Jaguar brings all-wheel drive traction to its compact exec to take on BMW, Mercedes and Audi in time for the winter
What do we have here?
Following the launch of Jaguar's first ever SUV, the F-Pace, it has added all-wheel drive across its range with the XE compact exec the latest to get the treatment, following from the XF and F-Type.
The XE has already taken on the BMW 3-Series at its own game – rear-wheel-drive driving dynamics - and won, and now takes on the Audi A4 Quattro for all-wheel drive spoils.
It comes at a time when BMW and Mercedes-Benz have also introduced all-wheel drive versions of their compact exec stalwarts, in the form of the 3-Series XDrive and C-Class 4Matic, respectively.
Jaguar wants to retain the character of rear-wheel drive in the XE AWD, so the car is predominately sends most of its power to the back wheels most of the time. All-wheel drive then cuts in on demand, taking just 165 milliseconds to send torque to the front wheels, when the wheels spin or if the car slides.
Torque vectoring then optimises grip by independently braking each wheel if required, while Adaptive Surface Response assesses road conditions and reacts accordingly.
Unlike its rivals, the Jaguar is only available with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder 180 diesel engine and fitted to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The engine produces 178bhp and an impressive 317lb ft of torque.
All trim options are however available with AWD – SE, Prestige, R-Sport and Portfolio. We’re testing the AWD in R-Sport trim, which gets 18in alloys wheels, a full bodykit, lowered suspension, Bi-Xenon headlights, perforated leather sports seats and aluminium trim inserts.
Controlling all your infotainment needs in an 8.0in colour touchscreen with sat nav, Bluetooth and audio streaming.
How does it drive?
When comparing the AWD version with the standard rear-wheel drive XEs, the only noticeable difference is added surefootedness through corners.
At first, there seems little to write home about regarding the handling. However, push on and you’ll be rewarded. The quicker you go and the bendier the roads, the better the XE performs, feeling taut and poised.
It’s also comfortable nowhere near are firm a ride as you get in a comparable 3-Series M Sport or Audi A4 S Line, although there is a little too much lateral body movement over road crests.
As might expect, there’s plenty of grip and should you push too hard, the result is controllable understeer, simply back off the accelerator and order is restored.
In Dynamic mode, the XE turns in quickly and the steering feels responsive. However, when in normal mode, the steering is less impressive. Whether something has not quite synchronised correctly with so many gadgets maintaining the AWD system, but the steering has a significant dead spot around the straight ahead and feels inconsistent in its weighting. It’s unnerving and is so prevalent that you can find the car wandering out of lane on the motorway without continuous steering inputs.
Our car also suffered some significant vibration and clunks coming from the driveshaft when the auto kicked under acceleration. Whether it systematic or just teething problems is yet to be seen.
The engine and gearbox in this combination fail to impress. At lower speeds and despite impressive torque figures, the XE feels lacklustre. It does however feel a lot more responsive and rewarding higher up the rev range.
Gearshifts can be clunky, although switching into manual mode and using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles resolves this and changes become quick and slick.
What's it like inside?
Jaguar interiors, especially in the last decade, have been something to behold. Modern, imaginative, stylish and luxurious. The XE suffers from being in the shadow of the first-generation XF, with its rising rotary gear selector and revolving air vents. We’re now used to those tricks so the wow factor has faded.
The XE’s interior remains a pleasant place to be. From the driver’s seat, you get a leather wrap-around dash that flows from door to door, an 8.0in colour touchscreen, a well-sized and sporty feeling steering wheel, the rising rotary gear selector and the middle of the air vents are inscribed with Jaguar. Black gloss trim completes the look.
Overall you feel cocooned, an integral part of the XE - sports car like. The driver’s seat has plenty of adjustment, allowing you to find your preferred seating position and there’s a decent amount of head room. To adjust the steering wheel, you rotate a clunky dial on the side of the steering column, which is awkward and seems out of place here, although the adjustment of tilt and reach is excellent.
Between the seats are two cupholders and a storage bin under the central armrest, which is on the small side but contains 2 UBS ports. The glove box isn’t the biggest, either.
Other than the steering wheel adjustment dial, there are other things that aren't quite right here. The indicators sound like a grandfather clock ticking and the heads-up display looks like an afterthought, just slapped on.
Opening the wide rear doors reveals a slightly narrow opening, especially for your legs, however once in, there’s plenty of leg and knee room, with head room limited for taller people. The seats are comfortable with supportive but the low roof and narrow windows leave it feeling a little dark.
Any middle passengers will find that the tall and wide transmission tunnel effects where you can put their legs.
There’s plenty of amenities back there, though. Twin air vents keep the rear compartment well ventilated, there is a 12v socket, door bins and map nets on the back of the front seats. Folding down the central armrest will reveal two cup holders.
The boot is large and square with a flat floor, although it is narrower than most rivals as there are no side recesses. At set of golf clubs should fit on an angle. There’s a small load lip and the bag hooks help the boot’s usability, however, there’s no underfloor or hidden storage areas, with a space saving tyre taking up that space. The boot closes electronically and can be opened from the key fob.
Pull one of the two cheap feeling yellow levers to collapse the rear seats which split 40/20/40 to extend the boot floor. There’s a small step at the transition between the boot and extended boot floor.
The fit and finish of the Jaguar isn’t quite up to the standards of its German rivals, particularly Audi. On our test car, we experienced the previously mentioned transmission clunk, some trim rattles and the lumbar adjust switch fell out of its seat mounting.
With an impressive claimed economy of 60.6mpg on a combined cycle and with fixed price servicing, the Jaguar shouldn’t break the bank to run. The XE is expected to retain around 43% of its value after three years.
The XE sits in the 27% BIK band for company car users and it’ll cost £110 road tax per year.
Fitted with this 2.0-litre diesel, service intervals are every 21,000 miles or two years depending which comes first. A five-year/50,000-mile service plan is available for £475 or a five-year/75,000-mile plan costs £659.
The Jaguar comes with a three-year unlimited mile warranty and has been awarded the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s safety tests, scoring highly for adult occupant, child occupant, pedestrian and safety assist. The XE is among the most highly-rated models in its class.
The Jaguar XE AWD is an entertaining and enthralling car to drive and now gets the added security of all-wheel traction for when the roads become slippery. However, inconsistent steering appears to be the downside of the four-wheel drive system (when not in Dynamic mode).
Inside you get plenty of gadgets and it’s all wrapped in leather, creating a luxurious yet sporty ambience.
Jaguar’s fit and finish are questionable and it falls behind its rivals in this key department.
For the keenest drivers, it remains a straight shoot-out between the XE and BMW 3-Series while those after even more luxury will look at the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
We like the look and exclusivity of the Jaguar but feel that its foibles will irritate too much and would opt for the BMW.