Small-car success has long eluded Jaguar, but that was no fault of its own. Forced to swallow the “global” Ford platform at the turn of the millennium that resulted in the stillborn X-Type sedan, the subsequent Blue Oval divorce and re-establishment under the protection of Indian conglomerate Tata Motors has led the brand to this moment: the introduction of a legitimately appealing compact 4-door automobile.
The fact that the 2017 Jaguar XE happens to be an entirely home-grown effort, rather than one handed down from some oak-paneled boardroom overseas, is important for more than reasons of pride. You see, Jaguar is on a bit of a roll, having released the very well-received F-Type coupe and roadster, the aluminium-intensive XJ full-size sedan and, in tandem with the XE, its very first crossover called F-PACE, all in short succession. Each of these vehicles is quite talented when it comes to defending Jaguar's admittedly modest market niche, but it's the two 2017 introductions ― the F-PACE and XE ― that stand the greatest chance of breaking the company out of its traditional sales bracket and allowing it to joust with major luxury players at the global level.
Menace is standard
It starts with the optics. The all-new Jaguar XE doesn't stray far from the nest when it comes to its exterior styling, which means that same aggressive corporate snout, framed by malevolently canted headlights and sharp LED daytime running lights, is present and accounted for. On the XE's smaller body it's an equally effective weapon of intimidation, especially if ordered in slick, range-topping R-Sport trim, which also fills out the wheel wells with sufficiently large alloys. In a pleasing break from current styling trends, the Jaguar XE manages to avoid looking bigger than it really is, with a svelte silhouette lending it an extra degree of visual sportiness.
Inside, the 2017 Jaguar XE is pleasant, but not quite as arresting as its sheet metal would suggest. While most of the brand's design elements are in place ― rotary dial for controlling the vehicle's 8-speed automatic transmission, drive mode selector strip on the centre console, etc. ― there's a bit more hard plastic than I would like in a luxury car, particularly on the door panels and where the console comes into contact with the knee. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the well-thought-out cockpits offered by other Jaguar efforts, including the midsize XF sedan, but I would have liked to see more of the leather trim on the dash and door cards.
Of course, there is still much to like about the Jaguar XE's cabin, including a larger, 10.2” version of the InControl Touch infotainment system available on other Jaguar vehicles ― called InControl Touch Pro ― that provides a welcome step-up in speed and graphics as compared to the older system. Rear-seat room is also better than I remember from the first time I got inside the XE almost eight months ago, in particular with regards to headroom. It's a functional car, not merely a premium ornament for your garage, which is important when going up against segment leaders like the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Supercharged for your pleasure
The pressure to compete against some of the most popular luxury cars in the world has certainly been felt by Jaguar's engineering team, as the XE bounds into the fray, guns glazing, with 340 horses from its only gasoline engine. The 3.0L supercharged V6 in the Jaguar XE 35t is a familiar powerplant from the pouncing cat, and it also offers up 332 lb-ft of torque. Trainspotters will notice that this strategy sees Jaguar skipping right to the middle rung of the compact premium car ladder as the blown V6 out-muscles the turbocharged 4-cylinder mills that come standard with the 3 Series, C-Class, Audi A4, and Cadillac ATS. While a turbo four will be made available in the U.S., Canadians won't see the more affordable gas edition for the 2017 model year, nor will they be able to choose anything other than all-wheel drive.
There is a price break available for Canadians in the form of a 2.0L turbo-diesel 4-cylinder engine that sets the base MSRP for the 2017 Jaguar XE at $45,000. Not only is the sticker sweeter on the diesel motor in the XE 20d, but so is the fuel efficiency: While official numbers are not yet available, 5-6L/100km on the highway doesn't seem out of the question for this unit, which produces 180 horsepower and 318 lb-ft of torque. As with the XE 35t, AWD is standard with the XE 20d.
Driven back-to-back, the straight-line performance difference between the two cars is palpable, what with a full 2.5 seconds separating the XE 20d from the XE 35t's 5.1-second sprint to 100 km/h. Once underway, however, it would be a mistake to count out the diesel model as power delivery is linear, predictable, and above all quiet. In fact, it's difficult to tell you’re driving a diesel sedan based on sound alone, whether you're sitting inside the Jaguar XE or standing next to its engine bay.
Hook, line, and sinker
Still, the athleticism of the 2017 Jaguar XE's chassis is best explored with the supercharged V6 roaring through its eight forward speeds with wild abandon. Few luxury sedans are as willing to smooth out the curves without numbing the driver to the details in the process (the 3 Series and ATS come to mind). The XE is a car that you actually want to drive, and one that may see you sneaking off the grid to sample some of the wilder roads in your neck of the woods long after the local constabulary have retired for the evening.
Gorgeous looks are going to draw prospective Jaguar XE buyers into showrooms, and a test drive on the right stretch of two-lane blacktop will most likely be enough to have those customers trade in on the spot.
Is the best yet to come?
As good as the 2017 Jaguar XE is, I can't help but fantasize about the potential locked within the car's aluminum platform and the way Jaguar could grab the bars of the luxury performance cage with both hands and shake the Dickens out of its current occupants simply by subbing in one of the many powerful drivetrains currently sitting on the shelf back at HQ. A Jaguar XE R? Yes, please!