When Ford sold Jaguar Land Rover to India’s Tata Motors in 2008, it seemed that Jaguar would fade out of the new millennium. The British heritage brand known for full-size saloons and artwork roadsters with awful reliability didn’t have much to offer a crossover crazy-world.
Eight years later came the excellent but overdue F-Pace compact crossover and its platform mate, the XE compact sports sedan.
These two new models round out a family of five and serve as Jaguar’s call to the new world order that it is not just surviving but thriving.
While Jaguar has long ago done away with the pouncing animal hood ornament, the XE retains the hallmarks of Jaguar design with a long low hood, a tall, wide grille, and a short rear end. The design works particularly well in the family’s shortest sedan, as if it is ready to pounce.
In typical British fashion, the XE looks sharp without any singular element calling undue attention to itself. Like the F-Pace, it is composed, refined and suggestive of something more powerful than just its good looks.
Of the three engines offered in the XE, including a 2-liter diesel, our test model came with the most powerful 3-liter supercharged V-6 paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission powering the rear wheels. Available all-wheel drive costs an extra $2,500.
The supercharged V-6 makes 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, 20 hp more than one of its competitors, the BMW 340i. Despite its lightweight aluminum body, the XE is still about 100 pounds heavier than the 340i, which hits 60 mph one-tenth of a second quicker than the 4.9-second time of the XE.
Specs never tell the whole story. The XE doesn’t quite match the performance feel of the 340i or the completeness of the Audi S4. Handling in the XE is not as direct, steering not as precise, and turning leads to more body roll than expected for a sport sedan.
On the other hand, there is more flexibility for drivers to choose how they want the car to feel. Like the F-Pace crossover, there is a significant leap from normal driving mode to dynamic. Shift points come much later and steering is tighter.
With no audio distractions in the quiet cabin, the electronic steering becomes audible, whirring like a newly sentient robot. It’s initially odd, but we got used to it.
While the XE’s acceleration is impressive in dynamic sport mode, the car doesn’t have the visceral feel of its German competition. It’s softer, more detached from the road, which might please shoppers who like bursts of speed but prefer overall comfort.
The XE’s advantage over its German competitors is in the cabin, which is spartan but gorgeous in its simplicity. The dash is clean, and the wide Riva hoop, a half-circle band of plated metal arcing from the driver’s door around the dash to the passenger door, gives an air of roominess and comfort unmatched by the competitors.
That’s not the case in the cramped rear seats, which don’t have much headroom.
The Prestige trim comes with all the luxury conveniences you’d expect, including a segment-leading 10.2-inch touch screen. The wide, clear display has buttons on the bottom similar to Ford’s Sync system, but without the lower lip that limits functionality. The map displays are excellent.
There was some glitchiness to the InControl Touch infotainment system, which isn’t unusual for new technology. The XM tuner was updating the whole week we had the car, for example, and activating the Wi-Fi connection to get traffic updates was not functional. The response was slow at times, which was similar to what we experienced in the F-Pace.
While the voice commands were clear, and the male British response kept us alert, voice commands are not available for navigation, which is when we’d most like them. Perhaps next year. There is a smartphone app to program destinations and get traffic before getting in the car, however.
Overall, the 35t Prestige trim offers something the competitors can’t: a better price. Starting at just under $35,000, the XE undercuts compact sport sedan stalwarts such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C300, and the price stays comparatively low as buyers tack on premium trims and bigger powertrains. It was better equipped than the 340i we tested last month, for $10,000 less. That should be enough to get younger buyers into the brand now, before the price, like Jaguar, starts trending upward.
2017 Jaguar XE 35t Prestige at a glance
Vehicle type: Compact sports sedan
Base price: $45,600
As tested: $45,600 (excluding $995 delivery)
Mpg: 21 city, 30 highway
Engine: 3-liter supercharged V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic in RWD
Parting shot: There are purer compact sport sedans, but not at this price.