Jaguar has been doing exceptionally well as of late. Last year’s U.S. sales more than doubled with 31,243 deliveries compared to 14,466 in 2015, the latter number already a far cry more to celebrate about than the scarily low 12,011 sold in 2012 (or even worse 11,955 in 2009). The reason for renewed interest came from growth in its redesigned XF mid-size sedan and full-size XJ, but most importantly from two entirely new models.
Most responsible for Jaguar’s return to relevance has been the fabulous new F-Pace SUV, which found 10,016 buyers despite only being available since May, while the XE came very close to being the British brand’s second-bestselling model with 6,656 sales compared to the XF’s 6,665, even though it arrived on the scene during the same month of May.
The XE is the first compact D-segment sport sedan offered by the storied British brand since the Ford Mondeo-based X-Type that was ushered into retirement in 2009. Seven years without a competitor in one of the most hotly contested premium segments hasn’t helped Jaguar’s fortunes, but the car they showed up with should give them the respect they need to slowly claw their way back to prominence.
It doesn’t help matters that D-segment buyers are almost as loyal as domestic pickup truck owners. The XE is up against the formidable BMW 3 and 4 Series as well as Mercedes-Benz’ C-Class that seem to swap back and forth for sales leadership that far outpaces all competitors—BMW sold 106,221 of the former to Mercedes’ 77,167 Cs (so you can see Jaguar has a lot of room to grow XE sales). Next in line is Infiniti’s Q50 (previously G series) at 44,007 units, Lexus’ IS with 37,289, Acura’s TLX with 37,156, Audi’s A4 with 36,987, Cadillac’s ATS with 21,505, and Volvo’s S60 with 14,218 deliveries, while Alfa Romeo will soon add trim lines to its new Giulia with hopes of taking a chunk of the action too. There are various permutations of these four-door competitors in coupe, convertible and wagon guise as well, but for now Jaguar is only offering a sedan.
But what a sedan it is. If the XE isn’t the most attractive D-segment challenger I’m not sure what is. Of course, styling is subjective, with many obviously leaning toward the others, but I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like the new Jag. It smartly pulls design cues from its larger siblings, including the rectangular ovoid grille and cat eye-like headlamps first seen on the XJ and then later inherited by the XF, while its long, horizontal LED taillights are more conservatively penned iterations of both. I must admit my previous XE 35t AWD R-Sport tester looked more enticing than this 20d AWD, which makes sense being that it was a sportier model priced significantly higher, not to mention it came in zesty Italian Racing Red paint over a stunning red on black two-tone interior, but the XE looks handsome in all of its trims, this current Ebony Black coated Prestige trimmed example sporting a standard Jet black cabin with light copper brown stitching in key areas for dramatic effect, plus standard Dark Satin Brushed Aluminum inlays on the instrument panel and doors. It looks more than up to snuff, especially when factoring in all the de rigueur piano black lacquered surfaces, genuine satin-finished and knurled metal detailing, plus of course the various electronic color interfaces.
It comes up short, however, in its use of substandard hard plastics in an area that others go so far as to cover in stitched leather, or at least some sort of soft, pliable composite. I’m talking about the primary instrument hood, the execution of which in the XE (and the F-Pace) was the result of an unfathomably stupid cost-cutting measure that will only hurt Jaguar’s hopes of gaining ground where it’s never had much traction. I’ve said this over and over to obviously deaf ears, but for reasons of insanity will explain again: when a brand is trying to get ahead you need to do better than the class leaders, not under-deliver and hope no one will notice. The lower door panels aren’t finished as well as their German and Swedish counterparts either, but this is an issue with all three Japanese and the lone American model too (again I shake my head in disbelief), the D-segment top-two ahead for a reason.
Also of note, where the front seats are very comfortable and most drivers and front passengers should find plenty of room, the back seats didn’t offer much space for my feet, partially due to the rather rugged boot-sized shoes I was wearing at the time. There were about four inches ahead my knees when the driver’s seat was set for my admittedly shorter than average five-foot-eight frame (I’m a good substitute for an average sized teen), which was ample, while I had approximately three inches left above my head. This said I can’t imagine anyone in the middle position being comfortable with their legs straddling the backside of the center console, while that center seat really sits up high due to nicely sculpted outboard positions that add extra lateral support. This makes the window seats quite comfortable, the XE more of a four-person car for these reasons.
