Great XE-pectations

The most impressive Jaguar in decades slinks in

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FROM feeble to fierce. Thatís no mean feat for a car whose immediate predecessor was based on Ė and ultimately limited by Ė Ford Mondeo underpinnings, but the Jaguar XE has certainly wowed us since launching last August.

Initial experiences flagged something unexpectedly special lurking in Englandís woefully overdue response to the 3 Series, despite the overly familiar if undeniably handsome design (thematically too similar to the original XF of 2007), patchy dashboard presentation and four-cylinder petrol engines borrowed from Ford.

Our hunch was realised when the XE joined the Mazda MX-5 and Audi Q7 on the 2016 COTY podium, and further reinforced when a 25t beat a BMW 328i, Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro, Lexus IS200t and Mercedes C250 Sport in a comparison earlier this year.

Much of what makes the smallest Jag special is the engineering. Enzo Ferrari once said that people paid for the engine and the rest came for free. While not the case here, a brief overview reveals compelling chassis engineering.

Unsurprisingly, the XE was devised to appeal to younger, tech-savvy buyers to eradicate the brandís lingering old-school pipe-and-slippers image, and the ghost of Mondeo. Hence reardrive, aluminium-intensive body construction, 50/50 weight distribution, an F-Type-based front-end (including electric power steering and double-wishbone suspension), a sophisticated integral-link independent rear, advanced driver-assist tech, and a flush underfloor layout for an impressive 0.26Cd aero rating.

Petrol alternative

exceptional refinement, particularly at higher revs, backed up by reasonable fuel consumption (averaging 9.5L/100km), sweet handling and a cosseting ride on 18-inch alloys. Little wonder Jaguar pegged this combo as the range bestseller.

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Clearly the Brits have come prepared to fight established German and Japanese rivals.

However, the XE isnít just about the handling. While clearly focused dynamically, itís also comfortable, thus forging a link to the famously supple-riding XJs of the 1970s.

And thatís without the adaptive damper tech others need to do similar.

Obviously we need to understand how all that translates into living with the car. But we also want to know if the design and dash deserve our criticism, and if reliability and build quality hold up over time.

Initially, we requested and received the popular R-Sport 25t with the 177kW/340Nm Ford turbo-petrol, starting from $68,900. But as this engine is about to be usurped by an all-new Jaguar unit, the switch was kindly made for the hot-off-the-press (and identically priced) 132kW/430Nm 20d Ingenium four-pot turbo-diesel. Not only can the innocuoussounding 20d manage a 7.8sec dash to 100km/h, itís rated at a startling 4.2L/100km, though our green example returned (a still very credible) 6.3L/100km in the first month.

R-Sport includes a body kit with lots of black and brushed metallic trim, sports suspension, cruise with speed-limiter, idle-stop, keyless entry and start, Meridian audio, auto lights and wipers, reversing camera, rear sensors, blind-spot monitoring, xenon headlights, blue ambient lighting and voice control.

Finished in a beautiful Blue Fire hue, DCY-85W blows the options list out by $11,500 to a considerable $80,400, thanks to a sliding panoramic sunroof, black 19-inch alloys, headup display and digital radio (appealing options all, at around $1800 a pop, except for the DAB at $540), as well as not-so-essentials such as self-parking ($1600), a powered bootlid ($850), illuminated sills ($770), configurable ambient cabin lighting ($540) and leather upholstery ($2160) instead of the standard R-Sport ĎLuxtecí vinyl/mesh seat covering.

So our XE arrives with the prospect of being one of the best Jaguars ever. Letís see what living with this feline is really like.

The ex-type

When Ford owned Jaguar, it hoped to crash the 3 Series party with the 2001 X-Type, but miscalculated badly. Looking inside and out like an old-school XJ that had shrunk in the wash, it was dynamically inferior to the athletic (and roomier) Mk2 Mondeo lurking underneath, due to lifeless steering and breathless V6 engines. The base 2.1-litre model was front-drive, the rest AWD.

Diesels arrived here from 2008, but Australia missed out on the wagon altogether. Sales stumbled on until 2010.

JAGUAR XE R-SPORT 2.0D

Date acquired: May 2016 Price as tested: $80,400 This month: 1405km @ 6.3L/100km Overall: 1405km @ 6.3L/100km

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