In Canada’s premium auto sector, there’s one class that dominates them all: the “compact” D-segment occupied by BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class, Audi’s A4, and the rest.
The fact that Jaguar hasn’t had anything to offer this critically important entry-level luxury buyer since the X-Type was scrapped in 2009 is almost as heinous a crime as conjuring up the Ford Contour/Mondeo-based model in the first place, but all is forgiven now that the impressive new 2017 Jaguar XE is here.
The beauty of aluminum
What makes it special? So much, but let’s start with aluminum. Thanks to Jaguar Land Rover’s new iQ modular platform, the XE enters the D-segment as the only bonded and riveted aluminum-intensive competitor. Aluminum reduces weight, but at least as importantly it strengthens the body to improve road-holding, NVH levels, and crash protection. Notably, the XE’s front and rear crash structures, plus key body panels, are bolted into place to reduce repair time and costs. What’s more, Jaguar has even integrated sacrificial slipping fixings within the suspension design to prevent pricey components from getting bent or broken if hit by curbs.
The front chassis incorporates a similar aluminum double-wishbone setup to the new F-PACE SUV and F-TYPE sports car, but the two new models incorporate an entirely new subframe-mounted, multi-link system in the rear, dubbed Integral Link. According to Jaguar, it’s more expensive to produce, yet allows greater tuning potential. After some time behind the wheel, it quickly became apparent that this advanced suspension and lightweight, ultra-rigid body shell combination was worth every pre-Brexit quid.
Now, the 5-seater that rolls out of Solihull, West Midlands (the same plant that once built the wonderful Rover P6) drives more like the aforementionedt F-Type than any Jaguar since. Truly, this is the car that takes it to the BMW 3 Series. A car that provides otherworldly levels of grip combined with outrageously reactive, positively precise steering, both making up for less feel than optimal.
Just like the F-PACE I previously drove, my 2017 Jaguar XE 35t tester was blessed with a 3.0L supercharged V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission featuring paddle shifters for straight-line jab and hook performance that matches this sedan’s ability to duck and slip. It delivered 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, and while strangely muted compared to the snarling growl of its SUV sibling, it packed more punch due to its lighter frame, resulting in a 0-100km/h time of 5.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h with Dynamic sport mode engaged.
The 8-speed box and sport-tuned all-wheel drive system come standard with our Canadian-spec XE, while Jaguar’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software improves handling by minimizing understeer. On top of that, my tester boasted R-Sport trim with optional 20” alloy wheels as well as an adaptive suspension. Despite its performance capability, the car’s ride was firm but hardly punishing with ample wheel travel for enjoyable city and highway cruising. That’s one of the wonders of a stiff body structure, its overall rigidity permitting a little more play in the undercarriage without losing sportiness.
Mostly delightful interior
All this allows one of the segment’s most athletic sedans to simultaneously deliver a thoroughly luxurious experience when not pushing the envelope. The interior of the 2017 Jaguar XE is a gluttonous feast for the eyes if not for the tactile senses. My tester was done out in stunning red on black leather, the red affecting the door and seat inserts as well as contrast stitching found throughout the cabin. Fabulously contoured sport seats aside, a stitched leather instrument panel is one of those excesses we’ve come to expect of Jaguar, which made the hard plastic primary gauge hood such a disappointment. However, Jaguar impresses with soft-touch door uppers, leather inserts and armrests, plus superbly crafted switchgear, beautiful piano black lacquered surfaces, and gorgeous metal trim, as well as one of the nicest leather-wrapped sport steering wheels in the industry. Then again, more hard plastic can be found on the dash top, glove box lid, and lower door panels. And while the door pockets are velvet-lined, only the A-pillars are wrapped in fabric.
Fortunately, Jaguar invested in high-resolution, full-colour electronic interfaces. The primary instruments may not be fully digital like those in the top-line F-PACE, but they are still nicely organized with a set of metal-rimmed analog dials flanking an extremely comprehensive multi-information display, while the wide infotainment touchscreen over the centre stack is a real thing of beauty. Like the F-PACE and other JLR products, the Jaguar XE’s 8” InControl Touch monitor features scenic graphics including a classic red British phone booth for Bluetooth phone connectivity, text messaging and audio streaming, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, navigation with 3D mapping, and all the usual audio controls that feed a standard Meridian stereo.
While very good, it’s all upstaged by a rotating gear selector that powers up out of its flush-mounted dormant state upon ignition. Talk about a sense of occasion ― this is the type of feature today’s gadget geek loves while simultaneously freeing up space on the lower console. It’s joined by a row of buttons highlighted with a waving checkered flag just behind, that last one for engaging the aforementioned Dynamic mode (other drive modes include Normal, Eco, and Snow). As expected, an electromechanical parking brake resides close by, while you need to go back up to the dual-zone HVAC interface on the centre stack to power the 3-way heated seats.
Bang for your buck
All these features in mind, what exactly does $45,000 for the base XE Premium buy you, or for that matter $57,500 for the 35t R-Sport I drove? The former number starts with one of the most progressive entry-level engines in the class, namely a fuel-efficient, 180-horsepower 2.0L turbo-diesel that produces 318 lb-ft of torque and is good for a sub-8.0-second sprint to 100 km/h. In addition, you’ll find most expected D-segment features as well as some unexpected items like standard driver’s side memory, power-folding, auto-dimming side mirrors, a garage door opener, a rearview camera, 380W 11-speaker Meridian audio, and a handy 40/20/40-split rear seatback that makes the already sizable 450L trunk much more utile.
The as-tested R-Sport trim adds a sportier aero body kit, adaptive HID headlamps with signature LED daytime running lamps and auto high beams, metal doorsill plates, an R-Sport steering wheel, satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring with closing vehicle sensing and rear cross-traffic detection, lane keep assist, autonomous braking, and driver condition monitoring. The optional 20” alloys require an extra $1,500, the Italian Racing Red paint another $600 (don’t worry, British Racing Green is still available), and the red leather inserts come at no charge (you can get cream or blue dual-tone cabins, too).
Furthermore, my test car included a $350 Black Pack that replaced standard chrome with glossy black for the grille surround and insert, the “blades” in the lower fascia, and the front fender vent trim; a $2,600 Tech Pack with navigation and an upgraded 17-speaker Meridian sound system; a $400 heated front windshield; and the previously noted $1,000 Adaptive Dynamics suspension.
Normally, a premium sedan that hits the market with disappointingly inferior plastics in key areas is a turnoff, but even this faux pas doesn’t dull my enthusiasm for the superb new 2017 Jaguar XE. Truly, even if it didn’t drive as brilliantly as it does, its stunning look would be enough to make me a believer. The XE is a D-segment winner that will surely make Jaguar much more relevant overall.