2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD R-Sport
To be fair, Jaguar changed hands right before the X-Type was cancelled, Ford’s now defunct Premier Automotive Group (PAG) entrusting the revered brand to the now highly respected hands of Mr. Ratan Tata and his India-based Tata Motors group. Much needed funds were poured into the independently “soft touch” run Coventry, UK division, allowing the development and production of cars it had always wanted to build but couldn’t when under the PAG umbrella, which having Aston Martin as its pinnacle brand kept Jaguar in performance shackles. Soon Jaguar’s sports models outpaced the Astons and development started on all-new highly advanced models that would once again show the world the leaping cat remained a force to be reckoned with.
That attitude is what differentiates the new XE from its peers. Another brand lays claim to the 4DSC trademark, but Jaguar is now in possession of the four-door sports car. An upstart that’s a more capable performer than the aforementioned list of veteran sport sedans? Only a side-by-side comparison on a closed circuit could determine, but after a focused stint behind the wheel of an amply equipped 35t AWD R-Sport I’m willing to bet that if the XE didn’t come out on top it would be a close finish.
Before delving into all that makes the XE special I need to make mention of a two-seat sports car that gives Porsche’s 911 regular migraines, Jaguar’s F-Type. The beautiful coupe and convertible combo is the literal type of car Jaguar wanted to build but couldn’t while in Ford’s clutches, and my reason for bringing it up has to do with what’s under the skin, and the skin itself. JLR’s new aluminum-intensive iQ modular platform is spiritually inherited from the full-size XJ, and now benefits this XE and the fabulous F-Pace utility that shares much of the sport sedan’s underpinnings, plus will soon improve the mid-size XF and an upcoming F-Pace-sized Range Rover model.
The XE enters the D-segment as the only bonded and riveted aluminum built car, 75 percent of which is sourced from recycled materials. 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 in place to reduce repair time and costs. What’s more, Jaguar even integrated sacrificial slipping fixings within the suspension design to prevent pricey components from getting bent or broken if hit by curbs.
The chassis incorporates a similar aluminum double wishbone setup to the F-Pace and F-Type in front, but the two new models incorporate an entirely new subframe-mounted multi-link system in the rear, dubbed Integral Link. According to Jaguar its pricier to produce yet allows for more tuning potential, and after some time behind the wheel it quickly became apparent this advanced suspension and lightweight, ultra-rigid body shell combination was worth every “quid”.
Now the five-seater that rolls out of Solihull, West Midlands assembly, the same plant that once produced the brilliant Rover P6, drives more like that F-Type than any Jaguar since. Truly, this is the car that takes it to the 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. Like the F-Pace SUV I drove previously my XE tester was stuffed full of 3.0-liter supercharged V6 and paddle-shift actuated eight-speed automatic for straight-line jab and hook performance that matches this four-door’s ability to duck and slip. The 35t boasts 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, and while strangely muted compared to the snarling growl of the F-Pace it packed more punch due to its lighter frame, resulting in 5.1 seconds to 60 mph and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph with Dynamic sport mode engaged.
The eight-speed auto and rear-wheel drive come standard, a six-speed manual standard in other markets, while sport-tuned all-wheel drive plus is optional, whereas Jaguar’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software helps improve handling by minimizing understeer. Added to that my tester featured R-Sport trim with optional 20-inch alloys as well as an adaptive suspension.
You might think such a sporting car would pummel occupants with overly aggressive suspension tuning, yet while my XE tester was firm it was 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 performance.
All this allows one of the segment’s sportiest sedans to simultaneously deliver a thoroughly luxurious experience when not pushing the envelope, the XE’s interior a gluttonous feast for the eyes of not 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 over-the-top excesses we’ve come to expect of Jaguar yet get all giddy about when offered by one of its rivals, which makes the hard plastic primary gauge hood such a shocking disappointment. Jaguar impresses with soft touch door uppers, leather inserts and armrests, however, plus superbly crafted switchgear, beautiful piano black lacquered surfaces and gorgeous metal trim, as well as one of the nicer leather-wrapped sport steering wheels in the industry, but then more hard plastic can be found on the dash top, below front occupants’ knees including the glove box lid, and once again on the lower door panels and even the dull looking speaker grilles. Despite not having the cleanest mold extrusions, at least the door pockets are velvet lined, but only the A pillars are fabric-wrapped.
