cre­ates a no­tice­able blind spot when mak­ing turns.

Brief though it was, testing the XE was a plea­sure. As a pre­mium sedan with se­ri­ous ri­vals, it will bring to the ta­ble two vastly dif­fer­ent en­gines, two driv­e­trains, a light­weight alu­minum body and a boat­load of new tech­nolo­gies. It is also an in­cred­i­bly hand­some sedan, with an ag­gres­sive stance, proper pro­por­tions and ob­vi­ous styling cues de­rived from Jaguar’s larger and equally at­trac­tive XF and XJ four-doors.

Rear-drive ver­sions of the XE will be launched first, go­ing on sale later this year in global mar­kets. The later build date for all-wheel-drive mod­els will de­lay the XE’s ar­rival in Canada un­til next spring. Pric­ing has not been an­nounced, although Jaguar prom­ises the car will be highly com­pet­i­tive with its ri­vals.

With the XE, Jaguar has shown the de­sire and where­withal to de­sign and build a proper sport/luxury sedan for the com­pact pre­mium seg­ment, one that will al­low the com­pany to fi­nally shovel dirt on the bones of the X-Type.



Jaguar didn’t skimp on styling or sus­pen­sion. And a good mea­sure of leather and luxury found their way in­side the XE.

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