Jaguar XE Continues British ‘Cat’ Revival

By Lee Pang Seng

JAGUAR has had quite a colourful journey since it first appeared as the SS Jaguar in late 1935. It was after the Second World War that Jaguar established its niche as a maker of sports cars with a series of successful models; XK120 (1948-1954), XK140 (1954-1957), XK150 (1957-61) and E-Type (1961-1975). There were also the sporty sedan models such as the MK VII and IX, Mks I and II, and the XJ6.

Despite its success then, the journey was a rough one before Ford came into the picture in 1999. That year saw the launch of the S-Type, followed by the X-Type in 2001, but the ‘marriage’ was relatively short-lived. In 2008, Jaguar came under a new owner in Tata Motors and has remained so till today.

Since that transition, Jaguar seems to have been given the mandate to re-invent itself. The XF that was introduced in 2009 to replace the S-Type continues to this day along with the top-end XJ model. The F-Type convertible was launched in 2012 as the successor to the legendary E-Type. And at the recent Frankfurt motor show, the Jaguar F-Pace SUV was introduced.

For the mid-range model, Jaguar showcased the XE earlier this year as the successor to the X-Type, completing the formal integration of the third model into the new sedan family. Although the familiar body styling underscores its lineage, the XE comes with fresh touches on the iconic grille and lower apron as well as other areas of the body to reflect the continuous evolvement.

Of course, gone are the days when a Jaguar would stand out instantly among the crowd simply on its unique body profile. In these days of efficient motoring that includes honing the body to be the least wind resistant to enhance driving pleasure without consuming too much fuel, it has come to the sad fact that cars would look pretty similar with their aerodynamically efficient bodies.

The design of the grille, headlamps and lower apron would now form the ‘face’ of the new generation of cars and this applies to the rear as well. In that respect, Jaguar has used the widely recognised icons in the pouncing jaguar (at the rear) and the snarling cat (front grille) to good effect on the XE to stamp its identity while achieving a low Cd (coefficient of drag) factor of 0.26.

The XE also boasts a few firsts; it is the first Jaguar model to be built on a new modular aluminium architecture that signals the gradual breakaway from the Ford platforms that the XF still runs on. The X-Type that it succeeds was developed on the Mondeo front-wheel drive platform but with the new architecture, Jaguar has gone back to the rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive as the option. It is also the first car in its segment to have an aluminium monocoque structure.

Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Jaguar now comes under the JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) group and the XE is built at the Solihul factory in the UK, the same production base for Land Rover and Range Rover models. It does seem to be an effective tap on an existing technology from Range Rover and expanding on Jaguar’s experience in aluminium technology in building the XJ, XK and F-Type.

The difference is that while the latter three were developed using exceptionally stiff bonded and riveted aluminium structures, the XE’s lightweight aluminium monocoque construction is an aerospace-inspired technology using self-piercing rivets and structural adhesives. Jaguar’s Chief Technical Specialist; Body Complete Dr Mark White says the Jaguar XE uses more than 75 per cent aluminium content, adding that the light body structure is ‘immensely strong with extremely high levels of torsional stiffness’ to support the fact that the XE is the stiffest saloon car ever built.

Adding to that, the Jaguar XE is said to be the first car in the world to make use of a new grade of high strength aluminium called RC 5754, which was developed specifically for this Jaguar model. This new alloy features a high level of recycled material and Jaguar says it will make a significant contribution to its goal of using 75 per cent recycled material by 2020.

Other high-strength aluminium alloys are also used in the XE, these being the AC300 and AC600 grades that are used in the A-pillars, front and rear crash structures and the cant rail. The B-pillars, however, are high-strength aluminium reinforced with ultra-high strength steel, with a layer of high-density foam in between.

Strong driving dynamics is a guarded strength and Jaguar has spared no efforts to maintain that in the XE, including having an electric power steering (EPAS) and making it the first Jaguar to use such a system. Apart from being speed-dependent in assistance, varying according to the rate at which the steering lock is applied, the EPAS also compensates for changes in road camber to keep the car firmly on track.