Rear seat roominess might be an issue for some, but sales won’t be held back due to any lack of technological advancement. A beautiful set of classic circular gauges flank a large, color, TFT multi-information display ahead of the driver, this loaded up with key go-to features for quick access with as little driver interference as possible, while over on the center stack is an especially good infotainment system for a near-base model. My previous tester had the best this car has to offer, a widescreen display boasting navigation with 3D mapping, a surround camera and more, while this lesser 8.0-inch system is still larger than some competitors’ top-tier systems, while incorporating a brilliantly clear reverse camera with active guidelines, plus interfaces for the standard dual-zone auto climate control, a surprisingly superb 11-speaker 380-watt Meridian audio system with HD radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, and more.
That infotainment system (other than its Jaguar InControl Touch navigation, apps, backup camera, and Meridian audio) gets pulled up from base trim, which also includes some unusually upscale standard features like heatable side mirrors, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone auto HVAC, 10-way powered front seats, Luxtec pleather upholstery, a powered glass sunroof, and more.
Premium trim adds power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors with memory, driver’s side seat memory, rearview camera, Meridian audio, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, ultra-flexible 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand on an already large and accommodating 15.9 cubic-foot trunk, etcetera, while Prestige trim adds 18-inch alloys, proximity-sensing keyless entry, metal front treadplates with bold “JAGUAR” inscriptions, a softer grain leather steering wheel that’s also heatable, a powered steering column, front seat four-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, leather upholstery, the aforementioned navigation and infotainment apps, voice recognition, LED mood lighting, and more.
This is how my tester came, a 20d Prestige model with no options priced at $45,400 plus freight and dealer fees, which incidentally includes AWD that’s a $2,900 option across the entire line. Without AWD and using its base gasoline-powered 240 horsepower 2.0-liter four, the price for Prestige is $41,400, which makes it $3,900 more than $37,500 Premium trim, and $6,500 more than $34,900 base trim. Base, Premium and Prestige trims can be equipped with more, the base model allowing plenty of exterior color options as well as the no-cost choice of Jet black, Latte beige, or Oyster light gray interior color schemes, while a host of option groups include a $1,000 Cold Climate package with a heatable steering wheel, heated front seats, a heated windshield and heated wash jets; a $289 Protection package featuring front and rear rubber mats, a rubber cargo mat, and a front window sunshade for protecting the dash when the car is parked; and a $138 Wheel Lock package with chromed wheel locks and a Jaguar branded license plate frame. Additionally, standalone features including the Prestige model’s navigation, apps and voice recognition upgrade for $500, a backup camera for $400, and satellite radio for $350.
Premium trimmed XEs can be upgraded with more, including the same 18-inch wheels found on the Prestige model for $1,000 over that trim’s 17s, all of the same interior trim enhancements, plus all of the above packages and standalone options, while additions including the availability of a $2,400 Vision package that includes HID headlamps with LED “J” blade DRLs as well as auto high beams, adaptive cornering technology, and “powerwash” jets, plus front and rear parking sensors and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection; and standalone Wi-Fi for $300.
All of the same standalone features not already standard with Prestige trim can be added for the same price, plus Gloss Figured Ebony veneer (a dark hardwood) for $300, a head-up display system for $990, while the Vision package is also available. New option groups include a $2,100 Comfort and Convenience package featuring cooled front seats and heatable rear outboard positions, a powered rear sunshade, and a powered trunk lid, whereas a $2,700 Tech package adds the larger 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro display I previously tested in R-Sport trim, with quicker-responding SSD-based navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, 17-speaker 825-watt Meridian audio, and connected services such as a route planning app for door-to-door navigation that shares your ETA with specified contacts, a Commute Mode that learns commuting routes and automatically advises of expected ETAs based on live and historical traffic data, an Arrival Mode that displays 360-degree street level imagery of your destination so you can visually find your way, plus more.
Additionally, Prestige trims can be upgraded with larger machine-finished 19-inch alloys for $1,000, or optionally a set of $500 glossy black 18s that require a $350 upgrade to the Black Design Package which also trims out the grille surround, grille insert, front fender “power vents” and side window surrounds with gloss black instead of chrome.
I wish there was a way to upgrade Prestige trim with some of the active safety features many of today’s buyers want, such as autonomous braking and active lane keeping assist, but instead you’ve got to move up to R-Sport trim which, along with blindspot monitoring and driver condition monitoring, also adds some of the Prestige model’s options as standard such as adaptive cornering HID headlamps with auto high beams, metal doorsill plates, satellite radio, plus front and rear parking sensors, while also including a sportier aero body kit and a fancier interior with an R-Sport steering wheel. While all of these features are nice, not everyone wants to spend the $46,500 needed to partake.
