Sit down with the Jaguar XE’s engineers and they’ll talk about the 50-metre test: those first moments behind the wheel where a car begins to reveal its character; the weight of the steering, the sound of the engine, the touch of the controls. Even if your mind is elsewhere, those mental impressions are subconsciously forming.
I blip the keyfob – one of the few not-new things on the XE – and climb into Jaguar’s crucial new BMW 3-series rival. What do you notice during that 50-metre handshake? The relatively low-slung driving position, the steering that feels tight and precise immediately off-centre, the easy torque and unpleasing mew of the new Ingenium 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine in low gears, and the way the chassis – even on our car’s R-Sport suspension and 19-inch alloys – anaesthetises little speedbumps.
It’s true, those first metres are revealing, but over the next two days we’re planning something more comprehensive: a 1350-mile marathon.
We’ll drive from Lisbon, Portugal, over challenging mountain roads in the north of the country, tip-toe over snow-covered passes, blast into Spain along deserted autoroutes, crawl through rush-hour traffic and cruise south down the east Atlantic coast.
When we finally knock off the engine we’ll be staring out over the Mediterranean from Gibraltar, 6.5km of strategically important triangular rock that helped Britain win the war. The XE’s built in Solihull, it’s gunning for the Germans, and that’s a good enough metaphor to merit a 1350-mile jaunt for me.