Back in 2002 when the Jaguar brand—ensconced amongst the leather-and-burled-walnut elite—moved abruptly down market with its X-Type sedan, executives described it as the “democratization of luxury.”
Except that the X-Type had very little Jaguar in its DNA. Cramped, underpowered, and filled with Ford switchgear, the X-Type was a symbol for a troubled brand flailing for recognition and volume against the powerful German and Japanese competition. It died after one generation, falling dreadfully short of its sales expectations and without a replacement in the wings.
Meet the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid—sort of a 918 with the engine relocated to the front to make room for big comfy chairs in back. Not really. Actually, no part numbers of consequence get shared between the hypercar and this sedan. But the decision to electrify the top dog second-gen Panamera leveraging 918 technology was made just as the Spyder was getting off the ground. Developing this sedan powertrain from scratch without copying off the 918’s homework would not have been practical—especially the complex control strategies for blending the combustion and electric power under acceleration and the regenerative and friction forces during braking. McLaren and Ferrari aren’t in the sedan biz, so it might be a while before a true competitor emerges.
Ford oversight might have helped improve Jaguar’s assembly line quality, but shared platforms did the English brand few favors. Since being freed from its Blue Oval restraints, Jaguar has seen a design and engineering turnabout under the relatively laissez-faire ownership of Tata Group.
Nowhere might this be more visible than in the XE sedan, Jaguar’s potent entry against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4. It’s a difficult design task for a brand known for sleek, sinewy cars to truncate that ethos into a compact footprint, but the smallest Jaguar carries stylish, elegant lines and a rearward design bias that makes the Jaguar look ready to pounce. You know, like a cat.
Similar to the X-Type only in sharing an overall length near 184 inches, the XE represents a redefinition of the compact sports sedan segment. One of the more exciting vehicles to drive in a recent comparison test, the XE won plaudits for not requiring Sport mode activation to spur spirited transport.
“It’s hard to choose between this and the BMW 330i for the best Normal/Drive programing and tuning,” said road test editor Chris Walton. “It’s quick to recognize throttle squeeze, hills, and braking.” Walton also praised the XE’s 2.0-liter Ingenium turbo four-cylinder engine, which cranks out 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque (note: an upgraded 247-hp turbo-four is on the way for the 2018 model year). The engine’s connection to the eight-speed ZF automatic is seamless and smooth through most acceleration requests, and gearing seems set for performance.
“Excellent ride and handling balance,” said associate editor Scott Evans. “Ride is appropriately firm for a sports sedan, but not jarring or harsh. Chassis is eager to turn in and take a set. There’s nicely weighted steering, linear throttle, and a firm, easily modulated brake pedal. The engine and transmission calibration is very good. It’s smooth and always in the right gear.” Technical director Frank Markus felt positively too. “The Jag feels light and nimble. It’s a very satisfying car to toss around,” he said.
But there were a few hiccups. Both Motor Trend online senior production editor Zach Gale and I experienced long delays for full-throttle upshifts at redline. And empirical testing didn’t bear out the Jag’s anecdotal on-the-road thrills. In our testing, the XE is one of the slower entry-luxury sedans to 60 mph (a still-decent 6.6 seconds) and in the quarter-mile (15.0 seconds at 94.0 mph). It also was one of the slowest of the bunch on our figure eight (26.4 sec @ 0.70 g), and had a big competitive gap in braking from 60 mph (at 123 feet).
Jaguars are known for opulent ride control, and the XE doesn’t disappoint. I sensed a plushness to the suspension and a surprising dignity for a small car. There’s no feeling of clatter, rush, or jounce. “Bumps handled very nicely,” Evans said. “Well controlled, and more noise makes it into the cabin than actual impact.”
Inside, the XE is hit-or-miss, as though Jaguar wrestled with hitting cost targets. That struck me as a bit odd. Although the starting price of a Prestige 25t is a fair $42,395, our tester peaked at $50,458—much more expensive than the competitors that offered more for less. With the British pound weakening against the dollar (thanks, Brexit), you would think Jaguar could be more aggressive in its overseas market pricing or content levels.
Evans noted that interior noise levels are very good: “Jag clearly sweated it.” And the trunk space is voluminous though short from top to bottom. But we’ll accept that tradeoff in exchange for having a standard-issue spare tire.
We took issue with some of Jaguar’s cut-rate interior fitments. “If you’re gonna be stylish and sexy, you had better be stylish and sexy inside and out,” said senior features editor Jonny Lieberman. “The Jag fails to bring the desirableness of the exterior to the inside.”
Touches such as the metallic slats of the climate control evoke luxury, but the plasticky paddle shifters scream cheap. The front seats are firm, perhaps a bit too hard for some, and the seat bottom lacks sufficient thigh support for those drivers with long hip-to-knee ratios.
A note to Jaguar regarding the questionable ergonomics and quirky locations of controls that made little sense: English eccentricity for its own sake does not endear you to people accustomed to German pragmatism or Japanese practicality. The decisions regarding placement of the steering column adjustment, seat-memory buttons, stereo volume control, and mirror and window switches seem to have been made after a night in the pubs watching West Bromwich Albion lose yet another heartbreaker. We also repeat our opposition to Jaguar’s choice of a rotary shifter, which easily finds Park or Drive, but proves frustrating when you are trying to find Reverse in a hurry.
Meanwhile, the infotainment system demonstrated such glitchiness that we were trotting out our stale Lucas Electrics prince of darkness jokes. I suffered a full system freeze that still did not reboot after pulling over and shutting down the car for a few minutes; it didn’t work properly until the next morning. Associate online editor Kelly Pleskot had the SiriusXM volume randomly shut off a few times, and there were general complaints about the user interface of the touchscreen icons not executing commands—especially among the inscrutable maps functions. If you are still worried about Jaguar’s long-distant legacy of reliability problems, you get a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty, compared to pretty much everyone else’s four-year, 50,000-mile deal.
A real miss is the cramped rear seat. Despite having the freedom to play with five more inches of wheelbase (at 111.6 inches) and three more inches of width (at 72.8 inches) than the X-Type, the XE’s back seat area is claustrophobic. That is, if you can even access it in the first place. If you are a passenger taller than 5 feet 10 inches and your driver is of similar size, it’s nearly impossible to en pointe into the back seat’s narrow footwell. And the tradeoff for the car’s cool, sloping roofline and slit windows is that even 5-foot-8-inch passengers risk clonking their heads getting in and out of the rear seats. Once inside, the lumbar support is aggressive, and the view out is crimped. It’s a place best suffered briefly.
Overall, Jaguar has made great strides with the XE. It can now be mentioned in the same conversation as the segment leaders rather than cast aside with a dismissive smirk. But though its handling and ride feel have given its competitors a mark to shoot for, the XE leaves too many unticked boxes. As astutely summarized by senior features editor Jason Cammisa: “What a wonderful car to drive, incredibly stable, with great steering. I just wish the interior looked and felt more special.”