Test Drive: 2017 Jaguar XE Diesel

BMW fanboys may wish to track down a stress-ball, or a stick to bite down on: Jaguar’s new luxury sports sedan contender is on the scene, and it’s really, really good.

It feels frisky. Nimble. Naughty.

When it comes to handling and steering and the feel of the new XE at the tips of your fingers and toes, this one is, probably, the one to have. It flaunts the sharp precision I love about my favourite sports sedans (BMW 340i, Cadillac ATS, Audi A4 S Line, etc), but more of it. There’s a layer of extra fine-tuning and calibration apparent. I usually expect this sort of precise feel in something like a Porsche, or a Jaguar performance coupe – perhaps like the F-Type, which donated its suspension design to the XE. Most notably? The XE requires mischievously small, albeit deliberate, inputs to flit it around winding roads. It feels frisky. Nimble. Naughty.

Jaguar’s DNA has been well applied to the way the XE feels: which is to say, like an authentic sports car, and a smaller machine than it is. And this stuff – all of it – only gets better, the harder you push it. Here’s a machine with the sort of feisty composure that makes you smile when you’re driving the absolute bejesus out of it.

Ride quality is a potential compromise, though. Shoppers coming out of an actual sports or performance coupe into an XE R-Sport, like the tester, will feel right at home. Those arriving from a luxury sedan will feel, probably, a little too much of the road beneath when said road is a rougher one. Ride rarely degrades into discomfort, though it can become noisy and busy, thanks to the big wheels and two-finger thick tires. Suspension tuning sees ride quality stay consistent, if stiff, even on progressively rougher surfaces. Ultimately, driving enthusiasts willing to give up a little smoothness and comfort in exchange for authentically entertaining handling will be happy with the compromise. Cardigan enthusiasts who spend Friday evenings on Pinterest admiring various flans will not.

The diesel-powered tester put away just 7.2L/100km over the course of my test drive: we’re talking Toronto to Sudbury, and almost all of the way back, without stopping to fill. I’ve spent more feeding a gerbil. Still, pairing the diesel mill with this sportier R-Sport package made me wish for an extra few hundred horsepower, a lot of the time. The diesel engine doesn’t have the guts to really push the XE’s chassis.

But it does pull 106 kilograms from the XE’s weight, mostly from directly over the front axle. As a result, diesel powered units might have the lightest and most crisp steering of any XE available currently.

It’s about one second between hitting the ENGINE START button, and the Jaguar XE’s new “Ingenium” two-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder engine humming to life on a very cold morning. Just for a moment, you hear a whiff of telltale diesel sound effects, and feel a hint of a buzz through the seats and steering wheel. Then, once there’s just a touch of heat generated, it smoothes out, quiets down, and feels, sounds and conducts itself with the same refinement, quiet and creaminess as a comparable gas burner.

If you still think diesel engines are smoky, clattery, and sound like a blender full of wrenches while vigorously barfing soot, a few minutes at the wheel of a car like this will convert you.

Not a diesel fan? A supercharged gasoline V6 engine, with 340 horsepower is available now, and even higher performing variants are (apparently) en route.

The diesel generates 180 horsepower, and well over 300 lb-ft of torque. All Wheel Drive is standard. Equipped thusly, the tester targets a shopper active on the roads all year around, and one concerned primarily with minimal fuel use and refueling than all-out firepower.

Not that there isn’t firepower. Pushed, the XE launches ahead on a wave of smooth, shapeless torque that floods to the wheels immediately and stays on strong as the tachometer flits around the mid-4000 rpm range, the eight-speed ZF transmission ratcheting invisibly through the gears.

The full-throttle sound isn’t unlike a small four-cylinder turbo gas engine: a smooth hum, albeit deeper and more growly than, say, an A4 or 328i. Torsos are pushed into seatbacks vigorously in the process. The torque builds fast from just off of idle, and a hilariously small amount of throttle and revs are required to gush the XE along in traffic. Give it half a boot’s worth of pedal, and it’ll whisk the XE well past the speed limit, on the sly, lickety split.

So: the XE looks good – a fresh and energetic and aggressive new face, in a sea of familiar faces. And it’s silly-good on fuel. And the handling and steering makes me giggle.

The styling is pretty swell, too.

Outside, the XE, finished in black with the Black Pack, looks a measure more youthful, athletic and curvaceous than the German stuff, and more conventional than the Lexus IS. This isn’t a huge sedan, but with detail galore applied to a relatively compact palette, it’s brimming with visual energy. Taut proportions, a great stance, scowling fascias, and a real presence are conveyed. From nearly any angle, you picture it whisking an ambassador out of a hot-zone in a military thriller.

The cabin is rich, depthy and complex. Numerous colors, and tiers of controls and edges and angles and materials, all intersect and layer over one another, a stark contrast to the more play-it-safe approach you’ll see in an A4 or 3-Series. The Audi and BMW have more of the right materials in more of the right places, but the XE’s cabin looks truly unique: equal parts tech and luxury, executed with a modern, almost playful use of colour and texture to create something distinctive.

The wide-screen infotainment system is responsive, connects quickly to all gadgets, and has vivid graphics – even if some functions are a bit complicated to use. The shift dial adds a sense of theatre as it rises out of the console, too. Add in the control array for the drive mode selector behind that shift dial, and the full-colour screen between the instruments, and you’ve got a cabin with tech applied plentifully.

Rear seat space is not applied as plentifully: roominess is adequate, nothing more, in all directions for average-sized adults – though an awkward and small shape to the rear door openings mean some finagling is required during entry and exit. If you’re not tall or leggy, the rear seats are a decent place to chill out, once you’re in and seated.

Other notes?

Though the overall brightness of the headlight system could be a shade more powerful, the reach, spread and saturation of the low and high beams, even far up the roadway, is bang on. Further, the automatic high-beam sensor only mucked things up and blasted oncoming traffic once in the course of my 1,300 km test drive.

The lane assist system, further, nudges the XE back into its lane quickly and almost startlingly when required, giving drivers a stern warning while improving safety, all at once.

As sports sedans go, this one’s a beauty of a highway cruiser: great lights, comfy and supportive seats, nicely muted noise levels, and a highway ride that’s locked-on, not to stiff, and not too soft, all help pass the hours quickly and comfortably. Finally, the Meridian stereo is a worthy long-distance travel companion, with deep and potent bass, and plenty of clarity on offer from all playback sources.

Gripes? Some of the interior control placements for window switches, and the drive mode selector, are a bit fussy. Further, at 25 below, it’s a while before the XE starts pumping usable heat into the cabin, and the aluminum engine block sees that heat disappear quickly when parked. Here’s a good candidate for a remote start system.

In all, fantastic fuel efficiency, a unique cabin, and highly entertaining driving dynamics make this one a priority test drive. Come for all of that stuff, and stay for the styling. My God, this is a stud of a machine. Pricing from $45,000 with standard AWD and diesel power.

2017 Jaguar XE AWD R-Sport Diesel
Engine Displacement: 2.0L Turbodiesel
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 180 @ 4,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 318 lb-ft @ 1,750-2,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 7.8L/100km (City), 5.8L/100km (Highway), 6.9L/100km (Combined)
Cargo Space: 450 L
2017 Jaguar XE AWD R-Sport Diesel
Base Price $57,700
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,500
Price as Tested $64,650
Optional Equipment $8,550 – Technology Pack ($2,600), Black Pack ($350), Driver Assist Pack ($3,100), Venom Wheels ($1,500), Head Up Display ($1,000)
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.3
9 Styling
9 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
10 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value