You know you’ve made it at work when you swap the keys of your bog-standard company car for a premium model better suited to the junior executive you’ve become, like a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz. But if everyone is trading up, the brands risk losing the exclusivity that made them so appealing in the first place.
These three German car brands are so desirable, though, and so good that that’s exactly what’s been happening. They’ve seen off virtually every rival and, in the cases of Saab and MG Rover, annihilated entire companies. Apart from the odd Lexus or oddball Infiniti, choice in this sector is limited to three cars: the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Jaguar doesn’t think this is right. So it has spent billions designing a new car architecture, engine, factory to build the car and another new factory to build the engine. Yup, the XE is about as new as can be. All to take on those pesky Germans.
You might not agree if you’ve already seen the pictures, but trust me, it’s a pretty sight especially when it’s bathed in Spanish sunshine. All its rivals are traditional takes on the three-box saloon, but Jaguar’s done something different, creating a more coupe-like design with a set-back cabin, swooping roofline and neat, elegant lines. The stance is lovely and the design’s a real grower.
When you drive a BMW 3 Series, you drop down really low into a sporty-feeling seat. It feels good and the XE feels the same. It puts you in a positive frame of mind that’s only improved by a steering wheel and instrument pack taken straight from the F-Type sportscar. The interior wears jewellery, such as the solid metal outer vents, and double stitching on the dash-top furthers the tailored feel.
It’s all good quality and, unlike Jaguars of old, the effect isn’t jarred when you spy the touchscreen infotainment system, which has been modernised at last, making Jag execs proudly boast about all the geeky apps you can have on it.
Those trading up from a non-premium brand will be taking another diesel. The new 2.0-litre Ingenium motor will still be a marked step up in class, revving cleanly and distantly, pulling strongly, yet still putting out low CO2 emissions. You can have it with a meaty six-speed manual, like a BMW, but I prefer the eight-speed auto, complete with cool pop-up rotary shifter.
Those with more to spend should go for the V6 S. It has a 3.0-litre supercharged engine from the F-Type. Need any more reasons? Try a wicked engine note and immediate performance that surely equals that of a hot BMW. It’s wonderful – and even though it only (correctly) drives the rear wheels, space-age differentials have no problem sending all that power to the tarmac. You’ll pay for it in fuel and tax, but it’ll be worth the expense.
But I’ve saved the best until last. People choose German cars because they think they drive the best. In fact, if they want the best, they should choose British. The XE handles tenaciously, rides beautifully and maximises the feel-good factor no matter what road you’re on. Out of nowhere, Jaguar has done what global giants have not: it’s toppled the Germans.
But BMW’s not going to stand still, and in just a few days we’ll see its answer to the XE, followed by Audi’s later in the year. But that’s how much Jaguar has achieved with the XE – the incumbents are rattled, and responding.
Soon, this car will be on the shopping list of every big exec in the City, and it’s almost certainly the car that will help Jaguar make it big.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: JAGUAR XE 3.0 V6 S
0-62MPH: 5.2 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 194g/km
MPG COMBINED: 34.9mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY: ★★★☆☆