Despite the brand’s formidable performance street cred, Jaguar’s success with building a compact sport sedan has been unimpressive. First, there was the Ford Mondeo-based X-Type that looked every inch a shrunken XJ and delighted with a premium interior and all-wheel-drive, but never cast off its “Ford in Jag clothing” image. Then, came the XE – a legit rear-drive Jaguar with sleek bodywork that’s struggled to find a place among German, Japanese, American, and even Korean sport sedans. Despite my own reservations, it turns out there’s much to like.
Sharp Conservative Style
Let’s go ahead and start with the styling. I’m of the old school that a Jaguar should have haunches over the rear wheels and a long hood over the fronts. No doubt the XE is handsome with delicate lines over 19” alloy wheels, angry mesh grille, black trim, evil headlamps, and thin rear spoiler, but it seems a bit too German in profile. It would be sublime if for the next generation designers cribbed the i-Pace crossover’s elegantly arched front and rear fenders – wholly modern, but alluding to Jaguar’s rich past too.
The interior is more keeping with Jaguar expectations given its cozy confines. Diamond-stitched leather seats are heated/ventilated and are more nimble than a gymnast. Meridian Surround audio, dual-zone climate control, and power sunroof add comfort. As with recent Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, our XE has a nearly all-glass cockpit with reconfigurable flatscreen instruments, touchscreen for navigation/audio/phone, and smaller touchscreen below for climate controls and minor audio. Jaguar infotainment controls are not the easiest to use, but after a few days, they make sense.
And all of the expected safety options are checked: Lane keep assist, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise, high speed emergency braking, and rear cross path detection. A rearview camera-mirror eliminates obstacles in your vision, but driving a Jaguar is about looking ahead and the head-up display keeps your eyes there. Powertrain engineers skipped big engines and headed straight to the Jaguar Land Rover engine shop instead.
Peppy Efficient Power
Under the sculpted hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 247 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. It all connects to the rear wheels through a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic transmission. Fully throttled, the cat can scat from 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds on the way to a 120 mph top speed. Fuel economy is rated a frugal 25/34-MPG city/highway.
From behind the wheel, the XE feels light on its wheels like a sports car and there’s plenty of power for everyday use. Hard acceleration will challenge the powertrain, but the suspension provides the right balance of firm handling and absorption of rough pavement. Adjustable drive modes configure the powertrain for Snow/Ice/Rain (bad weather) Eco (saves fuel), Comfort (Goldilocks setting), or Sport (more sensitive throttle, higher shift points).
I assumed the rear-drive Jag would be a nightmare when 7” of snow arrived one morning. Turns out, the snow mode did a great job of reducing torque to the wheels and configuring the traction system for slick roads. It never put a wheel wrong.
My best friend and former boss each owned Jaguar X-Types. Both liked their cars very much, but they were never the legit Jag that is the XE. Stylists should add a bit more Jaguar flair to the bodywork, but the XE is an undeniably handsome little sedan that delights with every drive. A base price $39,900 makes it a pretty good value too, but our mostly-loaded test model rose to a very luxurious $56,030. Competitors include the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series, Genesis G70, and Cadillac CT4.
2020 Jaguar XE P250 S
- Five-passenger, RWD Sedan
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter T4, 8-spd trans
- Output: 247hp/269 lb.-ft. torque
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 19”/19” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Comfort, Performance
- Fuel economy: 25/34 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Solihull, UK
- Base/As-tested price: $39,900/56,030