My mood, like the weather, was drab. My eyes searched in vain for a hint of colour, something other than the pervasive and oppressive greyscale of an English January day, to lift the spirits and provide some inspiration. Jaded, yet ever hopeful, as Shank’s Pony took me hastily back to work to consume my lunch, there in my gaze lay a sorry sight. It was as lacking in vitality as your author at that moment, so one had to check twice to ascertain that the creature still lived.
Approaching closer, one could feel the residual heat from the front grille – there was life but you’d be hard pressed to define the quality therein. This particular creature was in Portofino Blue, unusually clean for the time of year, but unprepossessing in its inky darkness. An absence of brightwork, black wheels and an interior familiar to coal-miners were meant to signify purposeful aggression, but all I saw was bleakness.
My senses sought a pulse, which I found in the form of bright red brake calipers; a trace of systolic pressure, yet relieving little of the car’s morbidity. Is this how it really ends, when understatement turns to near-invisibility?
Much has been written about the Jaguar XE, not least on these pages. It did not enjoy an auspicious start and the prognosis is now grave, if not terminal, the cold, hard facts being thus: in 2021, just 1,943(1) found buyers in Europe, and a barely believable 211 in the United States. Only the Chinese market shows significant, if modest, signs of life, with 10,497 locally built long-wheelbase XEL variants sold in the same year.
April 2022 sees the XE enter its seventh year. With just thirty-six months to go before Thierry Bolloré inters the always underwhelming Ingenium engine and switches over to electrical propulsion, is it already time to switch off the life-support?
We must delve deeper into the big cat’s lair to find answers to our questions, the first being does this look a £30,000 car? Your author expects a Jaguar neither to screech like an alley cat nor skulk unseen into the night. The XE seems sadly predisposed to the latter, lacking the requisite courage to stand and fight. Its ungraciously generic stance lacks the sinuous fluidity one expects of a car born in Browns Lane.
Now limping painfully, yet the automotive press still hold a candle for this wounded creature. Always regarded favourably in terms of panache and drive, the XE can still give the Germans some food for thought on their premium car hegemony, at least when taking them on individually, when it resembles a 1970s action film hero whom the bad guys obligingly attack one at a time.
In base trim, Ingolstadt’s A4 looks decent enough; barely aggressive and a modicum up from bland, albeit peerlessly executed. The Bavarians have entered the realm of Proboscis Maximus, which seems not to affect their sales a jot. Don’t buyers actually look at their prospective purchases any more? Stuttgart’s take on the compact executive sedan may be less overwrought these days, now verging on the bland but, like BMW, its the badge that sells. The XE counters with finely honed dynamic qualities, but all the sporting intent in the world clearly isn’t enough to tempt those predisposed toward the Germanic offerings.
The cul-de-sac we find ourselves in isn’t just styling: what about price, then? Paring back to the bones, the A4 Technik 35 TFSi S-tronic(2) has a 1,984cc petrol four-pot with 150bhp for £33,000. The BMW 318i M Sport Saloon gives you 156bhp for your £35,000 whereas, with Mercedes, the entry price jumps to £39,000. Such outlay brings a C200 Sport Saloon with a 204bhp petrol unit, with additional 20 horses from hybrid intervention.
The XE is cheapest, from a smidge over £30k, for which you get the same bhp as Stuttgart’s offering, albeit from a two-litre diesel. Returning to my first posited question, no, the Jag does not look like a car of that price bracket, but does any of them? Paint them all white (at no extra cost) and it’s a struggle to determine anything that stands out, other than the BMW’s snout and the relentless conformity.
Inside, we find that all four manufacturers have taken a somewhat sombre approach to interiors. Blacks and greys, with a smattering of silver garnish, is hardly the embodiment of what’s alluded to in the glossy, aspirational advertising. The C is a reduced S, with lots of shiny ornaments but little in the way of heft or depth. The A4 hardly sets any design benchmarks, either, but is well put together. Let’s not be self-righteous – it’s much the same with Callum’s moggy, with a little less mer noire and the novelty of a circular steering device.
Long gone is the time when the mere mention of such exalted names as these would garner coos of appreciation or inveterate nods of approval. That was before the likes of leasing deals and personal contract purchase schemes steamrolled in. Jaguar to some (ok, me) retains that caddish charm and I genuinely believed that the Leaping Cat still held some sway in matters of motoring.
I was quickly disabused of that notion on returning to the staff room to consume my lunch: I had entered a tom-cat fight. The main protagonist, let’s call him TC(3), was holding court, pronouncing his new black 3 Series M340d X-drive “the best car ever.” Immediately, Benny the Ball retorted that his A4 (no specific model mentioned) was “far better” while Choo-Choo insisted that, you’ve guessed it, his Mercedes-Benz C-Class “ran rings round them all.” How tedious: at least they’re driving saloons, I suppose. Spook, Brain and Fancy-Fancy weighed in and goaded the protagonists further.
Allowing the bile to simmer, the exchange degenerated into a stereotypical slanging match, distanced from any form of believable context. Paying “under £500 a month and it pisses over the others,” was TC’s eloquent coup de grâce, apparently.
Utilising a natural lull in this cat-scrap, I entered the fray as guileless Officer Dibble, throwing the apparently indefensible, home-grown Jaguar XE into the the midst of the flying fur. TC looked askance: “They don’t make a small saloon,” he asserted with some vehemence. The remaining alley cats jumped to his cause with their cries that Jaguar only made “bigger, more expensive stuff.”
The smartphone rescued me from my misguided manoeuvre, firstly with a picture of the XE, immediately judged “crap” by the entire gang, followed by an unanticipated but exceptionally well timed phone call that enabled my swift extraction from the baying pack. Thus, it is proved: Jaguar really doesn’t produce a small saloon, and anything resembling an aspirational four-door, three-box shape now derives from Germany. Enough said.
Which may well be it for the cat in question. How sad.
(1) Sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com. The European sales figure excludes December 2021.
(2) That’s easy for you to say!
(3) Our younger readers may not be familiar with the cast of Top Cat, an American children’s cartoon from the 1960’s.