Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Jaguar's answer to the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, the XE is an all-new sport sedan that offers up solid performance, handsome styling and cutting-edge technology. It takes few chances but it's an engaging drive that offers a legitimate alternative to the German power players.
What Is It?
A compact luxury sport sedan, the 2017 Jaguar XE is the new entry-level vehicle in the British automaker's lineup. A rival to the numerous German entries in the segment like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, the XE also lines up with cars like the Cadillac ATS and the Lexus IS.
The XE is based on an all-new vehicle architecture that is predominantly aluminum for reduced weight. It's sized within inches of its Audi and BMW rivals and will offer both rear- and all-wheel drive.
When it goes on sale in the spring of 2016, its standard engine will be a 340-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6. A 180-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel will be optional. Every model is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox but there will be the option of a manual gearbox when a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine arrives in 2017.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come in?
At launch, the XE will only be available as a four-door sedan. At 183.9 inches long by 72.8 inches wide, it's 1.9 inches longer and 1.6 inches wider than the rival BMW 3 Series. Its wheelbase of 111.9 inches means there's an extra inch between the wheels compared to the Audi A4 and the 3 Series.
There will be three levels of trim: Premium, Prestige and R-Sport. There will also be an extensive range of options including a laser head-up display (HUD) and a park assist system that offers semi-automated parallel and perpendicular parking.
Also on the menu is a high-grade 11-speaker Meridian audio system and Jaguar's new InControl Apps system that allows you to control some smartphone apps through the car's touchscreen.
How Does It Drive?
This Jaguar drives like a true sport sedan. It has quick steering, a taut suspension and a responsive throttle. The overall impression is of a car that feels better when driven quickly, even though it's still comfortable just loafing along.
Selecting the "Sport" mode with Jaguar's signature rotary transmission knob is helpful, as it dials back the eight-speed automatic's eagerness to reach for the upper gears. There's also a button-activated "Dynamic" mode that delivers a more comprehensive level of aggressiveness by adjusting the steering weight, throttle response and stability systems.
We drove models with the standard suspension tuning as well as the sport suspension that gets stiffer springs. The difference was barely noticeable until we really started to push the car on winding roads. On fast highways, either setup was sufficiently comfortable, as neither has a hint of float or vagueness. A more palpable difference comes with the optional adaptive suspension and its adjustable dampers. When they're dialed to their most aggressive setting, the XE becomes noticeably more direct in its responses and slightly less forgiving over rough pavement.
Responses from the supercharged V6 are immediate and the power curve doesn't really curve much. There's power down low, in the middle and near the 6,500 redline, and it's all delivered with a hint of whine from the supercharger.
The electrically assisted steering system responds quickly to inputs, but it doesn't have much in the way of direct road feel. This is typical of many sedans in this class, so it's not a serious knock on the XE. For that we'll single out the plastic paddle shifters that reside on each side of the steering wheel. They work great when you want to work the gears yourself, but they feel just plain cheap. Not good for controls that you work with the tips of your fingers.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
From the driver seat, the XE feels snug thanks to the tall center console and deep-set gauges. It's Jaguar's philosophy that you should feel like you're sitting "in" the car rather than high atop the seat. It's great for aggressive driving but less so for those of bigger stature.
The seats themselves are well bolstered and nicely tailored. Forward visibility is excellent and the controls are well placed. Large analog gauges deliver the basics, while a smaller center screen can be configured for a variety of additional information.
The overall design of the dashboard and control layout could best be described as straightforward (some might say dull) depending on the trim level. Two bands of climate control buttons fill the bottom of the dash, while the top is dominated by a crisp color screen flanked by more square buttons. It's hard to fault Jaguar for using a setup that emphasizes usability over style, but the quality of the buttons and knobs are what leave it feeling less than special. In R-Sport trim, some additional detailing like indirect lighting and contrasting seat stitching livens up the look.
Passenger space in back is typical for the class. Average-size adults can sit comfortably without bumping their heads, and there's enough room for big feet under the front seats. There's ample cargo space in the trunk, although the opening is on the small side.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The luxury sport sedan segment is one of the most competitive in the luxury space, so there are many worthwhile competitors.
The Audi A4 is due to be replaced soon and feels a little tired, but the interior remains a paragon of quality and good taste.
Then there's the BMW 3 Series, the car that invented this segment and still owns it if popularity is the gauge. Numerous trim levels, engines and body styles mean you can have exactly what you want if you're willing to pay the price.
The latest Mercedes C-Class borrows heavily from the luxury S-Class, and it shows. It has the best interior in the class and is awash with the latest technology. Looks expensive on the outside, too.
If German sedans aren't your thing, the Cadillac ATS is another fine example of the breed. The interior design isn't its strong suit, but the rest of the car is well matched to its European competitors.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You have always admired the speed and style of the BMW 3 Series but wanted something a little less ubiquitous. Or maybe you just like the idea of a luxury sport sedan that isn't German. Either way, the XE gets the job done with clean lines, an athletic feel and more than enough power under the hood.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
With only two engines, one transmission and one body style, the XE doesn't offer as many options as its competitors, at least not yet. You'll have to wait another year after its launch for a four-cylinder gasoline engine and the manual gearbox option.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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