Jaguar XE hooks our writer with its animal magnetism

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It is almost seven years since Jaguar retired the X-Type. Divisive though that Ford-derived platform may have been to the purists, it was still the top-selling Jaguar throughout most of its production run, peaking at around 50,000 units annually.

Jaguar’s self-enforced hiatus from the compact executive market has seen BMW’s 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A3 complete a Teutonic takeover of the premium saloon for under thirty grand section of the market.

But just over a year ago Jaguar came back with the XE and if the Germans aren’t worried, they should be. Starting at £26,990, the XE sits one hundred pounds or so above the Merc and a couple of hundred shy of a similarly specified Beemer. Line them up side by side – and throw in the A3 saloon for good measure, which has the most affordable starting price at £23,585 – and the Jag would win hands down in a beauty contest.

That’s not to say there’s a bad looking car in the bunch – there isn’t – but the Jag is, to this writer’s eye, the most dramatic. It’s wide and low and muscular, just like a Jaguar should be.

Designed by Jaguar’s director of design, Dumfries-born Ian Callum, the coupe-inspired XE looks like a cross between big brother the XF and the F-Type. The result is a saloon with sports car lines that can accommodate three airport-bound passengers comfortably while the 455-litre boot swallows up their hand luggage.

It doesn’t have the most spacious cabin out there though and that low-slung roof means headroom in particular is at a premium for the driver.

The interior is on point though and the well laid out cabin has the same sharp styling you’ll find applied to the exterior. While it loses out on the pop-up air vents you’ll find in the XF, much to my inner child’s delight, the pop-up rotary gear selector makes it in.

The four-way split-screen infotainment system dominates the centre console and is a pleasure to use – even if some of the background pictures look like they’ve been lifted from a late-90s Windows desktop.

Admittedly, some of the cabin materials are a bit of a let down in the entry-spec ‘SE’ model I tested, but further up the ladder things look a lot more luxurious. The plastic trim is not up to the same standard as in the XF, but Jag have had to keep the price down somehow – and it hasn’t been with the car’s underpinnings.

The aluminium chassis, suspension and engine range are all brand new and combine to make the XE an absolutely terrific car to drive.

Nought to 60 comes in 7.8 seconds in the 178bhp diesel version I drove and the eight-speed auto box is as slick as they come. The speed-sensitive, variable, electric-power steering and suspension are balanced perfectly and augmented by driver aids such as torque vectoring – which uses technical trickery to allow for tighter cornering –and ‘All Surface Progress Control’ which maximises traction in difficult conditions. Keen drivers will love the sharp handling and confident ride.

Refinement and noise levels – even in the base SE spec - leave you in no doubt that this is a premium car and outside observers aren’t likely to mistake it for anything else either.

When developing the XE, Jaguar set itself the modest task of building the best driver’s car in the class. Based on this evidence, they’ve come pretty darn close.

Fast facts

Jaguar XE 2.0d (178bhp) SE 4d Auto

Price: £32,025 (as driven)

Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 178bhp, 317lb/ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 140mph, 0-60 in 7.8 seconds

Economy: 67.3mpg

Emissions: 109g/km