Luxury automakers have a sedan problem.
Specifically, a lot of US buyers are not completely ignoring the segment, after building it up to awesome dimensions over the course of decades, beginning with the arrival of the legendary BMW 2002 back in the 1970s.
There’s long-term dread in the air, as consumers both old and young abandon the classic handling traits of sporty Euro four-doors in favour of high-riding SUVs and crossovers. Some new car buyers in the luxury realm, weaned on Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s, won’t even give a sedan a first look. A few carmakers are even talking about getting out of passenger cars altogether.
That said, automakers such as BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Lexus — the luxury Big Four — remain committed to sedans, largely because they have to. You simply can’t throw away something as impressive as the BMW 3-Series, the archetype of entry level luxury and seemingly forever the automotive gateway drug of choice for every newly minted Hollywood agent and East Coast junior law partner in the country, even as sales decline precipitously.
Furthermore, the Big Four’s competition lower down the food chain can’t take on the upper tier of luxury without compelling four-doors. Alfa Romeo is coming back the USA with the Giulia, and Jaguar has given us the XE.
We’ve had tons of fun with Jags in the past. So when the famous British marque let us borrow an XE 35t with all-wheel-drive, in “Polaris White” with the top R-Sport trim, we said, “Jolly good!”
Here’s what we thought:
Photos by Hollis Johnson.
The Jag landed at our office in New York, in a luminous Polaris White paint job. The car wears the colour well. The base vehicle is less than $40,000, but with the R-Sport trim, we're talking well over $50,000, loaded up on options.
Designer Ian Callum had his work cut out for him. The luxury sport sedan now assumes a familiar shape and must exude muscularity and refinement. For a Jaguar, a certain British panache is also on order, as is the spirit of coiled, catlike power.
The front end is superb, with all elements of the fascia in balance. Note those suave hood ridges, sort of like the darts in a well-sewn suit jacket.
With the XE in profile, Callum's genius shines. The car is all flow and proportion, with no single aspect overpowering any other. Added benefit: This Jag looks as if it has a need for speed.
The rear end on many cars can be a letdown, especially when you're talking about sporty luxury cars, where the idea is to create a haunchy, hunkered-down effect. Not so with the XE, which has a very sculpted posterior.
Narrow, slitted headlights are kind of a design cliché these days, but for a Jag they're de rigueur.
The effect isn't really duplicated with the tail lights, perhaps the only aspect of the XE that could use a rethink.
The rear seat is roomy, but it was comfortable enough for not-too-large adults and standard-issue children.
Well, you're not going to think you're tucked into a BMW. But the XE makes you feel like you can undertake some serious business. Every Jag I've sampled lately invites you to drive and drive hard, without pushing the hard driving on you.
More leaping cat -- and the nearly imperceptible R-Sport branding. This Jag is going up against BMW's M-Sport cars, Mercedes' AMG, Lexus' F-Sport, and Audi's S-Line cars.
Jaguar's infotainment systems have been a mixed bag for us. All the boxes are ticked off, from Bluetooth connectivity to capable GPS navigation. The 10.2-inch touchscreen nicely occupies some dashboard real estate, and the optional 17-speaker Meridian audio system is 825 watts of luscious. But the system itself, in our testing, has been a bit laggy and idiosyncratic at times.
The Jag transmission interface isn't for everybody. A rotating knob rises from the center console when you fire up the car.
We're talking about a nicely calibrated eight-speed automatic. You can toggle among driving modes using the buttons below the shifter knob. Engine stop-start, a fuel-saving and emissions-reducing feature, can be turned off if you find it annoying.
The supercharged, 3.0-litre V6 is a tasty power plant, putting out 340 horsepower with 332 pound-feet of torque on tap. The 0-60 mph dash is achieved in roughly 5 seconds.
Jaguar obviously has something of a track record for producing fine-driving cars that offer something just a little bit different from other luxury brands. BMW M's, for example, can be pretty burly, as can the Mercedes AMGs. Audi's S cars are derived from the company's long history in rally racing. Lexus's F-Sports are beautifully bolted together and are rewarding to drive both fast and not-so fast.
Jag's are supposed to provide thrills with dignity -- a well-dressed, grown-up package.
In this respect, the XE is a dandy piece of engineering. The design is winning, more suave than a Bimmer, less blingy than a Mercedes, cooler than a Lexus, more exciting than an Audi. For my money, the XE finds itself in aesthetic competition, really, with just the Maserati Ghibli. The Jag is a sexy British car, with all that entail, while the Ghibli is a sexy Italian car, with all that entails.
The XE 35t AWD R-Sport does its thing with an abundance of restraint. But does its thing nonetheless. The exhaust note is purposeful, the get-up-and-go is there on command, and the handling is crisp without being jerky or extreme. There's a lot of aluminium in the chassis, lightening the car up, but without making it feel insubstantial.
It's quietly different from the competition, but the question is, 'Can it stand out with quiet confidence?'
The answer is, 'Yes!' -- but that might not be enough to thrive in this segment. My sense is that you really need to move up to the R-Sport trim to get satisfaction. I'm not sure that Jag's base model we be able to duke it out successfully with the rest of the luxe sedans on the road.
For me, considering an XE would be a no-brainer, and the lowest price level, at about $US35,000, should be tempting. A no-frills R-Sport starts at around $US50,000, and even when you start pushing toward $US60,000, you're getting a lot of four-door for your dollars.
You could have said that the XE was an incredibly important vehicle for Jaguar, given the history of the segment. But over the past two years, the XE's thunder has been decisively stolen by the F-PACE, Jag's outstanding new SUV. The luxury market is shifting on its axis.
But that doesn't mean you don't need a compelling small sedan, if you have aspirations of taking on the market. And in that respect, the XE is exceptionally well-done. But you have to ask yourself if exceptional is enough to cut it.
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