Yes, Jaguar has been down this path before—the compact car segment. But the new-for-2017 Jaguar XE represents a thorough rethink of its strategy, something that simply wasn't possible more than 15 years ago when the X-Type first hit the road.
DON'T MISS: Our 2017 Jaguar XE expert review
But let's not focus on the past. This Jag looks forward to the future, even if its styling is clearly derivative of the larger XF. Even though it channels its mid-size, 5-Series-rivaling brother, the XE wears its curves and occasional creases better in our eyes. Inside, we're not quite as enthralled with the XE, with its stark dashboard and tight rear seat accommodations, but it still manages to feel more evocative and special than many of its rivals.
It's down the road where the XE really comes into its own, however. There are three engines on offer: a gas turbo-4 called the 25t, a diesel turbo-4 dubbed the 20d, and a supercharged V-6-powered 35t. All are mated to an 8-speed automatic that sends power to the rear wheels (or all four when so-equipped).
The 25t will be the most popular, and it's a sweet little motor with 240 horsepower on tap. At the opposite end of the spectrum sits the muscular 35t, delivering 340 ponies. The 20d is the surprising charmer as it combines 318 pound-feet of torque with up to 42 mpg on the highway, per the EPA.
Moreover, the XE is a lightweight thanks to extensive use of aluminum in its suspension and structure. On the road, it channels the BMW 3-Series... or at least the 3-Series we used to love before the current model plumped up and became softer. The Jag is simply a delight to hustle through a curvy road, with its predictable rear-wheel drive handling and remarkably communicative steering. Its suspension is firm, not plush in Jaguar tradition, which endows it with flat cornering at the expense of some roughness over pockmarked terrain.
Jaguar itself might as well be all-new, since the XE is as sporty and polished a sedan as we've ever seen from this traditional British brand.
2017 Jaguar XE V6 S
2017 Jaguar XE V6 S
And what makes the XE so great isn't just its driving experience. A big 10.2-inch infotainment screen sits up on the dashboard and offers quick responses and one of the most natural navigation map interfaces we've seen in a car.
Value isn't something we normally associate with Jaguar, but the XE is a steal compared to its BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class rivals. The base XE 25t comes in at under $36,000, equipped about like a $41,000-plus BMW 330i.
After an underwhelming compact luxury start, Jaguar has managed to build a car that hits the bullseye between sport, luxury, value, and style in a way that few rivals have in years.
Will the Jaguar XE have what it takes to stand out in this especially competitive field of nominees for The Car Connection's Best Car to Buy 2017 competition? We'll know soon.