FEW cars in recent years have been launched with the sheer weight of expectation that greeted the Jaguar XE.
Having turned its fortunes around so spectacularly during the past decade, Jaguar had been dragging its feet somewhat in coming up with a new compact executive saloon to take on the Teutonic trio of Audi's A4, the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes' C-Class.
But the arrival of the XE last summer finally put all that right. This is now expected to be the motor that truly catapults the rejuvenated British brand into the mainstream.
And, although by no means perfect, the early signs are that the XE is fully capable of living up to those lofty aspirations.
Constructed largely out of lightweight aluminium, to aid efficiency and performance, its sleek, sharp lines echo those of the larger XF and are instantly recognisable as a modern Jaguar.
The strongly-sculpted bonnet, steeply raked windscreen and rising waistline create a dynamic, coupé-like profile which is further enhanced in R-Sport trim by a modified front bumper, extended sills, chrome side vents and a subtle rear spoiler - giving it a powerful, road-hugging stance.
Power options include a blistering 3.0-litre V6 unit lifted straight out of the F-Type and offering a 0-60mph sprint time of less than five seconds as well as a couple of 2.0-litre petrols.
But for the business buyers the XE is aimed at one of the two 2.0-litre diesel options, offering either 180ps or the 163ps this car had - and that is likely to be the preferred choice.
Despite being the least powerful engine in the range, I found this oil burner to be more than capable in daily use and downright entertaining on the open road.
Acceleration is not explosive and I had to work the snappy six-speed manual transmission to get sharp injections of pace for overtaking, but, with a top speed of 132mph, it is far from slow - and the impressively balanced chassis and responsive steering offer superb handling and engagement.
And when the pay-off for a slight lack of urgency in the throttle department is the tax breaks offered by carbon emissions of just 99g/km and average fuel consumption of up to 75mpg many business buyers will consider it a sacrifice well worth making.
Plumping for the manual gearbox means you miss out on the theatre of the rotary gear selector rising gracefully out of the centre console when you start the engine on eight-speed automatic models.
A sense of drama is retained, though, albeit in a smaller way, by the way the red light behind the ignition button pulses, heartbeat-like, until pressed.
And although not quite as plush as its larger siblings the XF and XJ, the interior of the XE retains a style and class which befits its premium status - even if it is a little cramped - as well as boasting some impressive equipment.
An intuitive eight-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard and offers access to many of the car's main functions - including navigation, audio and climate control - reducing the need for too many buttons elsewhere.
R-Sport trim also boasts a bespoke steering wheel, leather upholstery, drive -mode selector, digital radio, Bluetooth, automatic lights and wipers and keyless entry and ignition.
The XE is officially the safest car in its class, having earned the best rating in the large family car category of the Euro NCAP tests with the help of standard systems such as autonomous emergency braking, torque vectoring and traction and stability control, as well as all the usual safety features.
Rear head and legroom is pretty tight thanks to the coupe styling while a large transmission tunnel will make life unbearable for anyone in the middle of the rear bench on all but the shortest of journeys.