It is that time of the year, when the nights draw in and Santa Claus is on his way, that Iain Robertson remembers the youngster, whose levels of expectation were so high, yet he never received what he had longed for, even though the image said otherwise.

Had poster art existed in the early-1960s, when the Jaguar 3.8-litre Mark Two ruled the roads and Woolworths stocked pin-up images of motorcars, rather than Cortina ties and pick-and-mix bags of confectionery, its biggest seller would have been for that lovely, British sports saloon. I was that wee boy, faced pressed against the Jaguar showroom window, motivated by the curvaceous outline and feline snarl of its straight-six, twin-cam, twin-carb engine. This was automotive excellence in its every aspect.

When my father, despite being urged by me, possessing neither a jot of financial nor familial responsibility nous, to buy the unutterably, stammer-inducingly g-g-gorgeous and ever-so-expensive E-Type instead, visited the local Jaguar dealership, I was with him. I was impressed by the oppressive dark colours of the showroom. Yet, alongside the grey and red E-Type was a bottle green Mark Two, its chrome glistening alluringly and, once the driver’s door was opened, a warm whiff of high-class leather wafted into my nostrils, as I took in the wood-surrounds to the windows, the centre console and the dashboard, with its Smiths instruments and row of pull-switches.

Having popped and propped the bonnet, the slightly oily muskiness pervaded the atmosphere, the red-blocked, alloy-topped engine filled that space to overcapacity, with a pair of SU carburettors off to one side and the enamelled exhaust manifold to the other. I could see that my dad was hooked. “It’s the same engine that powers the E-Type”, said the man in the smart grey suit, his pencil moustache curling slightly at one end. When he depressed the starter button, the engine growled into life, with a puff of blue smoke filling the showroom and adding to the allure. I was hooked. When my father requested a test drive and the car was brought to the side door of the showroom, I can still recall the well-oiled feel of the chrome door button, as I clambered eagerly onto the red hide of the back seat.

It would take a couple of weeks before my dad obtained his car, just in time for Christmas. However, every Jaguar that I spotted on the road had that same sense of immense appeal to me. The snarl of its exhaust. The roar from its intake. The way the light would glitter off its wire wheels. It was an impression that would never leave me. I still obtain the same frisson of delight, every time I open a classic Jaguar driver’s door. Yet, I so much wish that I could feel the same about the latest Jaguar XE…except that I do not. Therein lies my greatest issue with the current crop of characterless Jaguars. Despite their up-to-the-minute designs and a clear intention to match the best of the rest, they cannot quite manage that mystical, magical essence of Jaguar with which the wee boy fell so much in love fifty-plus years ago.

My fascination for Jaguar Cars is manifold. Despite being shoved from pillar-to-post in company ownership terms, despite being a brand-in-peril more times than is amusing, the simple truth is that Jaguar remains, supported and owned by the Tata Corporation in India, despite being a troubled and small volume producer. Jaguar ought to feel very glad that Ratan Tata’s company was so determined to ‘save it’, as, all too readily, it might have slipped into the mire of non-existence. It has been helped immeasurably by its less than tenuous links to Land-Rover, as its production costs have plummeted, thanks to platform and component-sharing across the marques. Yet, it has lost the very Jaguarness that was a highlight of the brand, subsumed by a blend of safety and scale demands and surely not aided by the period of Ford ownership, when ‘premium’ was considered to be ‘king’.

The latest XE model has been styled cutely to rival the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. It retains the signature Jaguar chrome-line around its rear three-quarter windows and employs the Jaguar-esque family snout, within a coupe-like profile that is highly style-centric. However, that determination to retain a Jaguar ‘style’ takes only limited account of the one accommodation factor that has enabled its three Germanic rivals to share class honours; they can transport four adults in well-built comfort, without incurring size issues. The curved tumblehome of the XE’s side windows creates a cabin cosiness that is welcome, as long as the driver is less than six feet tall. However, the rear seats are significantly less accommodating, if the driver is also of that stature.