The XE is independently sprung all round with a double wishbone front and an integral link rear. Jaguar saw camber stiffness as an important consideration and to keep unsprung weight low, the forged aluminium knuckles are made from cast blanks using a patented production process, tubular anti-roll bars are used and the springs are made from stiff, narrower gauge steel. And from the outset, the front geometry was optimised to suit all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive configurations.

At the rear, Jaguar feels the lateral link, which is usually found in larger and more expensive vehicles, could deliver the benchmark performance in dynamic attributes. It delivers a combination of lateral and longitudinal stiffness that Jaguar feels is needed for the XE’s precise handling and smooth, quiet and supple ride. Extensive use of aluminium is used to keep weight low: toe links and upper control arms are forged, and knuckles and lower control arms are hollow cast.

For the tyres, Jaguar worked with Pirelli to homologate OE (original equipment) tyres for the XE, which was intended to run on the 20-inch alloy wheels from the outset. This has led to the Pirelli P Zero range being fitted as standard across all the XE models, with 235/35 R20 92 Y in front and 265/30 R20 94 Y specified for the rear.

Jaguar has made the XE available with several trim levels and five engine options; the power units are from the new Ingenium family that is being introduced with the XE for the first time. It is described as an advanced modular design to provide petrol and diesel derivatives and was developed from a clean sheet. Basically the variants are two single variable geometry turbo 2.0-litre diesels with dedicated tuning to achieve different outputs (Jaguar says these diesels are the most efficient ever), two single mono-scroll turbo 2.0-litre petrol engines also with separate tuning for different outputs, and a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 as the top honcho.

All the engines come with double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing, with its addition to the diesel range being the latest trend. Jaguar says the Ingenium diesel engines benefit from a cam phaser on the exhaust side and the variable timing enables more rapid catalyst heating, reducing harmful emissions during the warm-up phase.

Generally the Ingenium engines are based on a deep-skirt aluminium cylinder block with thin-wall, press-fit cast iron liners that are said to offer the best balance of weight, surface finish and robustness. For the diesel variants, fuel is fed to the combustion chamber by an 1800-bar solenoid common rail system.

The global media drive was held in northern Spain, starting from the Vitoria airport to the Circuito de Navarra where we had some fast track driving, before continuing the drive to the Marques de Riscal Hotel, and resuming the drive the following day on another route back to the airport. All in, the entire route covered more than 300 kilometres over a wide variety of roads.

Based on the schedule, we would get to drive at least four variants. We started with the 2.0-litre diesel models. This Ingenium engine was fully undersquare with long 92.4mm stroke and 83.0mm bore to displace 1999cc. We had the lower output model first that delivered 120kW (163PS) at 4000rpm and 380Nm from 1750rpm to 2500rpm. To keep the drive less stressful, we opted for the ZF eight-speed automatic model.

The general body design was a five-door body and a ‘flexible’ interior with the 40:20:40 split rear seatrest to extend load space from the already roomy boot of 450 litres (with spare tyre). We did note that the rear legroom for the rear passengers wasn’t too generous although we didn’t sit at the back in between taking turns to drive to gauge the comfort factor.

An interesting note was that there appeared to be little dimensional differences among the respective models. They all share a common wheelbase of 2835mm, overall body length of 4672mm, width of 2075mm (including mirrors) and height of 1416mm. Even the wheel tracks are almost the same with the lower power 2.0 diesel being the odd one out (1607mm and 1608mm front and rear track respectively) as the others have 1602mm front track and 1603mm rear.

As the Jaguar XEs made available for the global media drive were pre-production cars - which was the norm - we had expected some variations in the drive experience. All the XE variants that we drove came with adjustable suspension damping settings, varying from ECO to dynamic. The first XE model had a pliant suspension setting that we found comfortable over the secondary roads covered, stiffening a little when the dynamic setting was selected.

The 380Nm developed by the variable geometry turbocharged diesel engine made light work of pushing the 1500kg Jaguar XE along, gobbling up the road when we had the open stretches to pick up good speed. It moseyed easily along at low speeds (as low as 30km/h in some villages) through urban centres. Jaguar says the XE 2.0 Diesel 163 would sprint to 100km/h in a reasonably quick 8.2 seconds while the top speed was 227km/h.

