2017 Jaguar XE 35t R Sport AWD
3.0-liter V6, supercharged, DOHC, direct injection, variable inlet and exhaust cam timing (340 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm)
Eight-speed ZF-supplied automatic, all-wheel drive
20 city / 29 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
11.8 city / 8.2 highway / 10.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $52,695 (U.S) / $59,595 (Canada)
As Tested: $64,750 (U.S.) / $71,995 (Canada)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,095 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada.
It smells like a proper Jaguar.
That’s what came to mind after climbing into the XE’s driver’s seat for the first time. Jaguars tend to play on the senses – and consequently the heart – more than other cars, which has surely helped many owners look past some of the brand’s idiosyncrasies (and, let’s face it, quality woes) in the past. This one seems to have its sensory appeal in check.
Several years ago I drove a then-new XJ, a supercharged V8 model that somehow dazzled me despite a clunky transmission and sagging suede headliner. It was a car that’d be hard to recommend a friend or loved one spend a hundred large on, but somehow still appealed to the irrational side of me. The sound of the exhaust note, the sensual styling and yes, the smell of those cattle hides swathing the interior all conspire to blur one’s vision toward the (ahem) occasional quality lapse.
Since then I’ve logged seat time in several other Jaguars, including a 2,200-mile journey in a flawless XF a few years ago. The modern-day Jaguar – now ruled by Tata Motors – seems to be wringing out the English from the electrics and producing competitive and wholly contemporary luxury cars, for better or worse.
The new compact XE sedan has generated positive buzz in the automotive media for being an engaging drive, and as a past owner of three different BMW 3 Series sedans, I was keen to see how the Jaguar’s first compact since the lamentable X-Type stacks up.
The XE certainly looks the part of contemporary compact sport sedan with its short overhangs and low, broad stance. It’s a handsome car, but thanks to the styling triumphs of more plebian machines (like, say, the Kia Optima with its shared fender accents), it’s really only the name and badging that lets the great unwashed know this diminutive Jaguar is a luxury machine.
Inside, the XE is a little more special. That fragrant leather is there of course, and the rest of the interior materials feel sufficiently upscale, accented by lovely contrasted stitching. Finished in black, with more piano-black trim and some tasteful aluminum accents, there’s nothing inspiring, here, but it’s pleasant enough.
There are a few ergonomic gaffes. The volume button is located to the bottom right of the climate controls, away from the infotainment system. The climate control temperature reading is obscured by the steering wheel when I’ve got the seat set where I need it, and manipulating a button at the end of the turn signal stalk and various additional buttons on the steering wheel are required to review trip computer information. The front seats – both heated and cooled here – are wide, stiff and lacking in support causing notable strain in my not-that-old back. These are the sorts of things that the Jag’s three German rivals have largely worked out by now with their interior designs.
The optional 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment system isn’t without fault, either. While it’s screen size and graphic sophistication are on par for this level of car, the system tends to hiccup and freeze occasionally, and its menu system is far less intuitive than the systems now employed by competitive brands. That said, the Meridian sound system produces impressive power and clarity.
Passenger space is decent up front, though headroom feels snug for those over 6-feet tall. The rear seat is expectedly cozy since the XE is a compact car after all. One additional note about the backseats: a primary reason a young executive might choose a compact sport sedan over a similarly priced coupe is its ability to do double duty as an occasional family car. While Jaguar has made the ISOFIX child seat mounts very accessible, the scooped out seat base is so narrow that my son’s booster seat couldn’t properly fit without angling it to allow access to the seat belt receiver.
But enough about child seat and glitchy infotainment woes — what’s this thing like to drive? My test car, an XE 35t AWD R-Sport normally wears spidery-looking 20-inch wheels shod in sticky summer rubber. Seasonal considerations, however, meant our test car was wearing winter boots, resulting in a less-than-ideal representation of the XE’s true handling prowess. Nevertheless, the Jag proved a frisky handler, making the most of its stiff suspension, especially with the car set up in Dynamic mode (which is how it stayed most of the week).
Steering is quick and the compact dimensions of the car give it nimble reactions on the road; though more feel through steering wheel wouldn’t be a bad thing, such is life with electric steering these days. Tackling curves at elevated speeds, I found the XE sometimes unsettled, but I suspect it has more to do with the squishy Michelin X-Ice tires squirming around than the car’s set up. Pleasingly, the all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased and it’s possible to cause a bit of power-on rear-end rotation when pressed hard.
The suspension trades off handling and ride quality reasonably well, though my posterior isn’t sensitive enough to notice much difference between “Normal” and “Dynamic” suspension mode stiffness in terms of ride quality.
The 3.0-liter V6 has a supercharger nested between the cylinder banks resulting in 340 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. And remember when carmakers used superchargers with their instant gratification instead of laggy turbochargers? Well the Jag’s venerable mill dispenses with 332 lb-ft of torque, but not until 4,500 rpm. Most modern turbos reach full whistle at less than half those revs. This means the XE actually needs some revs to get the most out of it. It’s not a bad thing — kinda fun, really — but for those accustomed to the immediacy of thrust from a BMW or Benz turbo six, the Jaguar feels a little soft off the line.
Once underway, even at highway speeds, a one- or two-cog downshift produces a thrilling shove in the back as the Jaguar gathers speed at an impressive rate. The same engine is fitted under the bonnet of each of Jaguar’s other models, including the racy F-Type sports car, where the exhaust is tuned to emit the most sensationally unholy howl. Here, though, Jaguar keeps the XE surprisingly quiet, not even allowing the amusement of an occasional burp or fart on decel. Instead, there’s some supercharger whine and an otherwise industrial-sounding induction note.
The XE 35t’s transmission is the much-loved ZF 8-speed automatic, and while many of us would still prefer a good ol’ fashioned manual transmission, the ZF ‘box offers rapid-fire gear shifts when the rotary dial selector is set to S, and smooth, seamless shifts when it’s on D. In S mode, the steering wheel-mounted paddles add to the fun since the XE will rev up and hold a gear, waiting for the driver to command a change.
Jaguar has done a great job with the XE, especially in this supercharged R-Sport rendition. It offers reasonable style, luxury and performance comparable to the three German luxury brand offerings. Plus, thanks to a comparatively sparse dealership network, the XE is bound to be a far rarer sight on North American roads.
But is rarity and its ingrained passion enough to overshadow some of its minor quirks? Only the buyers will determine if smelling like a Jaguar will be enough to make them want to park the XE in their garage.
[Images: © 2017 Jeff Wilson]