Jaguar XE S Review: A Bold Stride Toward the Middle
The 2016 Jaguar F-Type is the best-looking new car under $100,000 on the market today.
It beats a Porsche Cayman off the line, screams like a wildcat, and comes in both coupe and convertible form.
I consider it a complete success.
The 2017 Jaguar XE S is not that car. But when used for its own intended purposes, it’s just as good.
This is the sedan Jag made to gain parity in the small-size mass-luxury market. Specifically, that means taking on the BMW 3 Series. The XE S is roughly the same size as its German counterpart, but with a $34,900 price tag for the base version, it undercuts the (much slower) 328i by about $4,000 and almost equals the (much, much slower) $33,150 320i. It was intended as a refreshing alternative to the Mercedes-Audi-BMW trifecta that dominates midsize sedan culture in the U.S. It is. If you want a change from mass-luxury normalcy, then look here.
I recently drove an as-yet-unreleased version of the XE S for a week, after a Jaguar press conference on Manhattan’s West Side. (The U.S. version hits dealerships next spring.) Pricing on that model hasn’t been announced yet, but a Jag spokesman told me that, including options, it would come closest to the price of a Jaguar XE 35t R-Sport RWD, which is in the low $50,000 range. In the U.S., the XE R-Sport starts at $46,500 for the diesel and goes up from there.
The car was delightful from behind the wheel; it drove as happy as the candy apple paint that coated its sculpted exterior. No, it’s not as tightly wound as BMW’s 3 Series, and it’s not as cosseted as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but considering its pricing, prowess, and myriad trim options, the XE S deserves to be considered in the same breath as the others.
Capable and Discrete
The XE comes with a lot of variants—a turbocharged four-cylinder, diesel engine, and AWD among them. The S version of the car, though, has something special: a 3.0 340-horsepower supercharged V6—the same one found in the F-Type S. When paired with its ZF eight-speed automatic transmission it’ll hit 60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds. Top speed is 155 mph.
Driving it feels “great,” which is an annoyingly nondescriptive word. But in this case, its general but affirmative nature is the best I can conjure to capture the essence of the car. XE S balances around corners well, speeds smoothly on the straight, steers firmly, and brakes attentively. (Credit several new technologies inside, such as torque vectoring—when on tight turns, the car applies the brake to the inside wheel and directs engine torque to the wheel with the most grip.) Each of these tasks is completed with little fanfare and no audible complaint. Not to say the XE S is boring. Not by a long shot. But it has that staunch British way of just getting on with it, shall we? Rather than making a big fuss.
Compared with some of the flashier brands in the midsize racket out there (Maserati, ahem), the drive personality here is capable but understated, and that’s refreshing. You’re very well in hand with the XE. Just don’t expect a full-on orchestra and fireworks while you’re at it.
How to Look Good
What I really like about the XE S, though, is how it looks. The car has an all-new aluminum frame meant to save weight and capitalize efficiency (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to release the precise numbers). But the body is also beautiful to look at: Every line at the front starts at the center of its small, rounded, rectangular lattice grille and streams straight back in the faint shape of a V; the swells that are gently pressed into the hood and ribs give it dimension without the unnecessary visual noise that can accompany overstyled cars. If you look at the XE S straight on, you can see exactly where and how the wind flows over its nose, roof, and sides. I always did like a clear connection between form and function.
If you want drama, look to the rear, where the integrated spoiler does well for pulling the eye through the back of the car. (It’s a rather cosmetic flourish, after all. I don’t foresee too many workaday owners putting this commuter on the track. But it is pretty.) Address also the front bumper with gloss-black inserts, dual-tone side sills, and the optional 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels (the 18-inch ones come standard).
No one will mistake this sedan for an Audi or a Cadillac. Jaguar has figured out how to make a car look distinctive without making it beg for attention.
That said, may I suggest you buy this in something other than white or silver? Just like my mother always said: Light tones flatten and wash out subtle lines that look more dynamic under stronger hues.
Not a Minimal Animal
The XE excels at giving the driver intelligent help throughout the drive process. The 8-inch center touchscreen and steering wheel buttons allow for control of the climate, sound, navigation, crash-avoidance, and heads-up display icons without distraction. In-car Wi-Fi and the app that allows you to check fuel levels, lock and unlock doors, and pre-heat or -cool the car via your smartphone make it practical for today’s drivers.
If you like a bare dash and a minimalist steering column, however, you won’t appreciate this XE. It has lots of buttons clustered around the driver; the dashboard swoops and dips like an ocean wave.
If you’re tall, you’ll have no problem with the headroom or legroom in the front seat. Likewise, the back seat is small but doesn’t feel confined. You’re going to hate sitting in the rear middle seat—there’s a name for that spot, I believe—but then again, everyone hates sitting in the rear middle.
My compliments, by the way, to whoever designed the interactive interior tour of the car on the Jaguar USA website—it’ll be a boon for those curious about the back seat and associated accouterments. Have a look at it to get your bearings before you trek to the dealership for a test drive.
Buying Into the Family
If you do buy an XE S, bask in the knowledge that you (along with the next Bond villain, who will be driving a Jaguar C-X75 in the coming installment of the 007 series) are part of a massive effort by Jaguar to propel the brand into true relevance.
At that press conference I mentioned earlier, Jag announced two all-new models it will sell in the U.S. in 2016 to set the standard for future models—one is this XE, and the other is the much anticipated F-Pace SUV. Each comes with technologies and design created with funds from Jaguar Land Rover’s new(ish) parent company, Tata Motors; each comes with a great—there’s that word again—guarantee, covered for five years or 60,000 miles, with 24-hour roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance. At the time the two vehicles were announced, it was clear to see they do indeed reflect the fiscal and innovative attention paid from their Indian overlords.
Consider them part of something big.