Short Test Drive: The Jaguar XE 2.0 Prestige & XE 2.0 R-Sport

R-Sport on the left, Prestige on the right

Today I wanted to start off this article with something witty and anecdotal but I somehow cannot find anything interesting to say. Well actually I have a lot to say, but then we'd never get to the car that is supposed to be featured in this article.

XE Prestige 2.0 20T 

Jaguar Land Rover recently launched their new small sedan, the XE. This is the smallest Jaguar you can buy and it sits right in the compact premium sedan segment which is very popular these days. You have cars like the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class in here as company. It is company like this that car manufacturers cringe and worry when they jump in. Ask Lexus. Their segment competitor is like a candle competing against lighthouses. Their car may be good but do you see many of them around? But then again, a Lexus is still not a Jaguar.

Prior to this Jaguar did not have a compact premium car in their line-up. The previous one, something called the X-Type was something that Jaguar itself would like to forget. Since I am writing about this here, it means that people like me have not forgotten about it. That car was something that was about as 'Jaguar' as a Ford. Built at a time when Ford owned Jaguar, it was based on a Ford Mondeo and had too much Ford DNA to actually be loved. In fact people liked the Mondeo more at that time.  I think people wouldn't have minded if not for the fact that it was a retro kitsch sort of affair that would only attract retirees and those that though Jaguars are supposed to be like that. They are not.

The thing about Jaguar is that in the 1950s and 1960s they were at the top of the game with cars like the E-Type and the Mark II. These cars were considered the best you could buy. The Mark II was the sportiest mid sized sedan you could buy. Bank robbers loved it. The police loved it too. It had the power, speed and grace. So you see, a Jaguar is about this and not something fuddy duddy or retro. With the current crop, starting with the flagship XJ you can see a fantastic mix of heritage and sportiness that a lot of cars lack. A sense of occasion. The smaller XF series is also good in that you get the same sportiness in a mid to large sized chassis with more youngish touches in styling. This brings us to the new Jaguar XE.

This car is now the entry level Jaguar everywhere. Here in Malaysia there is the XE Prestige (2.0 liter 200hp - from RM340k), the XE R-Sport (2.0liter 240hp - from RM365k) and the XE S (3.0 340hp - from RM580K for this supercharged beast) – these engines are still the Ford based (Jaguar fettled) engines as the new Ingenium range of petrol engines are not available as yet. I managed to try out the Prestige (also badged as the 20T - 200hp 17 inch wheels) and the R-Sport (badged as the 25T - 240hp, 18inch wheels and sports seats). Priced from RM340,000 onwards, it sits on the high price range of the compact premium sedan segment. The car being fully imported is why it starts a tad bit pricier than the others in its class.

The Jaguar XE gets its styling cues from both larger XJ and XF Jaguars. You get the similar nose that sits low with the same overall looks of the XJ if viewed head on. This I totally like as that front end has massive road presence exactly like its biggest brother the XJ. That large honeycomb grille and the headlights form a very distinctive look that you instantly recognise as a contemporary Jaguar. But whilst the front half of the car looks like it came from the larger XJ,  the rear takes after the mid-range XF. Not a bad thing but I do feel that it is just neat and simple with less 'wow' factor than the front. I Suppose this is because the XE is Jaguar's bread and butter model. You wouldn't want to have something so overtly styled and opinion dividing if you want to sell in large numbers. And so, I personally love the front end styling but I think the rear end plays it a little safe. But in terms of overall stance and how it sits on the road, it is visually appealing. This is because the way it sits on the rear arches and that long bonnet makes you aware that it is a traditional sports sedan with the engine up front and the driven wheels are the ones at the back. And of course, the XE is a traditional rear wheel drive sedan. Drive it at low speeds and you can feel at the base of the seat that the car is gently pushing you along together with it. 

XE Prestige vs....

