Shoved from pillar to post, jostled by State, Ford and Tata, Coventry’s ‘finest’ has needed to carry out some retrospective reckoning, writes Iain Robertson, in order to turn its mainstream XE model into a brand new ‘Mark Two’ for a modern era.
Some brands reflect intrinsically their roots. Clydeside is a natural home to shipbuilders. Kent is a ‘garden of England’. The West Midlands is home to the British motor industry. While slightly leafier than Brum, Jaguar always seemed to be in a better place in Coventry.
While it is consummately easy to wax lyrical about Jaguar Cars, it should be remembered that, even in its real glory days, when it was winning at Le Mans in the truck-like D-Type, it was a small, specialist operator. In fact, its history is peppered with unfortunate mishaps, despite being provided with royal patronage for much of its existence. Flying a patriotic and slightly xenophobic flag has been a popular pastime in Coventry.
State ownership did very little for the brand, or its reputation. For nearly a decade and a large cash injection, Ford Motor Company, despite trying to turn Jaguar into a rival to Audi, BMW and Merc, finally raised its corporate hands in despair at being unable to do so. When the baton was passed to the Indian conglomerate headed by Ratan Tata, an almost forgotten colonial flag was flown in honour of a ‘Great British brand’ but it may have been more than a little misguided.
The real issue, which reared its ugly but unsurprised head earlier this year, with Tata having to cover JLR’s huge indebtedness, is that Jaguar Cars has spent longer as a corporate patsy than as an independent carmaker. Some body has always been a fallback zone. Some body has always been present to pick up the pieces. It is an unfortunate position, because self-reliance falls from the pram and, while the parties concerned will deny it, self-respect is also a casualty.
Launched with an enormous fanfare in 2015, a lot of internal back-patting and self-congratulation accompanied Jaguar’s return to the compact executive fold. The last attempt made by the Coventry-based carmaker to field an ‘every-business’ Jaguar occurred with the X-Type, which was Ford Mondeo-based. It was an error of corporate mismanagement, because it never really worked quite as well as it should have done, even though the runout versions were actually quite decent motorcars.
When XE was introduced, it was fortunate to receive the plaudits of the UK’s leading motoring media, most of whom ought to be feeling mighty sheepish with the abysmal performance of that car. An initial tranche of consumer interest dwindled to a point at which sales had all but halved by the end of last year. In fact, part of the reason for the agglomerated debt lies in a massive chunk of self-registrations of XE, which made it appear more successful than it was. A dramatic turnaround was needed and Jaguar Cars knew it, having received the wake-up call.
To look at the latest version, there are enough detail changes made to its exterior to warrant a ‘new car’ status. However, once ensconced within its cosseting and totally revised interior, just from a personal standpoint, I could have been in an entirely new Jaguar, it is so massively revised. Believe me, the new XE is the compact Jag that should have always been; a true rival to 3-Series, A4 and C-Class, let alone the leading quality of an equivalent Lexus. However, it is this false apprehension that the Jaguar brand has to compete at all that is most disappointing.
We, the Great British public, love Jaguar and what it appears to stand for. Being Indian-owned is a frippery. Jaguar was always a sportier rival to Rover in that era. It was a real hide and real wood exponent of the classical artisan period. Even the Yanks knew that much. Time moves on. Safety and security issues demand more up-to-date treatments. Thankfully, the new XE (Mark 2) achieves some of those unwritten remits.
For a start, it benefits from the use of the same digital and driver-flexible dashboard as the multi award-winning i-Pace. The driver can configure it in several ways. A proper F-Pace gearlever juts from the centre console and there is a fresh clarity and class now very much in evidence. The company admits that it ‘got XE wrong’ at the outset, having concentrated more heavily on its dynamic capabilities than cabin tactility. While the outside and underpinnings are important, not least from perpetuating a Jaguar signature (or myth), the cabin is where the driver and passengers reside and missing that boat had been a cardinal error.
Perhaps more importantly, Jaguar has used the model half-life opportunity to revisit its packaging. All carmakers work to a three-to-four years period before introducing mid-life model changes, full in the knowledge that the next generation would follow. The range of models (which starts at a new, pre-discount list price of £33,915) is now limited to just core and R-Dynamic, with a choice of S, SE and HSE trim levels. It is rationalised, far more concise and significantly less confusing for the consumer. The engine line-up has also been rationalised to both 247 and 296bhp versions of the Ingenium 2.0-litre petrol-turbo, with a solitary 178bhp turbo-diesel, each hooked up to an optimised 8-speed automatic transmission. The diesel is also RDE2-compliant, which means that it does not attract the 4% BIK tax levy placed on not-so-clean diesels, allied to a 57.6mpg potential, which means that significant consumer savings are made.
The driving experience is where it needs to be, with brisk acceleration and easy cruising ability on the cards. Dependent on model choice, the ride quality can vary between compliant luxury and sporting prowess, something at which Jaguar’s chassis dynamicists have always been highly proficient. Of course, even though the Range Rover Evoque now boasts a hybrid variant, there is no immediate confirmation of the same technology being applied to XE. Yet, you can take it for granted that a tech-transfer is imminent, to allow Jaguar to enter the realms of hybrid, then EV markets; it has no choice. Top marks to Jag for effecting such a major model rescue exercise. I shall keep a watching brief on how it pans out.
As a British-based brand possessing a strong history, Jaguar has never really needed to enter into headlong rivalry with the German Threesome. I would contend that the new Mark 2 version of the XE reflects more of the original Mark Two model of the 1960s, which is much to its benefit and to those businesses contemplating the XE.