Bringing up the rear: Jaguar XE vs front-driven BMW and Audi rivals – Autocar

The Audi gets closer than the Jaguar to matching the BMW for outright punching power, and it has better linearity of power delivery than the Jaguar’s Ingenium lump. The engine still feels a little bit softer under your foot than I’d like it to, it doesn’t sound enticing enough and doesn’t particularly like to rev. The S3 is fast, then. But the audible digital engine noise trickery in which the Audi engages when you use its sportier driving modes seems almost comically contrived after the other two cars, and it was a real turn-off for this tester. In isolation, if you weren’t really paying attention to how ‘real’ your car sounds when you’re properly exploring its capabilities, perhaps it might not offend you as much.

It would offend me, though, and it would be the reason why I’d seldom if ever drive the S3 in Dynamic mode, which is a shame considering how much grip it can develop, how well tied down its body control can be and how much tenacity and attitude the chassis has. Our test car (on optional 19in wheels and adaptive dampers) presented quite a different dynamic prospect than the softer-sprung, slightly lopier Jaguar and made a reasonably appealing alternative.

While the XE rolls and breathes with bumps a little when you stretch its legs on a back-road journey, the S3 feels leaner, tauter, more tied down and keener to be hustled. The XE has greater fine precision and natural balance about its handling; it tucks into bends so readily and glides its way past apices, allowing you to feed in power early while keeping its course effortlessly and allowing its body to move just a little.

The S3 is more of a handful, but a likeable one at that, like a hot hatchback with a boot. Preferring to roll and jounce much less, it claws the asphalt and eggs you on to give it more and more to do. It responds to bigger steering inputs with a rising rate of response, keeps f lat and level under plenty of lateral load and feels less sweetly balanced than the XE but ready, perhaps, for greater cross-country speeds in more testing conditions, and a firmer operating hand.

Where does the BMW slot in? Well, it’s a lot more like the Audi than the Jag, just as you’d expect, but it’s less grippy on its standard-fit 18in wheels and Bridgestone Turanza tyres, with a front axle that is quite a lot less willing to hustled, and steering that’s slower, lighter, plainer-feeling and less communicative than either of its rivals. Despite a zestier engine, the BMW doesn’t have the Audi’s sense of purpose, tautness or tenacity. It’s more practical and refined than the S3, but given how ungainly it looks and how disinterestedly it entertains, it can only come last in our reckoning.

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