The more powerful 2.0-litre turbodiesel XE had a more urgent response to accelerator pressure, taking off strongly from the lights or for passing slower vehicles. This engine delivers 132kW (180PS) at 4000rpm and 430Nm from 1750-2500rpm. With a kerb weight of 1565kg, the XE Diesel 180 could sprint to 100km/h in a quicker 7.8 seconds but has only a marginally higher top speed of 228km/h.

Our third Jaguar XE was the more powerful 2.0-litre petrol model; this had an oversquare configuration with 87.5mm bore and short 83.1mm stroke to displace the same 1999cc. With the single mono-scroll turbocharger and 150-bar direct injection, it delivers 177kW (240PS) at 5500rpm and 340Nm from 1750-4000rpm. The XE Petrol 240 accelerates to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h. Its kerb weight is given as ‘from 1535kg’ based on the trim level.

By comparison, the lower power model – which we skipped due to lack of time - develops 147kW (200PS) at 5500rpm and 280Nm over the same rev range. As it is only slightly lighter with a kerb weight ‘from 1530kg’, its 0-100km/h performance was understandably modest at 7.7 seconds and its top speed being 237km/h.

The entire media group had the flagship model on the second day and this was easily the most enjoyable XE to drive with the throaty and sporty exhaust roar on kickdown and the quick burst of speed, especially during overtaking, given that its kerb weight was ‘from 1665kg’. The 3.0-litre V6, like the 2.0-litre diesel, was undersquare in configuration with a long 89.0mm stroke and 84.5mm bore to displace 2995cc. With the twin-vortex supercharger and 150-bar spray-guided direct injection, this V6 churns out 250kW (340PS) at 6500rpm and 430Nm at 4500rpm.

All the XE variants handled the respective winding road sections well within expectations as we could take to the corners with confidence at relatively good speeds. The electric power steering also accounted itself well with firm feel at highway speeds and good directional feedback for the winding stretches.

The Jaguar XE V6 had the same pliant ride as the first diesel variant that we drove while the two models we drove in between (the Diesel 180 and Petrol 240) appeared to have a harder suspension setting. Selecting ECO didn’t soften the ride although we were happy taking them through the corners, while tolerating the more jolting ride over bumps.

The track drive at the 3.9km Circuito de Navarra was the exciting one. This was done in the Jaguar XE 3.0 V6 with the eight-speed automatic transmission, selected to S(port) via a rotary knob on the centre console (similar to that in the Range Rover). Our instructor, Adriano Medeiros, a Brazilian who lives in Europe, showed us the ropes over full-bore two laps following which we took over the car for three laps to apply the ‘lessons’ learnt.

The basic lesson was in steering wheel control and to grip it always even when turning from one corner to the other. This can be applied in modern cars as the lock-to-lock turn ratio is now fewer than two, unlike the old days when it was higher than two. The shuffle method was applied back then to avoid crossing our arms when turning the steering wheel.

We were so comfortable with using the shuffle method since the old days that we found it almost impossible to apply the new grip method. Adriano decided to let us drive the way we were comfortable with and guided us on when to accelerate out of a corner and apply the brakes hard entering one. The Jaguar XE 3.0 V6 took all the ‘punishment’ we could inflict on it, straightening the corners at good speeds although the tyres were screeching while gripping the track to give us the traction.  

Having driven the BMW M3 sedan under track conditions not too long ago, we found the Jaguar XE pretty good by comparison. Its directional feedback via the electric power steering was not as sharp and there was more body lean on taking the corners, but the fun factor in the drive was almost as good. Our exuberance led us to take one sharp corner a wee bit too fast on the last lap and we couldn’t slow the Jaguar enough, resulting in an off-track excursion on a wide run-off area.

The Jaguar XE should impress on what it has to offer; we like the clarity of the laser Head-up Display (HUD) that projects high-contrast colour images on the windscreen (an industry first and the system is said to be smaller and a third lighter than existing systems) although we couldn’t say same of the rather stark graphics of the GPS information on the centrally located eight-inch touchscreen display. Its In-Car Tech seemed up to par along with its wide range of warning systems. The iconic ‘pouncing cat’ is most definitely back to prowl!

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