Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2020 Jaguar XE

NICE, France – It’s absurd that a car that looks as good as this could be out of vogue, but it is. This new Jaguar XE sport sedan isn’t as popular as it should be, simply by virtue of not being an SUV.

That’s a real shame because Jaguar has taken its XE – an already really good car – and honed, polished, and updated the details that needed some attention, and made it even better. What used to be a sporty, compact luxury sedan is now better equipped and a better value than before.

A fresh, more aggressive face

Seeing the new car, it looks fresh and contemporary, but the styling updates are subtle enough to require a careful eye to spot. Up front, the new XE wears a revised grille that is both wider and shorter, lending visual width, while the lower air intake vents are enlarged and moved outward as well.

Around the back, the bumper is reshaped and the valance widened to again help give greater visual presence, as well as improving aerodynamics. The standard LED head- and taillights are also reshaped slightly, contributing to an overall slightly more aggressive look that’s most successful with the XE rolling on the optional 20-inch wheels seen on the red car in the photos.

With such tidy front and rear overhangs, XE is well proportioned, but Jaguar’s desire to put no unnecessary embellishments in the design has meant that to some, it may seem a little too austere for a luxury car.

Interior improvements for the eyes and fingertips

Jaguar’s research showed that drivers of the outgoing XE considered the interior design to be one of the car’s best assets, so again, the styling updates are minimal, but important for functional reasons. Reshaped door panels provide wider arm rests and useful storage cubbies, while the seats have been reworked to provide greater comfort. Touchpoints throughout have been improved with more extensive use of soft-touch, and premium veneer surfaces than before, adding to the overall sensation of luxury.

We found the front seat accommodations on our test cars to be first rate, with a great balance between style, long-distance comfort, and support during spirited driving. The backseat remains cozy for a pair of grown humans, with headroom and legroom falling short of most competitors’ models. Stuffing three adults back there will be even less comfortable.

Jaguar has added more technology to the XE’s interior, as well. Wireless charging is a welcome function to keep the clutter of wires at bay, while Jaguar’s ClearSight rear-view mirror system is a bit of gimmickry that we could do without. The image captured by a wide-angle, rear-facing camera mounted in the roof-top shark-fin antenna is displayed on the rear-view mirror. In theory this provides an unobstructed view to the rear of the car if the backseat is filled with people or stuff that might otherwise obscure the outward vision. In practice, we found it difficult to focus on the displayed image in a quick glance, while driving, and switched it off, never to be switched on again.

New displays emphasize clarity, ease of use

The biggest update to the interior focuses on what Jaguar calls the human–machine interface (HMI). The climate and seat temperature controls are actuated through a pair of large, easy-to-use rotary dials that work with a glass panel featuring pictograms and a handful of easy-to-see digital buttons. It looks slick and works well.

Above that, Jaguar’s latest infotainment system, dubbed InControl Touch Pro Duo operates through a 10-inch touchscreen. While falling short of the systems found in competitive Audi or BMW models, Jaguar’s latest effort is a quantum leap improvement over the old system, and now integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Traditional gauges are eschewed in favour of a 12.3-inch display screen in the driver’s binnacle. It’s configurable to allow prominence to speedometer and tachometer, trip computer information, or even a large map screen. Our test cars also featured a head-up display that disappears if the driver wears polarized sunglasses.

V6 makes its exit

The outgoing XE offered up a choice of powertrains including a diesel and a superb, supercharged V6. For 2020, neither engine is available in North America. In fact, no V6 is available for any market anymore. Canadians will have two flavours of XE, both available with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic delivering power to all four wheels.

While most manufacturers have seemingly given up on logic and reasoning with their alphanumeric naming systems, Jaguar’s make some sense. The entry level XE is the P250 that speaks to its power output of 250 PS (247 hp). The upper trim – the P300 – delivers 300 PS (296 hp).

Both P250 and P300 models were driven on our test loop on the legendary driving roads near the Côte d’Azur, and while the former has adequate power for spirited driving, having more is better, and the latter was definitely preferred.

That said, neither configuration offers the linear thrust of the six-cylinder, up-level engines from BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or Genesis. To suggest the sweet V6 from last year’s XE is missed, is an understatement, and not just because of its power. The sounds emitted by Jaguar’s 2.0-litre, inline-four are not particularly melodic, and no four-cylinder we’ve experienced can match the smoother harmonics of a good six-cylinder either. The XE’s engine is adequate, but the rest of the car is special enough that it just feels like it deserves something suitably spicy under the hood, too, even if just as an option for enthusiasts.

Still, Jaguar claims that globally, too few V6 XEs were purchased, and with sedans already an unfashionable alternative to SUVs, perhaps we should be happy to have a new XE at all.

Agile and confident on the road

Jaguar has been using variations of the XE’s eight-speed gearbox for years in various models. It’s a great transmission, but it seemed tuned here to optimize fuel efficiency over sportiness, even when Dynamic drive mode and “S” shift mode were selected. During some hard running up and down the serpentine mountain roads, the Jag often fell flat on its powerband because the transmission was reluctant to drop down an extra gear, or would upshift too soon. Fortunately, the XE can be shifted manually via a pair of large steering wheel paddles, and driving enthusiasts will enjoy making good use of them.

Dynamically, the XE’s greatest strength is its handling. The steering feel is very good and the effort through the wheel is not artificially heavy, helping to make the Jag feel very nimble, which it is. We had the opportunity to try a P250 with rear-wheel drive (destined for US dealers, but not ours) and the lightweight four-cylinder and lack of all-wheel-drive mechanicals up front help the nose feel almost effervescent in its handling. Inputs can be precisely dialled in and the XE becomes as playful a partner as anything in the class, and notably better than most.

The P300 AWD feels heavier in the nose, but only slightly, and only noticeable when driven back-to-back with the RWD car. The added grip afforded by the all-wheel drive system meant that on some of the damp and cool mountain roads, we could still go hard-charging into a corner with full confidence there would always be ample grip to pull us out the other side with gusto and control. The brakes offered excellent linearity, bite and solid stopping power, even after some serious downhill runs.

The XE’s ride quality is quite good, even when wearing those enormous 20-inch wheels and ultra-low-profile tires, though in fairness, the test roads were afflicted with precious few Canadian-style potholes. So it is tough to get a real-world ride assessment for our frost-heaved reality. Wind noise is especially stifled, while road and engine noise are decently suppressed too.

Jaguar has been riding high (literally and figuratively) lately with a pair of widely celebrated SUVs – the F-Pace and the electric I-Pace. While this significant update to the XE is unlikely to set any sales records, nor break any new ground within the compact luxury sedan segment, it is nevertheless an attractive offering in a still highly competitive and thoroughly enjoyable group. Jaguar’s new XE makes being unfashionable look – and feel – so good.

The Jaguar XE arrives in Canadian showrooms in summer 2019.

Pricing: 2020 Jaguar XE AWD

XE SE P250: $49,900
XE R-Dynamic SE P300: $55,800