On the positive, you can upgrade your XE Prestige with a $1,000 Adaptive Dynamics air suspension that continuously monitors road surfaces as well as driving style via throttle input, acceleration, cornering, and brake pedal analysis and then adjusts a set of electronically controlled dampers to optimize both ride quality and handling. That’s an order box I’d be sure to check, as I thoroughly enjoyed it with my previous tester.
Then again the standard car drives brilliantly, its stock fully independent suspension featuring a front double-wishbone design pulled over from the brilliantly balanced F-Type sports car, and a subframe-mounted integral-link rear setup made from hollow forged aluminum for greater strength and lightness. Such engineering advancements come very close to making up for Jaguar skimping on the XE’s interior, because along with the F-Type’s mostly aluminum suspension componentry is a D-segment class-exclusive bonded and riveted aluminum-intensive body structure, 75 percent of which is sourced from recycled materials. Like the suspension it reduces weight while increasing torsional stiffness, which improves performance, quietness, and crash worthiness. Jaguar initially developed this pricey yet much more advanced modular iQ platform architecture for the full-size XJ, one of the better handling cars in its class, but now uses it across its entire range.
It immediately makes itself known when taking the first fast-paced turn, the XE delivering a level of precise response to steering input and confidence-inspiring poise that few in this class possess. Its standard AWD helps in this respect, thanks to an ability to shift torque up to 90-percent front or rear or alternatively maintain a 50/50-split on low traction surfaces, plus Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software that instantly adjusts to changing road conditions both predictively and reactively. Speed-proportional power steering that lets you feel the road below helps too, as does braking-derived torque vectoring that aids tire grip all-round, Adaptive Surface Response (ASR) that analyses and then adjusts for different road surfaces, and All Surface Progress Control (ASPC) that’s actually pulled over from JLR’s Land Rover 4×4 division, but in the XE’s case it’s more about overcoming a slippery snow covered driveway or icy mountain road than tackling muddy, sandy terrain or wading through river beds.
Another XE exclusive (or at least it was before BMW brought back its 328d) is four-cylinder turbo-diesel power, its standard 2.0-liter Ingenium four-cylinder producing a strong 180 horsepower and 318 lb-ft of torque (which is much more than the 280 lb-ft of twist offered by the 180-hp Bavarian model) for quick 7.7-second standstill to 60 mph takeoff (albeit 0.2 seconds slower than the 328d) and spirited highway passing performance, aided by quick-shifting eight-speed automatic with manual mode via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The latter is important, as there’s no central shift lever, Jaguar having done away with this space-robbing device and instead installed a rotating gear selector that powers up out of the lower console upon startup. Yup, your friends will be impressed, Sport mode merely needing another twist on the dial from “D” to “S”, while even more performance can be extracted when pressing the left side of a console-mounted rocker switch appropriately adorned with a checkered flag.
Alternatively you can select an Eco mode that along with auto idle-stop will help you eke out class-leading city mileage of 32 mpg (the 328d gets 31), while it’s still plenty thrifty on the highway with a 42 mpg rating; combined city/highway is 36 (the 328 achieves an estimated 43 and 36 respectively, so we’re splitting hairs as to a winner). The diesel is relatively quiet, especially when put up against most direct-injection gasoline engines.
As you may realize, all of Jaguar’s German competitors offered turbo-diesel alternatives to their gasoline counterparts in previous generations, but due to VW/Audi’s Dieselgate scandal they’ve pulled their TDIs and may never offer them again (instead opting to go hybrid and full electric), whereas Mercedes-Benz has eliminated its BlueTec diesels as well, but not due to scandalous activity (or at least nothing that made the news). BMW’s diesel obviously meets current North American regulations or its 328d wouldn’t be back in the lineup (it was never pulled, according to Munich, only a late arrival), while Jaguar has gone to great lengths to make its Ingenium diesel exceed regulations. First it passed Euro 6 standards, and since then U.S. regs. Being that this diesel arrived after Dieselgate, regulators would’ve been especially strict in testing, which means buyers should have nothing to worry about with respect to current or future emissions requirements.
So go ahead and fall in love with the new XE 20d, as it won’t get pulled out from under you like Audi’s A4 TDI. And believe me, given the chance plenty will fall head over heals for the new XE, as it’s an especially good performance sedan that delivers well in almost every respect.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press