Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces. This week, it’s the Jaguar XE Reims Edition.
Not that it matters a jot now for a car that’s among the most beautiful and successful racing creations this country has ever come up with, but the Jaguar D-type did not win its first race at Le Mans in 1954. Its debut win came three weeks later, not in La Sarthe but in Champagne, at the Reims 12 Hours. The car was driven by Ken Wharton and Peter Whitehead and completed over 2,000km at an average speed of 105mph. It would not be the first win for the mighty D-type…
Sixty five years – and a plethora of Jaguar motorsport highlights – later, we have the Jaguar XE Reims Edition, Jag’s attempt to inject some of its glorious competition heritage into its compact saloon.
Giving a “junior exec”, as cars in this class used to be called, a colour-and-trim update and an interesting back story may fall short of justifying the name in the eyes of purists but, heck, that’s marketing. And a higher profile for a car as intrinsically good as the XE is no bad thing.
Compact Jag saloons over the decades have been both game-changing and mind-numbing, and coming up with the first since the unfortunate X-Type was always going to be a challenge, not least since it would be required to go head to head with the seemingly impregnable German trio of C-Class, 3 Series and A4. But the 2015 Jaguar XE was unmistakably Jaguar enough to bring classy new attributes to this highly competitive class, while a mid-life refresh earlier this year brings a much improved new interior to complement its excellent design and chassis.
And yet the XE is still something of an unsung hero. Maybe the Reims Edition can change that?
To go with the name of a historic French racing circuit, what else but French Racing Blue. It’s the first time Jaguar has finished a car in this shade since the XKR-S and XFR-S and all 200 cars in the Reims limited-edition run are painted this colour.
The blue is matched by a comprehensive black finish: to the grille, roof, mirror caps, vents, window surrounds and sill inserts, plus there are gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels and (virtually black) rear privacy glass. The result is a symphony in blue and black and undeniably a striking looking version of what is already a handsome saloon.
The Reims comes in R-Dynamic S guise, generally accepted as the XE’s best spec, offering a sporty edge without detracting from the comfort you expect of a Jaguar. The engine is the mid-range 250PS (247bhp) version from JLR’s mainstay Ingenium four-cylinder family, the drive is to the back wheels only, and transmission is an eight-speed automatic. All the features from the XE’s 2019 facelift are present and correct here, from the new LED lights and reprofiled bumper sections to the now much more premium, well connected and modern interior. The new cabin brings the XE up to date with its Touch Pro screen, wi-fi hotspot connectivity and Apple CarPlay.
It is not at the expense of plenty of Jaguarness with 12-way electric grained leather sports seats and lots of soft touch-materials, though meshed aluminium rather than wood is the veneer of choice here. Other items the Reims edition adds include heated steering wheel and heated windscreen.
The bald figures are nothing special – 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds – and rather it’s the way the XE Reims Edition goes about delivering its performance that impresses. Incidentally that will be the same as any equivalent XE since the Reims gets no mechanical changes of its own.
This is an impressively smooth and quiet compact saloon. It’s rarely flustered on broken surfaces, despite the 19-inch wheels, and only very occasionally does the powertrain emit more than a distant hum. Like any true Jag progress can verge on the silky, such is its refined demeanour. In league with the smart new cabin, and sitting on plump and well-shaped seats, the Reims comes across as a sophisticated car with strong Jaguar character.
And the chassis is as competent as it ever was, something you feel straightaway through the excellent steering as the car carves an easy and precise path. And how nice, in an era dominated by high-riding SUV-type vehicles, to sit snug and low in a car where body control and good damping feel entirely natural. In this respect it’s more F-Type than F-Pace.
It also tilts a little towards the F-Type in its room and practicality. It’s a four-seater of course but rear seat space is very average. And this car has a plain old boot, not the vast multifunctional cavern to swallow up your family and lifestyle paraphernalia that the compact saloon’s nemesis, the SUV, offers.
No one will buy or drive this car imagining they are Ken Wharton blasting to victory in the D-type at Reims in 1954. That’s all just a convenient hook to hang this special edition on, what is promised to be the first of a series of limited-run Jaguar models.
The bigger point of this car is that while more practical SUVs have their high-riding place, so too do compact saloons – when they are as appealingly executed as this. A road trip for a couple to Champagne – via the old circuit at Reims of course – in this car would be a delight. No, there would be no room for your mountain bikes and surfboards but it would be a rewardingly smooth and refined drive and you would easily get a couple of cases of bubbly aboard. Much more important.
Which leaves just one thing to resolve. When you go into the Jaguar dealership do you pronounce Reims as in Reams…or, as the people in that part of France would have it, Rance…?