After making an exuberant entrance in London a couple of weeks back (it was dangled from helicopters, motored up the Thames on a speedboat) we finally get to lay our hands on Jag's long-awaited XE at the Paris Motor Show.

It is a rival aimed squarely at a German-dominated sector that includes the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. Jaguar is hoping that its new smallest car will excite you enough to prize your money away from the German metal. And will have more staying power than the last time it competed in this sector, with the X-Type.

READ: Mercedes C-Class (2014)

On first sight, signs are good. The Jaguar XE is a compact small saloon, but it has a good dose of rakish coupe about it too, with a long bonnet, well resolved roofline and a very short rear deck. This marks it out as just that little bit more sporty and special than your ordinary repmobile.

There's been criticism in the press that the Jaguar XE is not radical, or wild enough in design - and there's part of us that shares that view having seen it on the show floor. It is a conservative design. But it's a handsome design too, one Jag knows that if it's to play in this game and score the big numbers it needs the XE to sell in, it can't risk polarising opinion too much. So you don't get anything crazy here. Make of that what you will.

The XE will be priced from £26,995 in the UK, rising to £44,870 for the red S model of our pictures. The 2.0 litre, 163bhp turbodiesel with the 8-speed automatic gearbox (i.e. that most people will buy) starts at £31,525. Which makes it about a thousand pounds more than the equivalent BMW 3-Series, although Jaguar's new range of 2.0 litre, turbo petrol and diesel engines get better CO2 figures than the Beemer, so the company car liability is likely to be very similar.

READ: BMW M3 review

Still, we're some way off actually driving a new XE, so for now we can tell you that stepping inside the car's a bit of a mixed bag. We'll focus on the bad first: those compact dimensions reveal an interior that's also a little on the small side. It's fine upfront, but a six-foot driver is going to struggle to sit behind himself - as rear space is on the tight side. And although Jaguar was proudly showing off the XE's boot full of golf club bags (note to JLR: the people you need to buy this car probably don't play golf), it's smaller than the three German 480-litre class-leaders at 455-litres.

Get beyond the size issue, and the cabin is a nice place to sit. You'll notice some familiar Jaguar switchgear such as the gauges (shared with the new Discovery Sport), wiper stalks and Jaguar's unique, rotary gearshift roundel - which rises out of the centre console on start-up as it does in both XF and XJ.

But there's a bunch of new stuff in the Jag XE too, and it's here we get really good news. First up is the infotainment system which means - rejoice - we can finally stop sounding like a stuck record, telling you how bad the old system is. The new touchscreen infotainment display is higher definition, faster responding and, based on our brief play, seems to be much more stable and easier to use than before. The home screen features four large tiles (as is the current car user interface trend) and then you dip into a sequence of colour-coded menus, with large and mostly clear buttons, which sit in logical menu structures.

On top of this, Jaguar claims to be offering the most advanced tech in the class - with new head-up display technology and more, that we're looking forward to experiencing when the car's on the move.

Sensibly, despite going tech heavy and bringing along the new touchscreen, Jag has listened to previous complaints about key functions - such as the climate control - being difficult to operate quickly. Now the main elements you need to adjust - such as heat, direction and fan speed - get dedicated physical buttons.

The actual interior architecture of the Jaguar XE is as you would expect from a brand trying to take on the Germans - it's fairly sober and sensible. We like the architecture of the cabin, with the upper section of the door cards continued in an arc around and under the windscreen, while the rest of the dash volume is slimmed down to create a sense of airiness. And playing on the configurator reveals you can brighten the cabin with some contrast leather and colour choices. Nice air vents too. But ultimately if you want the best cabin in this class, the Mercedes C-class still leads the way.

While it doesn't feel groundbreaking the XE nonetheless hits the nail on the head for this class and - rear cabin space issues aside - we really can't see any reason why this won't become Jag's biggest selling car and make a worthy adversary for the German trio. If it drives as well as Jaguars usually do, expect to start to see lots of them on the road when it goes on sale in May next year. But that's where we really want to see and feel how good this car could be: out on the open road.