The Jaguar XE may be a rare sight compared with equivalent C-Class, 3 Series and A4 models, but Jaguar hopes the new range-topping 300 Sport will tear keen drivers away from the outgoing 3 Series – which dies any day now – and the comfort-biased C-Class, the key rear-wheel drive competition.
Packing 296bhp courtesy of a turbocharged 2.0-litre and all-wheel drive, the 300 Sport hits 62mph in 5.7 seconds. Fast enough, but that’s still slower than a 254bhp BMW 330d and practically the same as the 249bhp Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Quattro. Gone is the supercharged 375bhp 3.0-litre V6 ‘S’.
Other additions for the 300 Sport include unique badging and trim, violent yellow stitching across practically every surface inside, plus more sober grey wheels. Meanwhile, the entire model range now gets the 10-inch Touch Pro media system, along with a higher-quality feel courtesy of new trim and – mmm – ‘premium’ carpet mats.
XE 300 Sport: fast, comfy and sharp enough for most drivers
This XE may be outgunned by less powerful rivals, but the 2.0-litre motor is still pretty impressive. It feels strong, offers a broad spread of power and proves particularly refined when cruising while producing a satisfying snarl when worked harder in Dynamic mode.
Though it’s not the most exciting engine in Normal mode, switch to Dynamic and the engine sounds surprisingly sharp for a four-pot. Meanwhile, the steering is satisfyingly weighty, but nicely precise, with a small, chunky wheel. Providing a good sense of control around bends without being too sharp, it’s the perfect setup for a small Jaguar.
The suspension mimics this with firm damping, but a very smooth ride, feeling very well judged for UK roads; planted around corners, but soaking up bumps surprisingly well. It feels like Jaguar has spent much more on the suspension here than in the 197bhp petrol model.
The body-grasping sports seats add to this impression, offering good back support, while clamping you in place much better than less powerful XEs. Bigger drivers will want to try before they buy to ensure they fit comfortably, though.
The gearbox, meanwhile, is not so polished. It’s mostly pretty smooth and responsive enough to feel sporty. However, the eight-speed unit in equivalent BMWs is much quicker to respond and smoother to boot.
Expect to pay just under £500 per month on a four-year, 10,000-mile-per-year PCP contract with a £5,000 deposit. In comparison, R-Sport trim with the same engine is just over £400 per month. That’s where our money would go.
XE 20t 200 R-Sport: less comfy and less sharp than 300 Sport
If you’re hoping to get much of the 300 Sport’s feel in a cheaper package with the 197bhp 2.0-litre rear-wheel drive model, prepare to be disappointed. Even in R-Sport form, the suspension is much busier and less composed than that in the 300 Sport and the steering lighter and less precise.
The engine is reasonably smooth and surprisingly muscular in gentle driving. Push harder, though and there’s less punch than you initially think. It’s still more than enough for most drivers and pretty refined, though not the most cultured unit. The gearbox is a little underwhelming, too. Quick enough, but not always finding the gear you want.
XE 20d 180 R-Sport AWD: too expensive, too dieselly
Diesel still makes plenty of sense in some cars. But not this one. The 178bhp motor is loud and rougher than you’d expect in a Jaguar. It offers strong enough performance – even with power-sapping all-wheel drive – but it feels heavy and the engine somewhat resistant. A diesel Mazda 6 is far smoother and has a wider spread of power.
Worse still, the auto gearbox typically holds the engine at low enough revs to throw up a lot of vibrations. Switch to Sport mode, however, and it chooses lower gears and kicks out lots of engine noise. While smooth enough normally, the gearbox is a little abrupt when changing down and under faster driving, too.
Surprisingly, the steering is better weighted and provides more confidence than the 200 petrol’s. The ride is also smoother and the handling more precise than the two-wheel drive petrol. As with the petrol, we didn’t find the relatively wide front seats very comfortable, offering little side support and an oddly shaped backrest.
The V6 may be gone, but the 296hp turbocharged 2.0-litre in the 300 Sport suits the XE well, offering plenty of power, driveability and impressive comfort and roadholding. Get this engine with R-Sport spec and it makes a lot of sense, adding good value to the equation if a busier ride.
The diesel, however, is hard to justify on Jaguar’s PCP finance (at £373 per month in all-wheel drive form, £343 with two-wheel drive) compared with £287 for the more powerful 197bhp petrol. Yes, the diesel uses less fuel, but since it’s not the nicest engine, we’d steer clear. The petrol, meanwhile, has a more pleasant engine but doesn’t drive as well.
So, if you want a Jaguar for looks and feel, go for the 197hp petrol and it’s top value. If Jaguar means a fine balance between comfort and handling to you, however, stretching for the 296hp petrol R-Sport will be worth every penny.
Specifications quoted are for 300 Sport
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Transmission: All-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Performance: 5.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 36.7mpg, 175g/km CO2
Weight: 1690kg (est)/aluminium