XE R-Sport

So once inside you are greeted to a very modern Jaguar. Less on the traditional wood and more on the aluminium and black surfaces. The dashboard seems to have come from the F-Type coupe. Which most of it does with the exception of the pop up air vents in the middle which is now fixed – as it should be even in the F-Type (I mean, why add additional electric motors for something like air vents?). It also has the familiar raised edge that encapsulates you from the doors to the top edge of the dash ending at a small Jaguar badging right in the middle of the dash. The now familiar Jaguar gear knob still rises from the center console but it is now located in the middle of the console instead of being offset slightly in the larger Jaguar Land Rover cars. The reason is quite obvious that this is a smaller car and has less width for the engineers to play around with. The materials used throughout the car feels good and premium – the Prestige gets a more simple black/aluminium trim dash with black leather whilst the R-Sport gets two toned leather sports seats that are more body hugging with R sport badging. Space up front is good and the seating position is good with a lot of adjustment for the driver. As for rear space, it is not class leading, but it isn't cramped. So this is a youngish Jaguar cabin. Nothing old fashioned about it but maybe this is why a forty-something guy like me wanted a bit more wood in it so that I could relate it to some Jags of old. But don't listen to someone who likes wood, leather and patina. I tend to also wear sports jackets, nice shoes and dress up all of the time at an age where casualness rules.

Jaguar says the XE's chassis has a whole lot of aluminium in it. More than 70% actually. However, this isn't translated to making the XE the lightest in the class. It actually isn't. It is about class average actually. What Jaguar's engineers have actually did is use a double wishbone front suspension and their intricate Integral Link rear axle suspension setup. I think the weight is in this complex multi-link setup. However I believe the suspension in the XE is what the car is all about.

Driving the XE 2.0 Prestige 20T

Having taken both the Prestige and the R-Sport out for a spin, I have to state that both cars have ride comfort sorted out perfectly. The XE rides well on both 17inch (Prestige) and 18inch (R-Sport) wheels. There is a suppleness to how it rides over crests and bumps throughout the route around the Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club where I tested the cars. No jarring thumps or thuds and no wallow in the suspension even though the car rode plushly. No bottoming out on speedhumps too. In fact, I have to note that the ride could be the best in class and there is no need for adjustable dampers here.

No need for any adjustable dampers as when you feed the chassis  all the power the engine has got, the car is still able to take it all in, even in the more powerful R-Sport variant. It feels nimble and changes direction easily. The electric power steering feels natural in terms of feel and is precise. Not much body roll even in the lower specced Prestige with its narrower 17inch wheels. At around 120kmh (this is a short drive review with quite some traffic, no real chance to fully let loose), all feels as quiet as a compact premium sedan should feel. 

Luckily the route chosen by the organisers had some nice corners, bends and bad roads to test the XE on. The only lacking thing was the fact that I couldn't take it on a really high speed cruise. When you drive the base Prestige, the 200hp/280Nm torque feels merely adequate for a sports sedan. You need the 240hp/340Nm engine in order to wag the tail a little. The 200hp car does not feel as adjustable as the one with more power. The problem is that the chassis is nicely set up for that extra power that the R-Sport has. In the Prestige, when you apply power mid corner it still feels a little too planted. Even on the slightly narrower tyres, grip is ridiculously good and the XE Prestige feels a little too planted and more nose led to feeling sporty. The R-Sport's extra power allows for the front end to turn with a more mobile rear end assisting. It feels like the extra horses allows the XE to feel more nimble and pivots easily during a turn. This time it's about the car's balance and that the added engine power allows for a more playful chassis.

The other thing I noticed when driving both the Prestige and R-Sport variants is that whilst the cars may have the same gearbox – ZF's fabulous 8 speeder, the characteristics differ due to the power output of the engines. In the 200hp Prestige, the engine felt slightly strangled, a hidden hand choking off the supply of power. The ZF gearbox here somehow works better if you left it in dynamic mode (I.e the Sports mode) when the shifts somehow feel better than in normal. In normal mode the gearbox seems to be a little unsure of when to shift. What I think happens is that the sportier mode allows for proper holding of gears and allowing the gearbox to shift at the maximum performance level. This is somehow required to compensate for the 40hp and torque deficit against the R-Sport. Maybe strangling or detuning this engine makes it a little cranky. Who knows.

However, in the R-Sport, the 240hp engine shifts smoother in normal mode. In the sportier transmission mode, it tends to be too aggressive and it holds a gear too long for things to be smooth. This is extremely good if you are attacking the road ahead of you, but if you just want to drive smoothly, the best bet in the R-Sport is to leave the gearbox in its normal mode and its splendid for most of the time you're driving the car. It is obvious that the better of the two variants is the more expensive R-Sport version due to the drivability of the car.

