What’s this new cat in town, then?
After a half-decade absence in the 3 Series/C-Class segment, Jaguar is clawing its way back into the compact sedan class with the clean-sheet XE. This $104,200 XE S is the range-topper (for now) designed to challenge the Audi S4 … but not the BMW 335i.
Hang on, not the BMW 335i?
Jaguar reckons the $12K-cheaper 335i is a bit too luxury-sports to be considered a competitor, where the $105,000 S4 puts greater emphasis on sports-luxury.
The XE S is pleasant inside but lacks space and differentiation compared with a $65K XE R-Sport diesel, which isn’t helped by kit that remains optional (heated seats, head-up display, digital radio).
But can this supercharged V6 put its money where its mouth is?
The blown 3.0-litre is straight from the F-Type so, yes, it can. With the same 250kW at 6500rpm and 450Nm at 4500rpm filtering to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic, the XE S claims a 5.1 second 0-100km/h.
There are a couple of caveats, though…
The XE S doesn’t get the option of a booming exhaust like the F-Type does, and extra sound deadening makes the V6 feel more like a scotch sipper than vodka swigger.
It’s fast through the mid-range but not electric off the line – blame the 1665kg kerb weight, which is 155kg heavier than a 335i. Jag says the weight owes to a double wishbone suspension design claimed to deliver class-leading dynamics.
Has it paid off in the dynamics?
Yes. The electro-mechanical steering crisply guides a front-end that challenges a 3 Series for sharpness, yet the way the XE S can rapidly change direction indicates a level of composure beyond that rival.
Ride comfort is excellent in the softest of the two-stage adaptive damper settings, especially for a car wearing 19s (40-aspect front, 35-aspect rear). Switch to Dynamic and the shocks subtly tighten without becoming unruly, while the steering backs off the assistance slightly, again subtly.
Thanks to the linear throttle delivered by the supercharger and good grip from the 255mm-wide rears, the rear-drive XE S is enjoyably contained rather than lairy.
Cat gets the double cream, then?
The XE S is dynamically excellent and dutifully fast. In some ways it doesn’t feel as $100K-special as an S4 and isn’t as strong value as a 335i, rivals that we split hairs separating, but it delivers some big chassis shots. With 335i soon to become 340i and Benz readying the C450 AMG, the pressure’s on in the sub-M3 sports-luxury (or luxury-sports) sedan class.
Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged V6, DOHC, 24V
Power: 250kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 4500rpm
0-100km/h: 5.1sec 0-100km/h (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Pluses: Lovely steering, ride and handling balance; blown V6’s mid-range
Minuses: Muted V6 and exhaust compared with F-Type; cabin lacks differentiation and equipment for the price
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