Jaguar’s decision to launch a four-wheel-drive saloon in July might seem about as logical as opening an ice cream shop in December, but then the whole point of this new Jaguar XE AWD is that most of the time it behaves much like any other XE.
While rival four-wheel drive systems, such as Audi’s quattro and BMW’s xDrive, send power to both the front and the rear wheels at all times, the XE is entirely rear driven until those wheels start to slip, at which point up to half of the power is diverted forwards.
The reason for this is that Jaguar didn’t want to lose the sporty, rear-wheel-drive handling of the standard car in its quest to provide more sure-footedness in treacherous conditions. However, you rarely get something for nothing in this world; the extra oily bits add about 100kg of weight, which contributes to a 7.2mpg increase in fuel consumption and an extra 12g/km of CO2.
In addition, four-wheel drive can be specified only with the 178bhp diesel engine and an automatic gearbox, and you'll pay £1800 more than you would for an equivalent rear-wheel drive model.
What is the 2016 Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 AWD R Sport like to drive?
Sure enough, the driving experience is very similar to that of a rear-wheel-drive XE (at least in the summer months). The car darts into bends and stays flat and composed through all manner of twists and turns. It’s only when accelerating out of damp roundabouts that you notice the additional traction on offer.
Our test car came in R Sport spec, which brings bigger wheels and a firmer suspension set-up. This does make the ride a bit firm around town, but it improves with speed and keeps the car’s body beautifully controlled over undulations.
Only the steering disappoints compared with a rear-wheel-drive XE’s, because it doesn’t respond or weight up as consistently. However, the problem is more noticeable when the steering is in ‘normal’ mode than it is when you select the weightier ‘dynamic’ setting, with the latter still allowing you to place the front wheels with greater precision than you can in a quattro Audi A4 (see below).
As for the engine, it’s the best in the XE range, pulling strongly enough from low- and mid-revs, so you’ll have little trouble keeping up with traffic or carrying out overtaking manoeuvres. It sounds rather coarse compared with the best diesels, though, while the eight-speed auto gearbox can be indecisive.
What is the 2016 Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 AWD R Sport like inside?
The big news here is that the the XE is now available with Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which swaps the standard 8.0in touchscreen for a 10.2in unit with sharper graphics and additional functionality.
For starters, you can swipe left and right and pinch to zoom, much as you do with your smartphone. Plus, the system is much quicker to respond, it can serve as a wi-fi hotspot for up to eight devices, and the more sophisticated sat-nav can calculate your position even when the GPS signal is lost.
True, InControl Touch Pro is more distracting to use on the move than Audi’s rival MMI interface or BMW’s iDrive, but it’s still worth every penny of the £1125 cost (£615 on Portfolio and S trims).
Otherwise, it’s a case of as you were inside the XE, which is both good and bad. The driving position is excellent and the seats reasonably supportive, but adults will feel cramped in the rear and perceived quality falls well short of the standards set by the A4 and BMW 3 Series.
Should I buy one?
If you want a compact saloon with a prestige badge and four driven wheels, the XE is worth considering, because it’s more enjoyable to drive than an equivalent Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. However, both of these rivals are classier inside and more practical, and for similar money you can have the Audi with a super-smooth 3.0 TDI diesel engine, which actually emits less CO2 than the XE does.
We would also suggest that you think very carefully about whether you really need four-wheel drive, because a normal XE has sweeter steering and lower running costs.
What Car? says…
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 AWD R Sport
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £36,575
Torque 317lb ft
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 60.1mpg
CO2/BIK band 123g/km/24%