Updated Jaguar XE gets AMG beating power and a host of new tech. But is it enough?
Of all the models in the Jaguar XE range, it’s no great surprise that our favourite has been the 3.0-litre supercharged S, the version best equipped to make the most of the car’s sophisticated and sparklingly good chassis. Yet with ‘only’ 250kW, and without a rabid SVR halo car to lead interest from the front, the S had looked rather lonely as a range topper, caught between the everyday and the extraordinary. Now, as part of a subtle raft of upgrades for the 2018 model year, Jaguar has boosted the power of the S, in effect dropping in an F-type S-specification V6 with 280kW and 450Nm (the former figure identical to the F-type’s, the latter down by just 10Nm).
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That certainly reasserts the XE’s authority against its obvious German rivals, the 260kW Audi S4 and the 270kW Mercedes-AMG C43 – it’s not often that these marques, AMG in particular, find themselves outgunned. There is something charmingly old-fashioned about the XE S, and that’s largely a good thing. The V6’s supercharger not only permits a more natural, vocal induction note than the modern breed of oh-so competent turbocharged engines, but its delivery has a vivacity that the studiously linear turbo units can’t match. The Jaguar also deploys all of its 450Nm through the rear wheels alone, something only the 40kW-less powerful BMW 340i also offers (as expected, the Audi is all-wheel drive, but so too is the C43 AMG).
It was the engine’s lack of high-rev enthusiasm that let down the old car, but that’s now a thing of the past, with those extra horses arriving precisely where the original engine started to die away. With a 0-100km/h time of five seconds dead, the XE trails, slightly, its all wheel-driven competition, but you never feel short-changed from behind the wheel: after all, 20 years ago this was supersedan power; 30 years ago it was the kind of mojo enjoyed by Ferrari’s figurehead production supercar.
The only gearbox available is an eight-speed automatic, and as usual it’s a thoroughly decent partner for the V6. If there are reservations, it’s when the torque converter isn’t quite snappy enough locking up, or when you summon a downshift and the algorithms believe the car isn’t quite ready. In short, there are occasions when a little more control would be desirable. I wonder if the development team built an XE S with a manual ’box? Now that really would be an old-fashioned idea, and all the more appealing for it.
Everything else about the XE S is largely good. The chassis has an inviting, playful nature that puts the driver in the right mood from the first 100 metres. It’s an expressive sort of car, with an inherent rightness about its approach to performance rather than endless, increasingly ‘sporty’ modes. The steering is quick, needing only small inputs the majority of the time, and this agility combined with ample power to the rear wheels means the XE S often feels neutral at the very least: there’s never any doubt that this is a powerful rear wheel-drive car. Its poise isn’t at the expense of ride, either, the Adaptive Dynamics variable damping always retaining the car’s composure.
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Inside, there’s a new 12.3in ‘virtual’ instrument cluster and Jag’s latest 10in touchscreen. They keep Jaguar in the technology race, but nothing more, and there’s still the feeling that the firm is struggling to keep up with rivals in this regard. There’s a suite of new driver assistance tech as well, including Forward Traffic Detection and Blind Spot Assist. Sadly, while the XE’s cabin is aesthetically easy on the eye, there’s a flimsiness to some of the materials that, as clichéd as it sounds, lacks the perception of quality found in this car’s rivals. Happily, this concern is likely to be much less of an issue once the car’s other talents are understood.