First Drive

Jaguar XE vs BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series has been Britain's most popular executive saloon for years and it's still one of the best. However, the new Jaguar XE has lower CO2 emissions and more standard equipment, so does it make even more sense?

Words ByWhat Car? team

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Few cars whip up as much hype on these shores as a new Jaguar. The company might not be British-owned these days but thereโ€™s still a lot of Britishness in the way itโ€™s run, with all models designed and built here.

Usually, though, any excitement has to be tempered with some rather more sobering realities. Jags tend not to lead their respective classes on fuel economy, for example, and because they tend to depreciate quicker than their German rivals they often end up costing you more in the long run.

Until now, that is. The new XE isnโ€™t just super-desirable, you see, it also makes a surprising amount of sense financially. In fact, if youโ€™re a company car driver โ€“ as most premium saloon 'owners' are โ€“ itโ€™ll cost you less to run than an equivalent BMW 3 Series.

What are they like to drive?

Weโ€™re testing the most efficient versions of these cars, and that means theyโ€™re both powered by 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel engines. You might imagine there would be little to split the two for performance, but you wonโ€™t have to drive far to realise the BMW accelerates with a fair bit more vigour. Thatโ€™s not only the case when you rev the engine hard; itโ€™s also true when you want to build speed from low revs in higher gears.

The longer-geared XE rarely feels sluggish, mind, and its engine is happy to sit at very low revs without labouring. You just need to think a bit further ahead when planning overtakes or when accelerating down a motorway slip road.

Thatโ€™s about our only criticism with the way the XE drives, though. It outshines the BMW on twisting roads, darting into bends more eagerly, and staying flatter and more composed. The Jag grips harder, too, and has steering thatโ€™s quick and precise without making the car feel nervous at high speeds. Thatโ€™s important given the high number of motorway miles many executive car buyers rack up.

Not that the 3 Series is even remotely sloppy. It still handles sweetly and its steering, although slower than the Jagโ€™s, actually streams a bit more information to your fingertips. However, the relatively high-walled tyres fitted to our Efficient Dynamics test car could do with more grip โ€“ especially in the wet.

Fortunately, the XEโ€™s sporty handling doesnโ€™t come with a bone-shaking ride. In fact, the Jag is remarkably comfortable. Itโ€™s firm, but supple enough to take the sting out of potholes in town, and stays wonderfully settled on the motorway. Weโ€™d recommend avoiding R Sport models, though, since they come with lower and stiffer suspension, so arenโ€™t as comfortable.

Our 3 Series test car was fitted with optional Adaptive M Sport suspension (ยฃ750). This gives you the option to stiffen and soften the dampers by pressing a button. Switch to Comfort mode and the BMWโ€™s ride is even more forgiving than the Jagโ€™s at low speeds, although the 3 Series doesnโ€™t feel as well tied down over high-speed dips and crests.

Journeys are more peaceful in the XE, with less wind and engine noise finding its way into the cabin. By contrast, the 3 Seriesโ€™ engine blurts out quite a racket when revved and, although there is less road roar at motorway speeds, the BMW has the notchier manual gearshift.


What are they like inside?

Whatever your size or shape, youโ€™re unlikely to have much trouble finding a comfortable driving position in either of these cars. That said, itโ€™s easier to adjust the Jagโ€™s seats thanks to part-electric movement, whereas tweaking the BMWโ€™s is a comparatively fiddly process because you have to pull a lever and shift your weight around. The 3 Seriesโ€™ pedals are offset a bit too far to the right, too, which forces you to sit at a skewed angle much of the time.

Thereโ€™s little to split the two rivals for interior quality, with plenty of soft-touch materials in all the important areas. If anything, the XEโ€™s cabin is bolted together a bit more precisely, with smaller and more consistent gaps between the different sections of the dashboard. Then again, the BMWโ€™s switches, knobs and buttons feel that bit more substantial.