Fortunately Jaguar invested in state-of-the-art high-resolution full-color electronic interfaces, the primary instruments not fully digital like those in the top-line F-Pace, but still nicely organized with a set of metal-rimmed analog dials flanking an extremely comprehensive multi-information display, while the widescreen infotainment touchscreen over the center stack is a real thing of beauty. Like the F-Pace and other JLR products, the standard 8.0-inch, or in my car’s case 10.2-inch 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 audio controls for an upgraded Meridian audio system.
As good as this is it’s all upstaged by the single item that will make your colleagues feel like their German rides are seriously lacking, 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 that today’s gadget geek loves while effectively freeing up a lot of space from the lower console too. It’s joined by a row of buttons highlighted with a waving checkered flag just behind, that last one for engaging aforementioned Dynamic mode, whereas most of the others are for Normal, Eco and Snow modes. An expected electromechanical parking brake resides close by, while you need to go back up to the dual-zone HVAC interface on the center stack to power the three-way heatable seats.
All these features in mind, what exactly does $34,900 for the base XE buy you, or for that matter $51,700 for the 35t AWD R-Sport I tested? The former number starts with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Land Rover Discover Sport and Range Rover Evoque, tuned to 240 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, while for $36,400 a fuel-efficient 180 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-diesel with 318 lb-ft of torque is also available, and then on top of that base trim includes most expected D-segment features as well as some unexpected items like standard auto start/stop, all-surface progress control, HD radio, eight-way powered front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, and much more.
All three engines are available with Premium trim too, which for $37,500 with the 25t, $39,000 with the 20d and $41,700 with the 35t ups content to include driver’s side memory, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, a garage door opener, a rearview camera, 380-watt 11-speaker Meridian audio, and a handy 40/20/40-split rear seatback that makes the already sizable 15.9 cubic-foot trunk much more utile.
Prestige trim, which starts at $41,400 with the 25t, $42,900 with the 20d, and $45,600 with the 35t, adds contrast-stitched Taurus leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, four-way powered lumbar support, powered tilt and telescopic steering, Jaguar InControl Apps, proximity access, and more, whereas as-tested R-Sport trim (which can’t be had with the 25t) adds a sportier aero body kit, adaptive HID headlamps with signature LED DRLs and auto high beams, metal doorsill plates, an R-Sport steering wheel, satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with closing vehicle sensing and rear cross-traffic detection, lane keep assist, autonomous braking, and driver condition monitoring for $46,500 with the 20d, $49,200 with the 35t, and $51,700 as-tested with the 35t and AWD, while my loaner’s 20-inch Propeller 10-spoke alloys added $1,000, its Italian Racing Red paint another $550 (and don’t worry traditionalists, British Racing Green is also on the menu), and the red leather inserts no charge (you can go all black, cream or blue too).
My test car also included a $350 Black design package 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; plus a $2,700 Technology package with a 10.2-inch screen featuring navigation and Wi-Fi, plus an upgraded 17-speaker 825-watt Meridian sound system; a $375 standalone heatable front windshield; plus as noted the suspension was upgraded with $1,000 Adaptive Dynamics.
Additional options that weren’t added include various wheels, Satin Burr Ash hardwood or Carbon Fiber veneers that can replace the standard Etched Aluminum inlays, adaptive cruise control with Queue Assist, traffic sign recognition with an adaptive speed limiter, head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking camera, park assist, cooled front seats, heatable rear seats, a powered rear sunshade, and a powered trunk lid.
Despite the XE’s disappointingly low-grade plastic bits, even my annoyingly fastidious nature can’t turn me off this superb sports sedan. Truly, if it didn’t drive as brilliantly as it does its stunning styling would likely be enough to win me over. Due to strength upon strength in the areas that matter most, I only see success for the XE and Jaguar on the whole if it keeps building vehicles as capable as this new D-segment sedan and the new F-Pace CUV.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press