Next to the gorgeous F-Type, the new Jaguar XE looks conventional. It's a small sedan that wouldn't be out of place in the company parking lot next to the legions of BMW 3-Series and Audi A4s that tend to be the favorite of the up-and-coming executive class.
However, the XE is a far more important car to Jaguar than the F-Type, as its base price of $35,000 potentially brings far more buyers to the brand.
More importantly, it is a really good car, relying on advances in automotive engineering to keep it light while maintaining safety and handling. Jaguar calls the construction of the XE "aluminum intensive," meaning aluminum makes up about 75 percent of its structure. Curb weight comes in at a paltry 3,670 pounds, a minimal amount by today's standards.
The base model, the XE 25t, comes with a turbocharged direct injection 2-liter engine, good for 240 horsepower. Surprisingly for this class, and in light of difficulties experienced by Volkswagen, Jaguar also has a diesel XE on offer, this one known as the 20d, using a 2-liter turbo-diesel boasting average EPA fuel economy of 36 mpg, more than 10 better than the 25t.
I, however, spent a week with the 35t AWD in R-Sport trim. This car comes with the XE's top engine, a supercharged 3-liter V-6, good for 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque and, as the name suggests, all-wheel-drive. R-Sport is essentially a top trim, adding features such as blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist, along with a body kit showing off more aggressive air intakes.
When I put the eight-speed automatic transmission in Sport mode and switched Jaguar's Configurable Dynamics setting to Dynamic, the connection between accelerator and power delivery felt direct and immediate. It was if my right foot had a direct line to the driveshaft, without all the intervening engine control electronics and plumbing. Flooring it made the little XE leap forward with no hesitation.
Give credit to the supercharger, that engine-driven impeller shoving air into the cylinders, and direct injection engineering ensuring a full fuel burn. The automatic transmission did its part as well, its Sport mode hanging onto a gear even as the tach needle blurred past the 5,000 rpm mark.
When merely putting along in traffic, where this sort of power response would prove annoying, I dialed the Configurable Dynamics setting down to Normal, or even Eco, reducing the throttle and steering sensitivity. The change was immediate, the XE assuming the character of a content house cat, letting me relax into the the sort of mindless driving that characterizes most commutes.
The XE's aluminum structure really comes through in the handling and ride quality. I could feel the car's light weight at the steering wheel, and that's a good thing. You might equate heavy with "planted" but the XE's lightness gave a it quick and nimble character. It felt extremely maneuverable, responding precisely to my steering inputs both on the twisty mountain road and when diving into a traffic opening.
Beyond lightness, the XE's body felt stiff, an essential quality for good handling. Going into a turn, I was impressed with the precise steering, while the rigid body kept the tires in contact with the pavement. At tire squealing speeds on hairpin mountain roads, the XE felt balanced and confident. Hitting some wet patches, the back-end shimmied out but a combination of traction control and steady steering input brought the car neatly back into line without destroying my fun.
Hitting that Goldilocks zone, the XE is stiff, but not too stiff for an everyday comfortable ride. In Dynamic mode, the adaptive suspension retains pliability, adding to the comfort while allowing some lean in hard cornering. It strikes an important balance between an elegant weekly commute car and a satisfying weekend backroads driver.
New maps, with satellite view
Cabin appointments in this model included lightly bolstered sport seats and a drive selector dial that rises up from the console when you hit the ignition button. Although the front row seats make the XE cabin feel roomy, the rear seats look like they belong in a coupe. Taller passengers won't welcome the experience. 16 cubic feet of trunk space, the "boot" in British parlance, comes in about average for the segment.