While I can accept that felling a forest and skinning a herd of cattle to fettle a car’s interior is not exactly fashionable these days, Audi and Merc make do with ‘technical’ interior finishes, while BMW does fashion replica wood-panels to trim its dashboards and sustainable hide furniture features in them all, but Jaguar’s black dashboard detailing and (in the test car) brown leather seating look drab by comparison. The constant radius curve of the upper dashboard, complete with alloy Jaguar ingot in its centre, looks stylish enough but is upset by the fit of the unalluring digital instrument pod and the HUD (head-up display) additions that look intentionally ‘added-on’, rather than integrated.

The electrically multi-adjustable front chairs and steering column enable a convenient and wide range of movement potential. The driver’s seat is moderately comfortable but induced lower backache for me on a longer drive that the inflatable lumbar pads could not eradicate. I am sure that occupiers of lesser height will not suffer as I did. I could have benefited, though, from an additional few millimetres of column tilt adjustment to allow the steering wheel to clear my thighs. The view outwards is fine, although the thick pillars do provide over-shoulder blind-spots.

Powering the test car in mid-way Portfolio trim is the 236bhp version of the Ingenium 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, which emits a lovely guttural snarl under full-throttle acceleration. It is certainly no slouch, being capable of covering the 0-60mph benchmark dash in a cool 5.8s, before topping out at a politically-restricted 155mph. Of course, there is sound logic to its impressive performance figures, as the car features extensive aluminium alloy panelling and sub-structure that save a tremendous amount of weight. For a car in this segment, a 1.5-tonnes kerbweight is splendidly low. It is reflected in an Official Combined fuel return of 54.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 137g/km.

The 8-speed automatic gearbox works smoothly and imperceptibly and can be manually shifted using the ‘+’ and ‘-’ paddles located just behind the cross-spokes of the steering wheel. Dialling in the movements normally gifted to a lever remains a Jaguar-specific delight, the pillar rising magically from the centre console at start-up. There are plenty of practical stowage spaces around the interior, including particularly accommodating door pockets, and the boot provides 455-litres of usable room, with underfloor slots for personal possessions.

Driving the XE is mostly undemanding from push start to switch off. While the digital dials are uninspiring, the left hand of the TFT display is configurable and can carry whichever sat-nav, radio, or other settings that can be programmed into it. The ambient lighting can also be colour-changed, once you get into the settings aspect of the main dashboard touch-screen, where the heating and ventilation controls are also managed. Both front seats and steering column contain heater elements.

As all four wheels are driven on this model (the most potent diesel variant) and its ‘chassis’ features vectoring technology that further aids the dynamic balance of the car, its dynamics are utterly amazing. Good steering feel and exceptional roll control ensures that the XE corners flatly and even lane-change manoeuvres are fuss-free and instantaneous. Bump absorption is excellent and ragged surfaces do not upset the XE’s composure, regardless of angle of attack, or even applications of speed. It is so refined in the cockpit that you must monitor the speedometer to ensure that speed restrictions are adhered to.

Conclusion:    Jaguars of old suffered from supply inconsistencies that ensured they were never as well-built as they ought to have been. It is easy to peer through rose-tinted spectacles at renovation enhancements on classic models that complete tasks never managed at the Browns Lane factory! However, despite wanting to love the new, Solihull-built XE and there is no denying the magnificence of its punchy diesel engine, the performance potential and outstanding frugality, it is the loss of those vital Jaguar highpoints, the sweet smell of real leather, the warmth of its expansive wood detailing, that the company truly needs to redress. It is those levels of bespoke Britishness that will turn Jaguar into the larger volume success story it needs to be and I do believe it is achievable, not least because the test car weighs in at £40,775, before factoring in almost £13k’s worth of options, which means it no longer offers the unbeatable Jaguar value-for-money, for which the brand was once renowned.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).