2019 Jaguar XE Test Drive Review: Last Of The Diesels

Test Drive

It’s the last diesel-powered compact luxury sedan standing. For some buyers, that will be reason enough.

With everything that’s gone on around diesel emission scandals over the past few years, it’s unsurprising that the selection of diesel-powered models in the US, particularly in certain segments, has become downright scarce.

Take compact sedans, for example. The next-generation BMW 3 Series that launched this year has diesel mills available overseas, but it looks unlikely that they’ll land on this side of the Atlantic. Mercedes-Benz put a stop to plans to bring a C-Class diesel over in 2016, and Audi decided against selling the A4 TDI here at the same time when Dieselgate was in full swing. You can’t even decide to spend less money on a Jetta TDI anymore because… well, you know.

That leaves two options: the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, while it lasts, and the model under scrutiny here, the Jaguar XE.

If ending up with a diesel-powered luxury compact is your primary purchase motivator, you can stop reading now: the Jaguar XE is your only option. But if you’re still weighing how important that is to you, or you’re deciding between a gas-powered XE and its competition, then there are a few more things you should know.

Exterior Design

There’s nothing to argue here: Jaguars are universally very pretty. (Thank you, Ian Callum.) The mean kitty aesthetic translates perfectly into the XE’s face-on look, especially with the R-Sport trim’s unique lower front fascia and air vent treatments. And that subtle yet precise accent line that continues across the door from the side vent is a thing of beauty.

It’s a very slight disappointment, then, to glance through the wheel covers to the brake calipers and find that they’re unpainted. I mean, very few cars in this segment and at this price point do come with painted calipers, so it’s not that this is unacceptable. It’s just that there’s so much well-executed attention to detail all around the XE that it seems like a low-cost missed opportunity to make this car stand out that little bit more.

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Engine, Performance & MPG

Back to the diesel discussion. The engine in the XE 20d is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Output is rated at 180 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque that’s fully available between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. From a stop, the throttle feels bogged down – it’s too bad that the lower gears don’t help a little more here – but then as soon as it hits that band, there’s a very satisfying hit of launch that stays with it through a range that’s useful for typical daily driving.

It’s hardly what one would describe as peppy, but if you’re a diesel devotee, there’s nothing about this that will surprise you. Reviews are rave for this car in its gas-powered iterations, so if you’re deciding between them, this is worth bearing in mind. One thing that’s especially worth noting, though, is that modulating the throttle does seem less easy in this car than average, diesel or otherwise.

What’s perhaps more key is that the engine doesn’t come across as particularly noisy in the diesel-like ways that tend to annoy people – at least, not from the inside. Very little of it transfers into the cabin, which is well-insulated and properly serene.

The EPA estimated fuel economy for this is characteristically low: 30 mpg in the city, 40 on the highway, and 34 in combined usage. Over this tester’s week, mostly on urban streets with a driver who does not have what one would consider a shy right foot, it averaged 36 mpg. And as you know if you’re considering a diesel, it’s over longer highway runs where these engines truly shine. Any way you slice it, those figures are impressive and remain very difficult for anything else in this segment to match.

Interior Design, Features & Dimensions

Again, Jaguar’s strengths come to the fore immediately upon lowering into the seat. This tester’s red and black leather upholstery – with nicely supportive sport seats to boot – and judicious use of chrome and gloss piano black accents make a strong first impression. Understated branding on the steering wheel and each of the vents adds a charming touch of detail.

That said, there are some potential irritants to keep in mind. The XE is slightly shorter in length than others in its class – 183.9 inches versus 185.7 in the new 3 Series and 184.5 in the C-Class – which is minor on paper but manages to come across in the tighter than average second row. Plus, the only cupholders available to rear-seat passengers are in the center armrest, making the rearward space feel somewhat like an afterthought.

And although the driver’s side window buttons are not placed on the door sill as they are in many other Jags, they are staggered relative to the memory seat and door lock buttons. Perhaps this is something an owner would get used to over time, but it takes some adjustment to remember which set of buttons to reach for, at least at first.

The 10-inch infotainment touchscreen system equipped here has often presented issues, and one came up during this test: there was an instance where the back-up camera failed to load. In other Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, it has at times been observed going up instead of down when tuning radio stations (and there are no physical buttons for getting around this), or completely failing to load at start-up, period.

