It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe the XE as one of the biggest car launches in Jaguar’s history. The fact the company now has a viable alternative to the usual suspects (BMW, Audi and Mercedes) is headline news.
But we're going to leave opinions on its four-wheel performance to the motoring press and instead take a keen interest in what the car has to offer in terms of infotainment - namely an overhauled operating system and a brand new speaker set-up from Meridian.
See all our Meridian news and reviews
The current stable of Jaguar Land Rover cars has a wide range of optional Meridian audio systems at its disposal. We’ve already spent some time with the accomplished Range Rover Sport, and scintillating Jaguar F-Type, both of which have talented and likeable systems.
On both occassions, any serious gripes haven't really been with the sound quality on offer, but rather JLR’s dated operating system.
Cluttered and over-complicated, the old OS was more of a hindrance than a help. Menu layouts were messy and the screen less responsive than those touchscreens you have to wrestle with on aeroplanes during a long-haul flight. Well, maybe not that bad, but there was definitely room for improvement.
Thankfully, a recent refresh has resulted in Jaguar’s new InControl platform being introduced virtually across the board.
The car we tested came in Jaguar's ‘Portfolio’ specification, which sits at the more luxurious end of the XE spectrum. As standard you get a few extra perks such as fancy alloy wheels, perforated ‘Windsor’ leather seats and a special embossed aluminium trim.
But the real bonus comes via the 380W Meridian's Sound System thrown in as part of the package - on other models in the XE range, this entry-level system is a £500 option. You also get Jaguar's basic InControl Touch system with an 8in touchscreen as its focal point.
There is an alternative set-up, though, in the shape of Meridian's Digital Surround Sound System. This is available with the higher-spec InControl Touch Pro package and its 10.2in customisable touchscreen, although we'll be interested to hear if it justifies the £2000 price tag.
At launch, the surround set-up wasn’t available in the UK - only the Japanese and Korean car platforms supported it, but now that platform has made its way over to the UK and Europe.
Some systems manage to squeeze in a crazy number of speakers e.g B&W’s latest system for the Volvo S90 has 19, while the Audi Q7 ups the driver ante to 23. But with just 11 on display in the Jaguar, you can (almost) count them on two hands.
Unlike the surround set-up, this arrangement doesn’t include a dedicated centre speaker, so there’s no room for Meridian’s Trifield tech, which splits a stereo signal into three channels, left, right and centre.
As a result, driver and co-pilot don’t get to experience the same coherent soundstage that you do when Trifield’s engaged. You are more aware of a stretched soundfield, with certain sounds and effects more audible from the far side of the cabin.
Stereo imaging does take a bit of a hit, but what hasn’t been affected is the level of clarity on offer. The open, spacious delivery means that even the most compressed tracks are prised open, so you can sit back and absorb all the detail on offer.
It’s aided by a good amount of transparency too. The system can make well-recorded songs sound great and poorly-recorded songs sound, well, poor, but the fact you get more insight and clearer lines of communication between artist and listener helps draw you into the system's clutches.
Another positive which complements all we've just described is a welcome absence of noise. Play Adele's Hello, and it's easy to hear the emotion in her voice. There's more intimacy, not just in her vocals, but in each strike of the piano keys. The longer notes in the chorus hold their leading edge and dynamic shifts sound explicit.
Although this isn't a huge number of drivers for Meridian to integrate, it's a job that still needs to be done and the system still manages to get the speakers and subwoofer working in harmony. Usually, after a quick initial listen to many in-car systems, you have to tinker around with the levels, particularly bass. But in the XE's case, it's listenable enough straight out of the showroom.
Play the Chemical Brothers’ Go over Spotify and via the USB connection tucked away in the central armrest, and the zig-zagging bassline dodges and weaves with plenty of pep. It’s easy to follow but doesn't dominate other elements of the track.
MORE: Spotify review
It’s an agile and lively listen, with more spring in its step than the B&W Diamond system found in the BMW 7 Series, especially where lows are concerned. Chvrches' Clearest Blue bounds along at a good pace. Rhythms are captured and communicated with a great deal of skill and poise, although we feel the system could stretch the low and high level dynamics even further.
With Bluetooth onboard, there's the option to stream music wirelessly from a smartphone. Of course, we'd always recommend the wired route via USB - there's something about streaming wirelessly, especially in a car environment which tends to infect tracks with a slightly cold, harder edge.
And it's no different in the XE. We'd go for the relative warmth of the wired connection every time.
Jaguar’s OS was in need of a refresh, and InControl Touch provides just that. It boasts a more colourful look, smarter graphics (with a higher resolution) and clearer icons than its predecessor.
The screen isn’t swamped with buttons and navigating your way around different elements from tuning in the DAB radio to pairing an iPhone 6 Plus didn’t prove particularly frustrating.
On balance, it’s a more enjoyable user experience, although the responsiveness of the touchscreen is still no match for a modern day smartphone.
The reality is very few car manufacturers throw in higher-spec audio systems for free, although who’s to say your local dealer wouldn’t be up for a little negotiation. Having said that, it's good to see the Meridian Sound System isn't purely an optional extra.
It's a fine-sounding system too, and it fully deserves a respectable four-star rating. Although we'd like a tiny bit more performance squeezed out for the full five stars, there's little else to grumble about in that regard. InControl isn't going to be a game-changer, but compared to its predecessor, it's definitely a step in the right direction.
However, in reality, car manufacturers are always going to be behind the curve when it comes to infotainment. Very few systems, if any, can compete with the processing power, flexibility and quality of today's smartphones and tablets.
This is why systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will become increasingly important as time goes on. But that's a whole different conversation...