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Jaguar has made leaps and bounds since severing ties with Ford. Under new management, they have launched a flurry of models to replace their aging line-up, and the XE is the latest bourn from Coventry headquarters.

 

Slotting right below the mid-size XF, the XE is the brand’s first take on the compact executive segment since the not-so-loved X-Type. One glance at its proportions and it is clear who this cat is ready to pounce on – the BMW 3 Series.

 

 

The exterior design speaks volumes – it’s drop-dead gorgeous. With smooth swooping lines, large gaping air dams, and Jaguar’s signature curved headlights, the XE looks the business. Check the R-Sport designation (cue a comparison to BMW’s M Sport Package) and you get a restyled front bumper, side skirts, and applicable badging.

 

The back however, may need some extra loving as the bulging tail lamps look tacky for the otherwise classy exterior. The XF family lineage is clearly there, though one might criticize the XE for having too much of it. It may seem like a missed opportunity for the brand to really step in front of the otherwise bland looking competition (that’s you Audi A4), but it’s a compliment to the XF’s good looks as the similarities mean a sure fire way to please the masses – we’re sure the last thing Jaguar needs is another X-Type.

 

 

Thankfully the Jag’s contemporary good looks extend inside the cabin as well. There’s plenty of leather and aluminum to justify this cat’s compact executive classification in the animal kingdom. Worryingly though is the almost equal amount of hard and flimsy plastics spotted around the infotainment screen, steering wheel, and window switches.

 

It lacks that extra little bit of polish that the other German rivals have nailed. The head-up display for example, features a different font from the rest of the interior and glows a “hotel-alarm-clock” shade of orange. Meanwhile, the rest of the car’s interior glows a light shade of blue. Seats are comfortable and front legroom is first class but passengers in the rear will feel more cramped – such is the packaging restraints found in most of the cars in this compact segment.

 

 

While competitors offer a multitude of gasoline motors before their diesel, the folks from Coventry make it clear that they are bringing European flair first and foremost – that’s why the base motor on the XE is the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine codenamed the Ingenium.

 

Hit the start/stop button and the rackety diesel clatters to life. It spends little time cranking and fires to life almost instantly, even in the bitter Canadian winter. If you absolutely must have a gasoline motor, you’ll have to pony up an extra $3,500 for the proven 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that is shared with every other Jaguar, from the F-Type to the F-Pace.

 

 

But before you shout “Volkswagen! Nien!” and count the little four banger out, give it a chance and you will be surprised at what it can do. The turbo kicks in early, and the low rpm torque packs a mighty wallop – enough to launch the car from 0-60km/h in no time. Power is easy to modulate making exploits in tiny pockets of traffic a breeze, and the nearly 900 km range from the relatively small 53-litre tank makes this the perfect motor for a daily commuter. My only complaint is the increased amount of noise transmitted into the cabin compared to its German competitors.

 

During daily use scenarios, 90% of the power gets sent to the rear wheels through Jaguar’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics AWD system. Once it detects slip, it can send up to 90% of the power to the front wheels. When further paired with the near-industry-standard ZF 8-speed, it makes this Jaguar happy to dance in all weather conditions.

 

 

Throughout the week, I found myself attacking on-ramps with extra zest. Double tap the left paddle, and the ZF quickly drops two gears. Roll your right foot onto the throttle and you can feel the power shift between the four corners and the car carving its trajectory into the asphalt.

 

The company’s ample use of aluminum in the chassis architecture allows the XE to feel nimble while cornering. Body weight shifts gradually and the sedan doesn’t feel upset when encroaching the limit. It does feel wider than it looks, however, and the steering could use some extra responsiveness. It is numb on centre and needs more feel when compared to the segment leaders – namely the BMW 340i and Cadillac ATS.

 

 

Get the car moving at speed however, and the steering loads up pretty well. It offers the right amount of heft without feeling too artificial or over-boosted. It is by no means an M car (nor a purist’s car as it burns the wrong fuel) and that’s OK because it doesn’t cost as much as one either. But as is, the XE inspires a whole lot of driver confidence; and that’s a magic formula few have been able to establish in this segment.

 

Prices start at $54,000 for the XE 20d R-Sport. Our specific XE came with a long list of options that included a $2,000 Comfort and Convenience package (adding heated/vented front seats, power rear sunshade, powered trunk lid), the $3,100 Driver Assistance Package (surround camera, adaptive cruise), and the $2,600 Tech Package (InControl Touch Pro with Meridian Sound). A few aesthetic changes were added too including a $1,000 Head-up Display and $350 Black Pack, rounding out the sticker to $66,550.

 

 

As it stands, the luxury compact industry is jam packed with selection. Every mainstream automaker is looking for their piece of the pie. Shoppers looking to be pampered in a luxurious environment needn’t look further than Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Those who want a bit more fancy gadgetry have the Audi A4. The select few looking to sacrifice on the superficial items for a more raw driving experience have three real competitors – the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, and now the Jaguar XE. For those trailblazers who shun the beaten path, well, it’s nice to know that there is a new kitty on the block.

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