There’s no smartphone app connectivity to speak of, though this is less unusual in the luxury segment; Audi and Volvo are the only brands that offer both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto by default, while most of the others offer CarPlay only and at an extra cost. If it’s deeply important to you to have CarPlay and/or Android Auto as well as a diesel powertrain, consider biting the bullet on creature comforts and looking to a Cruze Diesel instead while it’s still an option.

Trunk & Cargo Space

What the XE lacks in second-row space it makes up in trunk capacity: it can house up to 16.1 cu. ft., though that goes down to 14.7 cu. ft. when the spare tire is equipped, which it is on this test unit. Still, that’s an improvement over the C-Class’s 12.6 cu. ft. and the A4’s 13 cu. ft.

It also comes with an auto-close feature in some trims, which can be hard to come by in sedans and probably isn’t strictly necessary but is a nice to have feature.

With the diesel engine, the DEF intake is positioned to the left on the inside of the trunk. This is nice in that it’s easily accessible, but you’d certainly want to be careful not to spill it all over the upholstery.

Driving Impressions

Steering is electrically power assisted and speed proportional, and it comes across as direct and engaging. The same can be said for the handling, which is stable yet dynamic in cornering and is good fun to wing around on freeway on-ramps.

What’s less easy to live with is the ride quality, which is remarkably stiff. That’s great on a racetrack, but it’s challenging on a daily basis in places where the roads aren’t meticulously maintained.

There’s also the matter of visibility. Yes, if you do it properly, you can set your side mirrors such that the blind spot is eliminated and there’s technically no need to do shoulder checks. But the side mirrors and rear window are smaller than average, and if you still like to glance for shifting traffic on multi-lane highways – or you just can’t kick the habit, which is the case for many drivers – you’ll turn your head to the left only to get a face full of one very thick B-pillar.

Reliability and Problems

Apart from the infotainment system and some reports of easily dented wheels thanks to the rough ride, there aren’t a lot of reliability complaints floating around. On the other hand, it’s been in production for less than four years, so it may be a tad early to tell.

Price & Trims

For a base XE 20d with rear-wheel drive, you’ll pay $38,515 with destination and fees included. Add all-wheel drive and that goes up to $41,015. Both configurations come in XE ($38,515/$41,015), Premium ($40,775/$43,275), Prestige ($45,235/$47,735), R-Sport ($49,345/$51,845), and Landmark ($50,490/$52,990).

In either case, the base XE trim comes with a power moonroof, 10-way power front seats including two-way manual headrests, rain-sensing wipers, heated door mirrors, dual-zone climate control, the 10-inch infotainment touchscreen, tire pressure monitoring, and the Jaguar cruise control and speed limiter system.

At Premium, auto-dimming and power folding exterior mirrors are added, as is the driver’s seat and side mirror memory function, a 40:20:40 split rear seat (this is a single unit in the base model), a Meridian 380-watt sound system, and a built-in garage door opener.

The Prestige trim adds leather seats with contrast stitching, heated front seats and steering wheel, four-way front seat power lumbar support, a power-adjustable steering column with memory function, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry, on-board navigation, and an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot with a limited trial.

At R-Sport, the additions are numerous: the trim-specific body kit with front bumper, black grille with satin chrome surround, body-colored side sills, side vents, and (a very subtle) trunk spoiler, adaptive xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, power-washing headlights, auto high beams, sport seats with perforated leather and contrast stitching, metal R-Sport tread plates, a badged steering wheel with satin chrome paddles, custom 18-inch alloy wheels, lane keep assist, driver condition monitor (to make sure you don’t fall asleep), blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic monitor, front and rear park assist, emergency braking, and SiriusXM packaging with a free 3-month trial.

Finally, the Landmark edition comes with 18-inch unique 10 split-spoke alloy wheels, gloss black side window surrounds, grille surround, mirror caps, and side vents with Landmark badging, and Landmark-badged metal tread plates.

In gas-powered configurations, the 25t starts at $36,995 with rear-wheel drive and $39,495 with all-wheel drive, while a rear-wheel drive 30t starts at $43,075 while all-wheel drive begins at $45,575, and the S model starts at $53,785 with rear-wheel drive and $56,285 with all-wheel drive.

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