Although family buyers are moving into SUVs faster than manufacturers can launch them, fleet and business buyers are still very much in the grips of the compact executive car. AOL Cars got its hands on the latest Jaguar XE to see if it can provide a welcome alternative to the German standard.
What is it?
The Jaguar XE is the British brand's addition to the hotly contested compact executive class. While its rivals are as wide-ranging as the Lexus IS and Alfa Romeo Giulia, it's really up against the Holy Trinity of German compact executives – the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series.
The XE aims to compete with these cars by virtue of a few qualities – it's strikingly handsome, good to drive, and it's also British. That can only be a good thing.
For the latest 2017 model, Jaguar's equipped our 2.0-litre petrol model with all-wheel drive. There's also the latest version of the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system.
While the additional grip and stability provided by the former is a welcome addition, we can't get too excited about the new infotainment system. It's already showing its age against rival systems.
What's under the bonnet?
Most people will plump for one of the Jag's 2.0-litre diesel engines, but with public opinion turning against diesel we decided to test the XE's petrol option. Our test car was fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from Jaguar's Ingenium family.
Though it produces 247bhp and 365Nm of torque, it never felt as quick as its 5.8-second 0-60mph sprint would suggest.
Choosing the petrol harms fuel economy, too. Though official figures say the XE can manage 42.2mpg on the combined cycle, we were seeing figures mostly in the high 20s and low 30s. CO2 emissions are 154g/km, making this a costly company car choice.
What's it like to drive?
The XE's trump card comes when you get onto a twisty road. It's genuinely very impressive in the corners, with sharp, direct steering and a great balance of ride and handling. The large 19-inch alloy wheels on our R-Sport test car do add a harsh edge to potholes, though, and also create a considerable amount of road noise.
On the motorway, the XE settles down to a comfortable cruise, and the road noise is easily drowned out by ample sound insulation and an excellent Meridian sound system.
How does it look?
To our eyes, the Jaguar XE is probably the best-looking vehicle in its class. It easily outclasses the fairly dull-looking Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, and even holds a candle to the curvy Alfa Romeo Giulia. That's thanks to Jag's brilliant design director Ian Callum, who's turned the Jaguar range from frumpy to supermodel in his years at the brand.
Our model also came with R-Sport additions, which did look great – but didn't really match the car's relatively pedestrian performance.
What's it like inside?
The exterior design brilliance hasn't shone through to the interior, unfortunately. While it's still quite a nice place to sit, it's not quite up to scratch in terms of design and quality – especially compared to Mercedes' slick design, BMW's driver-focused cockpit or the sheer build quality of the Audi.
There's also a small issue when it comes to rear space. Adults will find themselves cramped in the rear of the XE, while the boot isn't massive either.
What's the spec like?
Our car was optioned up to the hilt, which skewed its value proposition somewhat. However, R-Sport is fairly well equipped as standard. For the base price of £35,645, you get DAB radio, autonomous emergency braking, leather sports seats and a body kit.
The options on our test vehicle pushed the price up to an eye-watering £52,190. They included the £2,545 Meridian surround sound system and Navigation Pro, alloy wheels in black for £1,255 and adaptive cruise control for £1,565.
The Jaguar XE isn't as technically brilliant as its rivals in many ways, but it's handsome, fun to drive, and isn't as dull as some of its Germanic competition. The performance doesn't really match up to its sporty looks and we probably wouldn't spec this thirsty petrol engine, but we can forgive that thanks to the way it handles itself in the bends. If you're in the market for a small and well-appointed saloon, the XE should definitely be on your shortlist.
Model: Jaguar XE R-Sport 2.0 250PS AWD
Price as tested: £52,190
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol
0-60mph: 5.8 secs
Fuel economy: 42.2mpg