There's a lot to love about the 2017 Jaguar XE. This is an all-new premium compact sedan, with the intention of tempting buyers away from the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Naturally, the first reaction is: good luck with that. However, for those wanting to explore beyond the German domination of this class, the XE provides an intriguing alternative. And a rather handsome one.
Subjectivity rears its head so soon. But Jaguar really has done an excellent job in the styling department. Driving this car might easily attract more admirers than tooling around town in a BMW. The proportions all work, a feat made all the more remarkable when taking into account one of the largest trunk areas in the segment (15.9 cubic feet). Check out the short overhangs as well. The exterior exudes a "Jaguar-ness" and not just because of the cat badges on the grille and trunk lid.
This essence of Jaguar continues at the chassis level. A supple, comfortable ride quality manages to co-exist with a precision and agility. It's a company specialty. Even the steering (although electrically assisted) strikes the right balance between luxury car ease and a sportier substance. The XE follows the familiar format of front engine and rear-wheel drive. Or there's the option of all-wheel drive, but that still directs the majority of torque to the rear axle in normal circumstances.
The spell remains unbroken as long as the 35t's supercharged 3.0L V-6 engine is involved. This is currently the most powerful unit the XE offers, with 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. It's appropriately muscular and gives the car a certain authority. A balancer shaft helps with the smoothness.
Jaguar is also bringing a diesel version (the 20d) into the United States. It's a 2.0L, four-cylinder turbo with 180 hp and a useful 318 lb-ft of torque. There are no official fuel consumption figures yet, but expectations are running at 40 mpg on the highway. Despite this upside, it doesn't have the character of the gasoline V-6 and therefore doesn't feel particularly suited to life under that sleek aluminum hood once its initial push of low-end torque has been used up beyond 2,500 rpm.
We have yet to drive the smaller gasoline engine in the 25t, which is a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder unit making 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. It's only available with rear-wheel drive and could appeal to the consumption-conscious. But it's not as if the V-6 drinks like a sailor on shore leave, since it can achieve 30 mpg on the highway.
There's one other major area where the XE strays from the accepted Jaguar script, and that's the interior. Don't bother looking for wood trim, there won't be any. The company wants its XE to appeal to a younger group, people who don't perceive luxury in the traditional sense. But there's a disconnect between the outside—which positively purrs "Jaguar"—and the inside, where the quality of some materials would be more acceptable in a Kia. Hard-touch plastics adorn the top of the dash and the tops of the doors. Even the instrument binnacle gets the rough stuff.
Arcing across the front of the cabin is the so-called Riva line, a tribute to the famed and beautiful Italian motorboats. The XF has the same thing. But this might be a contributing factor to what seems like a small space. The idea is to have a cockpit kind of ambience, as many other Jaguars have enjoyed. However, that starts to become constricting after several miles. From the inside, the XE feels like a car from one size down, like an Audi A3 instead of an A4.
Not that rear passenger space seems particularly limited. Put an average adult male in the front and his twin brother will fit in the back without complaint. And all the seats are comfortable, supportive, and well-shaped.
Naturally, the cabin is tranquil. The idea of a long road trip seems much more like fun than a chore. It starts by pushing the button (assuming the car is one of the higher trim levels), then watching the rotary gearshift rise out of the center console. Twist it to D and there's always the option of clicking through the automatic transmission's eight ratios using the paddle shifters. The XE offers a selection of driving modes with self-explanatory names. Like other systems in other cars, these are presets that adjust the suspension, throttle maps, gearshift points, and steering responses. Keeping it in Sport mode is a happy medium, firm enough for most situations yet no real sacrifice in comfort.
The 2017 Jaguar XE comes in base, Premium, Prestige, and R-Sport trim levels. So far. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that a higher-performance variant will come along at some point. The chassis can certainly handle more power. So can the body. It's fashioned from a mix of aluminum and high-strength steel, so Jaguar has some leeway on weight distribution.
Basic equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, and eight-way power-adjustable front seats. But to get some advanced safety features—such as forward collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, and driver drowsiness monitoring—means having to buy the R-Sport model, and that pushes things well into the $50,000 bracket. That said, pricing is in line with the competition.
Optional kit includes a head-up display (laser-based, so it can still be read while wearing polarized sunglasses), adaptive cruise control, active suspension, self-parking system (parallel and perpendicular spaces), and a powered trunk lid.
It's not going to be easy, battling wheel to wheel with the Germans. Especially with a new generation of A4 for 2017 and the C-Class being so fresh. But for someone who wants to make his own exit from Europe, the XE might be ideal.