Jaguar taking aim at its German rivals
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.