Now I had to think a little before writing this article about the XE cars I tested. I first thought that the XE did not bring much to the table even though it had the aluminium chassis and all. But what Jaguar did was make the car accessible to the younger set of crowd (and future buyers of Jaguar) on how the car is styled and how it looks. It is sporty inside and out for the younger crowd. This is the same crowd who buys the Mercedes A-Class (A, CLA, GLA) cars in droves. It is the same crowd that buys Audi cars too. These are all modern looking cars. Whilst they have heritage behind them, they all look extremely up to date. The interior is proof that this is the case – it may have XJ touches, but it is all modern aluminium, piano black laquer and two tone leather. No wood that contrasts or have lines and swirls. Anyone with an A4 would feel at home in here (especially with the good equipment specs given in the XE).

When it came to how the XE cars drove I also noticed that refinement in terms of NVH was good but not as good as say a W205 Mercedes C-class on the move. I suppose that car is a baby S-Class in terms of refinement. And I have to state that Mercedes decided to improve the C-Class by making it more luxurious instead of going down the sports sedan route this time around.  So whilst the XE does well in the road noise reduction department, the XE's engine noise refinement levels are not class leading.  Jaguar seems to have decided to let the engine be more vocal when you rev it out - sportier definitely but quietens out when on a cruise or at low speeds. At least the 4 cylinder turbocharged engine has a decently nice growl to it.

But where the XE does give you heaps of pleasure is its combination of ride and handling. The XE's ride and handling could be the best in class. This also happens WITHOUT the need of fancy adaptive dampers (and therefore added costs in the long run). You get plushness and proper rear wheel drive antics in this chassis. A front wheel drive Audi will be all nose led and quite normal to drive. The rear wheel driven Mercedes C-class usually sees a corner and surrenders into understeer a bit earlier (unless it gets the sports spec dampers which then loses its plushness). The BMW 3 Series rides like a BMW, a bit harder in order to give great handling (and the fact that I do not think BMW does plushness like it was second nature). So I am somewhat of the opinion that the XE is actually an engineering marvel when it comes to having the best balance when it comes to ride and handling in a sports sedan.

Of course, other aspects like day to day ownership and equipment used as well as high speed cruising/testing cannot be actually judged on a short drive like this....but I have to say that the Jaguar XE R-Sport may be the plushest riding compact premium sedan that is on sale in Malaysia. But it would also whoop the heck out of its competitors in the sheer driving pleasure department if you brought it to the racetrack or the twisties. In terms of comparing it with another Jaguar, it is better than the soon to be replaced in Malaysia XF sedan. Yes, for the thrill of driving, it is hard to fault the Jaguar XE.

So which of the two did I like? The Jaguar XE Prestige? Good as well, but if you buy it, leave the transmission in its most sportiest mode for it to be smoother to drive (and more fun) but don't expect it to dance as well as the higher powered ones. As i said its about the balance between engine performance and chassis ability (the XE has so much chassis ability that it needs more power). And in something that is supposedly a sports sedan, you'd want to to really dance. And so I'd definitely take the XE R-Sport. It's as simple as that. Heck, I'd take it over all the other cars mentioned herein if driving were the utmost in priority. Price aside obviously.

The winner of the two Jaguar XE cars driven, the XE 2.0 R-Sport 25T

Pros: Equipment levels are high (as it should be), nice & wide touch screen infotainment system, nice youngish interior (for a Jag), good ergonomics, R-Sport 240hp nicely adjustable handling, ride and handling very good for both

Cons: space is class average, weight is still heavy for aluminium construction, Prestige version feels strangled a little in terms of power, R-Sport obviously nicer but pricier. Pricey...wish it wasn't.

Conclusion: Could be the best in class in terms of ride and handling if not for overall NVH, which seems to be about the class standard. In terms of which is more satisfying,  the XE Prestige is good, but not great. The XE R-Sport is the more rounded XE to get. But it obviously costs more. 
XE 20T

Yes...the boot fits some golf bags. Very important for some people.


 XE Prestige (above) XE R-sport (below) ...note the bumpers..wheels aside.

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