Nicer materials in a car that retains its feline agility
Jaguar had its work cut out for it. The XE compact sedan must compete with a new-generation BMW 3 Series that seeks to regain more of its mojo, a strong Mercedes C-Class, the ever-improving Audi A4, and other contenders in a crowded and diverse field that range from the Alfa Romeo Giulia to the Volvo S60.
The XE launched with great promise in 2015, but it had a lot of hard plastic packed into an otherwise beautiful shape. It’s hardly a sales contender, selling about 5,197 in North America last year. For the 2020 refresh, designers have further enhanced the look with slimmer LED headlights, a wider but slimmer grille at the end of the long hood, and new bumpers. More important, they brought the inside up to grade with nicer soft-touch materials and the dual-screen infotainment system from the I-Pace.
Past quibbles with the XE weren’t with its driving capability. On some beautiful, curvaceous roads between Nice and Saint-Tropez in the French Riviera, the car continues to display the catlike agility that comes from a lightweight aluminum body and 50/50 weight distribution.
The more time we spent with the car, the more we appreciated its handling. We started with a P250 model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 engine tuned for 247 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. As of the 2020 model year, Jaguar has dropped manuals across its portfolio. The P250 comes standard with rear-wheel drive; AWD is a $2,000 USD option. The vehicle we drove was a European trim but would spec to a $40,895 USD sedan in the U.S.
For 2020, Jaguar has also dropped the supercharged V-6. The I-4 gets the job done, though it’s a bit of a drone compared with the throatier V-6. We credit Jaguar for not filling the void with artificial engine noise. During acceleration, there was sometimes the slightest hesitation and a mini lurch forward with the tap of your foot; after that, though, power delivery proceeded with smooth aplomb. The ride didn’t titillate as much as we wanted as we left the turquoise waters for the mountains, wound our way through incredible rock formations and arches, and then snaked our way back down to azure seas. Dynamic mode improved the exhaust note and tightened the responses. Again, the Jag did everything it was supposed to, but its performance was more measured than heart pounding.
As we were now nicely warmed up, it was time to get behind the wheel of the higher-performance P300. This model uses a 296-hp, 295-lb-ft version of the 2.0-liter, and all-wheel drive is standard. The exhaust note was much more satisfying. And although it was largely psychological—the steering is unchanged beyond the fact that the car is AWD—each turn of the wheel just felt more responsive. In short, it was that much more fun to drive. The P300 starts at $47,290 USD, and the model we drove was optioned up to $58,030 USD.
The U.S. does not get any of the Ingenium diesel engines.
The driving experience is enhanced by the same steering wheel from the I-Pace, and we applaud the replacement of the rotary dial gear shifter with a pistol-design SportShift gear selector that you can use to shift gears manually. Or you can use the satin chrome paddle shifters on the steering column, which are new for 2020. Jaguar admits not everyone loved the rotary dial; the pistol shifter is more in keeping with the XE’s sporty character.
Brakes are exactly what you want: They operate so effortlessly that you don’t notice them, with no grabbiness or jerkiness. The car has a double A-arm front suspension and integral link rear suspension. The drive was smooth as a baby’s bottom, and the car exhibited very little body roll.
Standard wheels are 18 inchers, but the XE looks great with 20-inch wheels. It also drives well with the bigger wheels, so feel free to spend the extra $1,700 USD and indulge.
Tech upgrades include the same rearview mirror JLR uses in the Ranger Rover Evoque, which relies on a camera for a wider, unobstructed view. It offers much improved visibility but does take some getting used to. If your eyes are having trouble adjusting, flip the toggle to return it to a conventional mirror.
The new acoustic windshield contributes to a surprisingly quiet cabin. Jaguar has created a place of calm sanctuary in the cockpit.
Inside, the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system’s two screens allow you to use navigation in the top screen and also see other controls in the bottom screen. This option is well worth it. The screens are still slow to load, but they never froze on our drive, which is a bug that has plagued the brand in the past.
Seats are comfortable, heated but not cooled, and they let you sit low if you choose to. In front of the driver is a 12.3-inch driver display.
All in all, when the XE goes on sale this summer, it will offer something different for those who don’t want their luxury sport sedan to get lost in the sea of C-Class and 3 Series on the road and who don’t want to veer to an Infiniti Q50 or Lexus IS. Volvo still has better interiors, and the Alfa has an enviable agility and Italian quirkiness. But as our waiter in a tiny restaurant in the narrow streets of Nice said, you don’t see as many Jaguars on the road, and there’s something special about them as they drive by. The face-lifted 2020 XE is vastly improved. It may not be best in class, but it has the ingredients to top the list for some buyers. This cat may indeed have nine lives.
|2020 Jaguar XE|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/247-hp/269-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.0L/296-hp/295-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,400-3,500 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||184.2 x 77.4 x 55.7-56.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.4-6.2 sec (mfr)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet tested|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Summer 2019|