The Jaguar XE: The right car at the wrong time.

To say that expectation for the all-new Jaguar XE was high in 2015 is something of an understatement. It was a compact saloon based on a new platform, with new engines designed in-house by Jaguar and made the bold claim to being the best handling car in this class. It was going to out 3-series the 3-series so to speak. Jaguar hoped this car would lure younger buyers to the brand, as it was still associated with older, more conservative buyers.

So why did the XE (frustratingly) never achieve the success hoped for it?

It certainly wasn't due to a bad platform. Jaguar's previous attempt in this sector was the X-Type, which was largely based on the Ford Mondeo. With the XE, Jaguar was starting with a blank canvas. It was the first car based on the D7a platform with an aluminum monocoque and a suspension design that had most enthusiasts very excited. The XE was equipped with the most expensive and sophisticated suspension in its class. At the front, it had double wishbones and at the rear an advanced multi-link set up mounted on an aluminum subframe. Jaguar called it "Intergral Link". This layout was offered on all XE variants and meant that unlike the German rivals at the time, you did not need to spend extra money on optional dampers to allow the car to ride and handle comfortably. The XE was styled by Ian Callum and was considered a universally appealing design. It had a good range of petrol and diesel engines and even borrowed the sportier V6 straight from the F-Type sports car. It looked like Jaguar was on to a winner.

Until you climbed inside the cabin and began poking about. Simply put, the interior quality was not good enough. The 3-series at this time was no paragon of plastics either with both Mercedes and Audi offering far nicer places to sit, if not drive. I am reminded of the Mk1 Ford Focus or the first-generation BMW MINI. They both has expensive suspension designs and poor quality interiors. This didn't stop either car from being a sales success but they were not compact executive cars. It was clear that XE's development budget could only stretch so far.

Jaguar themselves have admitted that they paid too much attention to driving dynamics when originally developing the car and have hoped to address this deficit with the facelift XE for the 2020 model year. They have poached the best parts from the F-Pace SUV and sister car; the Land Rover Velar. The result is a much nicer interior, with touch screens and a gear knob replacing the old rotary dial set up. The larger V6 supercharged engine has been dropped and the range has been simplified around the more refined Ingenium 4-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Exterior modifications have been limited to new light clusters front and back and re-moulded bumpers. The suspension has been left largely unchanged.

Is this now the XE that people are going to buy?

I doubt it. Globally saloon car sales have been on the decline for years as the SUV and plug-in hybrid replace them. The XE is a brilliant car, but I can't see it having much of an impact now as the market is clearly shifting. That is a huge shame. Jaguar should be applauded for being so uncompromising, but timing is everything. If this car had launched a generation or two ago, things could have been different.

But was all this effort for nothing? Thankfully, there is hope. The D7 platform has given rise the F-Pace SUV and this car has been a huge success for Jaguar. Moving forward, the I-Pace uses the same basic platform and points the way to electrified cars that people are willing to support and buy. The I-Pace incidentally won the European Car of the Year award a few weeks ago, which is some good news for Jaguar in these uncertain times.

As for the XE, I can't see it living past this generation. I would bet it along with the other saloons in the range; the XF and XJ will all be culled and some form of electric hybrid saloon/fastback will take their place. This car will be more symbolic than a sales success but I think Jaguar will need to keep its saloon heritage alive as it still has to live side-by-side with Land Rover.

The XE may be a dying breed and there is still time to enjoy what it has to offer. I would even go as far as to say it will be a future classic. It is honest, capable and unencumbered with electric hybridization. It harks back to a simpler time and in many ways, is a spiritual successor to the BMW E46. These kinds of cars will never come again, so let's enjoy the XE while we still can.

 

Jaguar XE exterior and interior images sourced from www.carmagazine.co.uk