If someone wants a compact luxury car, the names that crop up most often are exactly the ones you're thinking of: Audi, BMW, Mercedes. But Germany is not exclusive in its ability to manufacture a car in this segment. There are options outside the norm, like the 2020 Jaguar XE. Sure, you might not have the exact same object of aspiration that your neighbors also have on their driveway, but iconoclasm has its benefits.
Even though these compact luxury cars are generally pretty good at everything, automakers can still choose to highlight important attributes. Jaguar takes a page from the same book as BMW when it comes to the 2020 XE, because its driving dynamics are placed front and center, and to good effect. The XE's ride quality is on the stiff side; the first pothole or expansion joint will let you know that coddling is not in the car's dictionary, some of which is likely due to the Pirelli Sottozero winter tires wrapped around larger (albeit optional) 20-inch wheels. Some sidewall would go a long way here, so perhaps sticking with the stock 19s is a good idea.
My tester's optional adaptive dampers don't provide for the smoothest ride in the segment, but chuck this four-door into a corner and the suspension will keep things nice and flat. The ride isn't harsh, it's just communicative, and it does settle into a smoother groove on long, flat stretches of expressway. Combine that with direct, nicely weighted steering and you've got the makings of a properly fun sedan.
My tester rocks the XE's most powerful engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 producing 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The four-pot's note isn't my favorite, but it's far better than the tractor-engine sound profile Volvo's S60 is working with. That torque arrives nice and early in the revs, which makes getting up to speed easy and fun. Trouble is, the XE P300 (as models with this engine are called) is the most powerful XE that Jaguar makes, but its price puts it against vehicles like the BMW M340i, Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4, all of which have outputs between 349 and 385 hp. That's an awfully large gulf for cars that start around the same price. Let's hope Jaguar has something perkier in the works, like another XE S.
Every XE comes with the same transmission: an eight-speed automatic. While it upshifts quickly in Sport mode, the gearbox doesn't have the sharpness that I've experienced from competitors' transmissions. There's also the issue of the manual shifting option, where the response is slow, making for a less engaging experience than I'd prefer, especially when Jaguar highlights the car's dynamics so well in other ways.
Another sticking point for me is the brakes. While the $1,315 Dynamic Handling Pack upgrade includes red brake calipers, the stoppers themselves are the same size across the lineup. The brakes have no trouble bringing the car to a halt in a hurry, but man, that pedal is one grabby son of a gun. Smooth stops are a little tricky.
Having a lower output than the competition means having a little more thrift. The EPA rates the Jaguar XE P300 at 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. That's a couple ticks ahead of both the Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4, and it's tied with the BMW M340i.
I wasn't really sold on the pre-refresh Jaguar XE -- I think it's because the large taillights immediately gave the car an aged look, when everyone else was going slimmer. Either way, my qualms have been ironed out for the 2020 model year thanks to a visual redo that slims the lights, widens the grille and tweaks the bumpers. Jaguar's sedans look pretty sharp now, which makes it an even bigger bummer that they aren't as ubiquitous as the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The XE might lack the visual punch of something like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, but it's still a looker.
Inside, Jaguar placed an increased focus on materials, and it shows. Of course, my tester is also an exception, wearing the $2,150 Windsor Leather option that covers the seats in some properly buttery hide. But everywhere I touch is nice, from the dashboard to even the carbon fiber trim (which isn't worth $1,100 to me, though). Fans of the electric I-Pace will be happy to see its steering wheel here, complete with a set of proper metal shift paddles. The annoying old rotary shift dial is gone, too; in its place is the far prettier and far more usable shifter from the F-Type.
The XE's refresh also improved its storage situation. The door panels have wider pockets that are still a little on the shallow side, but the glove compartment is ample and the center armrest will hold whatever's in your pockets. The little slot under the HVAC controls houses a wireless charger, and I like that it's tucked away where you can't really see the screen -- safety first, folks.
The second row is a little tight for taller passengers. Headroom is at a premium, and while I wasn't scraping my 6-foot frame against the headliner, I was close. The legroom isn't exactly anything to write home about, either, with a small footwell and seatbacks that brush my knees. The middle seat's visible hump isn't what I'd call comfortable to sit on, so try to stick with two abreast in the back if you can. The XE's trunk is also tight, with its 12.1-cubic-foot capacity lagging behind the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
Jaguar Land Rover's in-car tech has been hit-or-miss in the last several years, with many iterations erring toward a miss. However, things appear to be on the upswing now. The 2020 XE picks up JLR's latest InControl infotainment system. It looks slicker and it responds faster than before, eliminating two sizable concerns from previous getups, but it still takes quite a while before it's ready to go each morning, placing precious seconds between starting the car in the cold and getting those heated seats fired up.
My tester one-ups the standard system with a $1,950 upgrade that adds InControl Touch Pro Duo. While standard XEs have basic physical HVAC controls, this option replaces it with another touchscreen and a pair of dials that also contain displays. It looks flashy as hell, and it's easy to get used to, but people who crave real buttons will be let down. The package also adds wireless device charging and a 12.3-inch gauge display that's great for highlighting pertinent information with minimal distraction, whether it's a full map or just standard vehicle info like fuel economy.
Standard safety is the name of the game in the automotive industry these days, and Jaguar is making sure to keep pace. The 2020 XE comes standard with automatic emergency braking, parking sensors and lane-keeping assist. Throw down another $1,700 and you can add adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring to the mix. My tester also includes a rearview mirror that can show a feed from the backup camera -- it's not the newest tech on the block, nor is it the most useful in a small sedan not suffering from visibility issues, but it's still neat.
The Jaguar XE starts out affordable at $46,295, but my tester has almost every option imaginable, sending its price to a near-ludicrous $63,375.
I'll save some money right off the bat by sticking with a free paint color and the stock 19-inch wheels, which should improve the ride quality a smidge. The Black Exterior pack eliminates the outside chrome for $375 and is a must-have in my book. The $2,150 Windsor Leather option feels worth it, especially since it also includes 16-way seats with heat and ventilation. $250 adds heat to the steering wheel, and the $800 Meridian surround-sound system provides a lot of aural bang for your buck. Throw in the aforementioned $1,950 Touch Pro Duo upgrade and $1,365 for the connected-navigation package that adds traffic-sign recognition that works with the adaptive cruise control, and that's about where I'd stop. That puts my out-the-door price at $54,180 including destination, which is much more palatable.
There's a whole lot of interesting metal in this segment. The XE P300 might lack the punch of the Audi S4, BMW M340i or Mercedes-AMG C43, but its fuel economy is better than most of 'em. But only the Audi S4 can match the XE P300's base price -- the Bimmer and Merc require almost $10,000 more to get started. The BMW is probably the best point of comparison from a driver's perspective, while the Mercedes errs more toward luxury. Oh, and the C43's ride is absolutely terrible -- that's worth mentioning, too.
Even though Jaguar sedans are getting harder to find on the road with every passing day, I still think the XE is absolutely worth your time. It looks and fits like a well-tailored suit, it's properly fun to drive and even the tech is pretty impressive. Break down the walls of tradition and try something new for once.