Price: from £26,995
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
MPG: up to 67.3
I wonder what they talk about around the Callum family table. Older brother Ian, now 63, is the head of design at Jaguar, while Moray, four years his junior, is vice president of design at Ford. Maybe they play Top Trumps, with their own car designs. Ian’s stunning F-Type would just edge Moray’s new Mustang. Between them, the two brothers from Dumfries have given car lovers some rare beauties over the years.
But not all are instant winners. Further down Ian’s deck of cards, you’ll find the new XE. It’s rather witheringly described as a “junior executive saloon”. If you’re the sort who aspires to the executive classes, this would put you right off. “Junior” is hardly the stuff of corner offices, hostile takeovers and three-martini lunches. But the XE has quickly established itself as Britain’s leading combatant in the eternal battle against the German trio of the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. Auto Express certainly thinks the baby Jag is worth a punt – the magazine has named it best “compact executive car” for the past three years running. You might argue this was patriotic attempt to big up the British entry, as empirically the German threesome are ahead in performance, equipment and efficiency, but for the junior exec wishing to stand out in the corporate snake pit, the XE packs a very seductive punch.
The mid-size XE replaces the unloved X-Type and sits neatly beneath the more lavish XF and XJ saloons. It’s unmistakably a Jag and has the trademark “Coventry face” – a rectangular grille flanked by slim headlights. From the front it really is a terrific looking car. This is its best side. Walk round to the back, however, and Ian seems to have given up – the rear looks as tedious as a meeting with accounts. I tried to pop the boot of a Ford Mondeo parked next to me at Sainsbury’s. They looked so similar I couldn’t fathom why my key wasn’t working. Once you do open the boot you’ll then have to leave half your shopping on the pavement as the storage space is small and weirdly configured. Golfers take note: it would fail the double bag test. Inside, the elegantly sloping roofline takes a big bite out of the headroom for your rear passengers. Moving forward to the midway point of the car and things start to look up, everything from here – seats, cabin, cockpit, aesthetics – is of a higher grade. Perhaps, the best approach to an XE, which will also serve you well in your business career, is don’t worry look back.
But there’s plenty to applaud. The cabin is roomy and well configured – an elegant wraparound fascia makes it feel both welcoming and professional. The XE also comes with a rotary gear selector which rises solemnly from the centre console every time you press the starter button, adding a theatrical touch to the mundane act of ignition.
On the road, the overriding sense is that the XE is both hair-raising and in complete control, which is a tricky double act to pull off. Mostly this is thanks to the new Ingenium engines. The entry-level diesel has a 2-litre with 161bhp, which in some configurations will do a headline grabbing 99g of CO2 per km. But it’s the superb petrol 2-litre with 197bhp that caught my eye, delivering a heady mix of both pace and peacefulness.
Bottom line? Forget the promotion – the junior execs have got it all.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010