2017 Jaguar XE First Drive
Redemption Road: The Small Cat's Out of the Doghouse
Let's get the bad news out of the way up front. You, my fellow Americans, will not be able to purchase the 2017 Jaguar XE until sometime in early 2016. People in other markets, however, will have Jaguar's newest sexpot much earlier than us Yanks. Why? Unlike the rest of the world, our volume engine will be the 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline I-4 from the new Ingenium family. But that particular powerplant hasn't been finalized, meaning that Jaguar will initially launch the XE with an Ingenium diesel 2.0-liter, an old-school (to put it politely), Ford-derived, 2.0-liter Turbo (same engine you can get in the XF and the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Evoque) and the familiar 340-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. Jag is going to wait until the volume engines are both all-new before launching in the biggest, most profitable market.
The XE represents a crucial milestone and test for the fabled, much-loved, much-maligned British marque. Jag has tried playing in this space -- the volume and profit-laden BMW 3 Series segment -- before, and the results were terrible. Remember the X-Type? Lots of folks don't, and those who do who happen to be Jaguar employees who wish you'd forget. But that was back in the bad old Ford days when the notion of using a platform initially developed for the Mercury Mystique didn't send Jaguar product planners scrambling toward the lifeboats. Everything has changed under Ratan Tata's stewardship of William Lyons' baby. So much so that the new XE sits upon an all-new aluminum-intensive platform shared (for the time being) with no other car on Earth. The XE's bones aren't even related to the F-Type, which sits upon its own unique chassis.
The XE's body-in-white is said to possess 20 percent greater torsional rigidity than the Jaguar XF, a sports sedan I've long praised for its wonderful handling. Moreover, at just 553 pounds, the structure is pretty dang light. Aluminum accounts for 75 percent of the metal, with high-strength steel and lightweight magnesium making up the rest. Quite similar to the underpinnings of the AMG GT in fact. Speaking of Mercedes, the all-aluminum suspension pieces are reminiscent of those found on the SL Roadster, especially the rear components. Up front you'll find two cast A-arms per corner, along with forged knuckles. Jaguar was quick to point out that most of the competition (BMW, Mercedes) use a simpler, cheaper MacPherson strut setup. Out back, things get even more exotic with an "Integral-Link" rear, as opposed to the more common (Hi BMW, everybody else!) five-link setup. Jaguar claims the Integral-Link is not only better at controlling up and down movements, but also fore and aft jostling. Damping is handled by adaptive Bilsteins. The XE also features Jaguar's new electric power steering (EPAS) as well as its torque-vectoring by brake (TVBB).
Back to the bad news -- which is actually great news -- I want this car now! I should have known I'd be in for a treat based on several previous experiences in late-model Jaguar sedans, specifically the sporty XF and magnificent XJ. Perhaps my expectations were clouded by how cynically Jaguar approached the old X-Type? Regardless, I was pleasantly shocked by my own smile after about one mile of road time. The first car sampled was the XE S packing the 340 hp, 332-lb-ft of torque supercharged V-6. Sending all that power to the rear wheels is the now ubiquitous (and quite wonderful) eight-speed ZF transmission. The 19-inch wheels are coated in sticky, directional, specially developed Dunlop Sport Maxx RT rubber (225/40/19 front, 255/35/19 rear). Those tires not only hold on like a baby possum, but feature a great combination of elegant ride quality and low road noise.
The Porsche GT3 might have Jag's EPAS solution licked in terms of outright wowza, but I've never felt electrically assisted power steering of this caliber on a sports sedan. It's not only that the steering is weighted just about perfectly, but the feel stays excellent all the way through a corner, and that's no small feat. Jaguar made a point to emphasize that it waited years before offering up an EPAS solution because it wanted to make sure it met the brand's reputation for sportiness. To me, that initially sounded like typical marketing BS. Thing is, the steering is revelatory. They might actually be telling the truth!
Of course great steering without suspension to match is pointless, and luckily the XE delivers. Again, color me impressed. A true, "proper" Jag needs to have the magical yet elusive combination of grace and pace. The XE S' ride quality is exemplary at normal speeds, and things stay smooth and relaxed up to 120 miles per hour. Then, crack the wheel and you're treated to about the best-handling small premium sports sedan there is. The only obvious competitor in terms of outright handling is the Cadillac ATS. But unlike the small Caddy, the XE isn't burdened by coarse engines or a dim-witted, inelegant transmission. Jag's much-improved infotainment solution is also worlds better than CUE, though still not as polished as MMI (Audi), iDrive (BMW), or COMAND (Mercedes). I look forward to getting those two — and the German competitors — together on a road somewhere down the line.
I also sampled the 180-hp, 316-lb-ft of torque diesel version of the XE (pictured in blue, below), the first of the new Ingenium family of engines. Because of the healthy torque curve, and despite the low redline (5,000 rpm), the diesel XE feels about as good around town as the supercharged version. Obviously the XE S will blow the glowplugs off the diesel on the dragstrip (Jag guesses 4.9 seconds to 60 mph) and do much smokier burnouts as well. But if you're going for the diesel, you don't care about stuff like that anyhow. Conversely, the much less sporting 18-inch tires on the diesel deliver a more jittery ride than the high-horsepower car, as well as less fantastic steering feel. Again, you're buying the diesel for efficiency, not sport. A year from now if you're buying the Jaguar XE S for sport, pat yourself on the back, as you've made a truly inspired decision. Until then…
|2017 Jaguar XE|
|BASE PRICE||$35,000-$50,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door, Sedan|
|ENGINES||2.0L/180-hp/317-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/340-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual; 8-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,450-3,700 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||183.9 x 72.8 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9-7.4 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||18-35/25-40 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||69-187 / 60-135 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.60-0.94 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||March, 2016|