2020 Jaguar XE first drive review: Even more reasons to consider the underdog
When the Jaguar XE hit the road four years ago, its mission was to best the segment-ruling BMW 3 Series. That original XE charmed us — it was nice to drive and not too shabby to look at. But time hasn’t been too kind to Jaguar’s smallest four-door, and its US sales pale in comparison to that of the BMW. So far this year, the 3 Series is outselling the XE almost eight to one.
Jaguar isn’t throwing in the towel, however, and its XE receives a number of updates for 2020. With a new look inside and out and a huge list of technology features, Jaguar’s compact sedan is poised to attract even more takers.
To perk up the exterior, the XE gets a reworked face and rump. The new front end has a slightly wider and taller grille, slimmer LED headlights and larger, lower air dams. Out back, the Jaguar’s taillights are also more streamlined, and the bumper gets a new rear valance in an effort to emphasize the sedan’s width.
All these changes create an XE that’s sharper than before, particularly on the R-Dynamic model, which gets sculpted front bumper winglets and sweet Y-spoke wheels. These visual updates are by no means drastic, but the extra attitude is certainly welcome.
Inside, redesigned seats greet front occupants, and the basic bones of the dashboard carry over. The XE’s cabin looks and feels more premium than before, thanks to standard leather upholstery and better material quality throughout. Soft-touch materials now blanket all major surfaces including the dash, center console and door panels. The door panels themselves are redone for improved ergonomics, gaining better grab handles, wider and softer armrests and bigger storage pockets.
Other cabin upgrades better link the XE to its stablemates. The XE R-Dynamic gets the steering wheel from the I-Pace EV, featuring metal paddle shifters. The center console features the SportShift gear selector and JaguarDrive control toggle from the F-Type. I have no issues saying goodbye to the previous XE’s rotary gear selector.
The biggest change inside the XE is the addition of Jaguar’s dual-screen InControl Touch Pro Duoinfotainment system, which is an optional upgrade. (The standard equipment is Jaguar’s non-Duo Pro, which only uses one screen.) As in other Jaguars, this system uses a 10-inch upper touchscreen that’s relatively responsive to commands, controlling navigation, the Meridian sound system and a 4G LTEWi-Fi hotspot. For anyone who isn’t a fan of InControl (many Roadshow editors aren’t), you can hand infotainment duties over to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, since both are standard.
Touch Pro Duo’s lower, 5.5-inch screen has two large rotary dials and is in charge of climate controls. This is a slick setup, and like the top screen, touch response on the 5.5-inch display is vastly improved. That said, the small icons on this screen are hard to accurately hit while driving — this proves especially distracting on my winding drive route through the French Alps.
The XE gets Jaguar’s first application of a wireless charging pad, though it’s optional. Anyone who doesn’t spring for the pad will still have two USB ports and three 12-volt outlets sprinkled throughout the interior to keep smart devices from going dead while out and about.
As for safety tech, all XEs come with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, front and rear parking sensors, a driver condition monitor and automatic high-beam headlights. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and a head-up display can be had as options. New for 2020 is an available camera-based rearview mirror that switches between a normal mirror and a screen, showing what’s directly behind when you have rear passengers obstructing the view out the back. This latter feature isn’t new, but it’s nice to see Jaguar adopting this tech.
The 2020 XE will be offered with two power levels in the US, both of which use a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. The XE P250 pumps out 247 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque and can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive. The R-Dynamic P300, meanwhile, offers 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, and is paired exclusively with all-wheel drive. Regardless of power output, the XE uses a ZF-built, eight-speed automatic transmission.
Sorry to say, the diesel four-cylinder and supercharged V6 engines get the ax for 2020 — next to no one bought them in the US. The P300 isn’t exactly a slouch, able to hit 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. But it’s no match for the now-departed, 380-horsepower XE, which could do the same spring in 4.8 seconds.
In all honesty, the P250 feels like it’ll be fine for most folks. Flip the drive mode switch to Dynamic and nudge the shifter to the left and to put the gearbox in Sport — the XE is on full-boil and quite entertaining. That said, gear shifts aren’t quite as crisp as what you’ll find in Audi and BMW sedans. Manual shift response is also muted; don’t even bother with the paddle shifters.
Where the XE really shines is in ride and handling. My test car’s adaptive dampers and 19-inch PirelliP-Zero tires keep everything surefooted in all situations. There’s little lean at corner entry, side-to-side weight transitions happen in a flash and I’ve got gobs of grip to carve through bends. Around really tight turns, the chassis lets you rotate the rear end around with a heavy application of throttle. The steering is lightly weighted, but nicely direct and oh so communicative.
In the P300, acceleration is livelier, and offers a still sharp demeanor while being tossed around. With its stellar steering, all-wheel-drive grip and 20-inch P-Zero tires, the P300 is an exciting drive on these twisty mountain roads. The added all-wheel-drive grip takes controlled tail wagging out of the equation, but it’s still an entertaining experience overall.
Best of all, ride quality — at least on nicely manicured French roads — is shockingly good no matter which power level you choose. With the suspension firmed up in Dynamic mode, overall stiffness over the few bumps I come across in France is nowhere near harsh. Flip the car into Comfort and it becomes downright pleasant through the city, not to mention silky smooth on the highway. I might feel differently once I get the XE back home on lousy Michigan roads, but for now, the Jaguar’s chassis tuning is some truly impressive work.
A worthwhile update
Pricing for the 2020 Jaguar XE P250 begins at $39,900, not including $995 for destination, when it arrives in dealers this summer. Tacking on all-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the bottom line. The range-topping R-Dynamic P300 (with its standard all-wheel drive) comes in at $46,295.
The updated XE offers a number of real improvements, from its better onboard tech to the sharper exterior design. Add in the excellent on-road manners, and you’ve got a real recipe for success. I’m not sure this will help the XE leap above the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class in sales, but now more than ever, Jaguar’s compact sport sedan is definitely worth a look.
Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.
The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content. https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/reviews/2020-jaguar-xe-preview/