The XE is the first model to have Jaguarโ€™s new InControl infotainment system. Itโ€™s a massive improvement over the companyโ€™s older systems because itโ€™s not only a lot more intuitive, itโ€™s also much quicker to respond to commands. Itโ€™ll sync with your Smartphone to give you access to some handy apps, too, including one thatโ€™ll display your phoneโ€™s calendar and another that searches out nearby hotels.

That said, itโ€™s still a touchscreen, so you do have to concentrate to make sure youโ€™re pressing the correct area of the display. Thatโ€™s not ideal when youโ€™re driving.

Performing certain functions โ€“ such as changing the radio station or tapping a postcode into the sat-nav โ€“ is easier in the BMW. Thatโ€™s because iDrive features a big rotary dial and a selection of shortcut buttons positioned between the front seats, and requires less concentration.

Neither car is particularly spacious as premium saloons go. Youโ€™ll want to look at larger executive cars such as the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series if you regularly carry adults in the back. That said, the 3 Series is the roomier of the two, with more legroom in the back and a bigger boot. The latterโ€™s extra width is very handy, making it easier to slot in a set of golf clubs or a buggy. Split-folding rear seats are an option on both.


What will they cost?

The XE is one of only a handful of premium saloons that pumps out less than 100g/km of CO2.
Thatโ€™s a good thing for the environment but itโ€™s also great news for company car drivers because it translates to sizeable tax savings. Each month youโ€™ll sacrifice ยฃ17 a month less of salary to run the Jag than the BMW, which adds up to a hefty ยฃ600 over three years.

Thatโ€™s only the case if you stick with a manual gearbox, however. Go for an auto (ยฃ1550 extra on
the 3 Series and ยฃ1750 on the XE) and the Jagโ€™s emissions jump to 106g/km, whereas BMWโ€™s remain at 109g/km, levelling the playing field.

If youโ€™re buying privately the 3 Series has the edge.It's cheaper to start with, and while BMW dealers are willing to cough up discounts of more than ยฃ2200, the XE will be available with much smaller savings for at least for the first few months. It counters with slower depreciation but itโ€™ll still work out slightly more expensive to own than the BMW โ€“ assuming you buy now and sell after three years.

Real-world fuel economy is one reason for this; the Jag averaged 3.5mpg fewer than its German rival in our tests. However, our test XE was an early-build car that didnโ€™t have a functioning engine stop-start system, so you can probably expect slightly more than the 50.7mpg we managed.

Youโ€™ll need to spend several hundred pounds if you want your 3 Series to be as well-equipped as the XE. Both cars come with leather seats, sat-nav, cruise control, heated seats, rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, and cruise and climate controls. The XE adds bigger alloy wheels and automatic emergency braking.

Our verdict

Jagโ€™s new XE just edges the 3 Series. Itโ€™s even more fun to drive than its German rival, better equipped and cheaper to run as a company car, so unlike Jaguars of old it makes as much sense to the head as it does the heart. That said, its victory could well be short-lived because an updated 3 Series goes on sale later this year with CO2 emissions that match the XEโ€™s. Until then, though, the XE is one of the very best executive saloons.

1st - Jaguar XE 2.0d 163 Prestige

For Brilliant handling; comfortable ride; lots of kit; low CO2 output

Against Cramped rear; so-so performance; small fuel tank

Verdict Finally, a Jaguar you can buy with your head

2nd - BMW 320d ED Business Edition

For Supple ride; more spacious; brilliant infotainment

Against Noisy engine; higher BIK; no automatic braking

Verdict Still a fine car, but we'd wait for the face-lift

BMW 3 Series

Engine size

2.0-litre diesel

Price from

ยฃ30,175

Power

161bhp

Torque

280lb ft

0-62mph

7.7 seconds

Top speed

143mph

True MPG

54.2mpg

CO2

109g/km

  • Test car did not have a correctly functioning stop-start system

Jaguar XE

Engine size

2.0-litre diesel

Price from

ยฃ30,775

Power

161bhp

Torque

280lb ft

0-62mph

9.1 seconds

Top speed

132mph

True MPG

50.7mpg*

CO2

99g/km