2017 Jaguar XE R-Sport Review

An Alternative to the Segment’s Usual Suspects

If you didn’t know any better you’d think the premium midsize sedan segment was limited to German and Japanese offerings, with a couple Americans mixed in for good measure.

Of course, that’s not the case, and the 2017 Jaguar XE serves as a not-so-subtle reminder. In a market where most folks prefer to play it safe with known commodities, this Brit certainly stands out from the crowd. While the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class are all respectable choices, they’re about as common as a seasonal cold. Like sneezing at a sermon, this Jag, on the other hand, is sure to turn heads. And just like its adversaries from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the XE is available a handful of ways, including the V6-powered XE R-Sport.

An Everyday Sports Sedan

Wide-ranging would be the best way to describe the XE’s lineup, with plenty of trim and powertrain combinations that cater to everything from casual commutes to opulent excursions. Somewhere in between is the R-Sport, representing what is best described as the sweet spot in the sedan’s lineup. Providing a performance bent while remaining completely useable as a daily driver, this is the version of the XE that’s capable of going up against the Mercedes-AMG C43 or Audi S4 while remaining posh and polite in a typically British fashion.

The Jaguar XE R-Sport we tested features a supercharged six-cylinder under the hood that churns out enough horsepower and torque to nip at the heels of the C43 and S4 without going overboard. The 3.0-liter engine is good for 340 horsepower to go along with 332 lb-ft of torque — figures that are just fine for this application. The full breadth of torque comes online at 4,500 rpm, which is a far cry from the 1,370 rpm at which the S4’s turbocharged engine reaches peak torque, but it’s served in a far more linear fashion. While the Audi suffers from a mild bout of lag while its twin turbos spool, the Jaguar builds torque far more steadily while sustaining it for about as long.

Mated to the engine that Jaguar Land Rover leans on so often in its cars and sport utilities is an eight-speed automatic transmission built by ZF that’s usually stellar. Unfortunately it proved to be anything but in our tester. Downshifts were often harsh and obtrusive, sending unwelcome surges through the cabin as the car slowed. Traditionally smooth in other applications, including the ferocious F-Type, the gearbox simply wasn’t up to snuff around town.

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Making matters worse was bizarre throttle mapping that led to the engine responding to throttle inputs too abruptly at times while too slowly at others — particularly with the drive selector set to Eco mode. Switching the transmission to its Sport setting and the drive selector to Normal or Dynamic modes improved transmission and throttle behavior immensely, but it did so at the peril of fuel economy. Rated at 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) combined, our all-wheel-drive tester finished the week closer to 17 mpg (14.2 L/100 km).

Despite those disappointments, the R-Sport’s ride was an enjoyable one. While uneven pavement led to the sounds of a few thumps and thuds penetrating the cabin, what was audible was far worse than what was felt. Even the largest potholes we encountered were no match for the sedan’s smooth suspension.

Better still, the ride, handling and powertrain easily transformed from supple to sporty when necessary. While the XE’s character doesn’t differ as much depending on drive mode as the AMG C43, it does skew toward the sporty side. Its personality is best described as eager, responding to stabs of the throttle enthusiastically while tackling fast turns with ease. While the electric power steering system isn’t overly communicative, its ratio is tight and turn-in response surprisingly sharp. In fact, it was only our tester’s winter tires that limited its capability in corners. The car’s brakes, meanwhile, did well to scrub speed smoothly when traveling at higher velocities, though they performed with pulsating inconsistency around town.

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Dynamic Design; Cramped Cabin

The XE may be the smallest sedan in Jaguar’s product portfolio, but the brand’s flowing design language is executed to perfection on these shrunken proportions. Even with the R-Sport body kit, the XE remains understated while standing out from its rivals as different. While the beautiful blue color of our tester is undoubtedly deserving of much of the credit, the XE was quick to turn heads wherever it roamed. (The paint did, however, seem rather thin, with winter taking quite the toll on the car as evidenced by countless scratches in the finish — a shame for a pricey optional color.)

Inside, the XE’s sporting prowess isn’t exactly on full display, though it still offers an immersive, cockpit-like atmosphere. Like the exterior, the cabin is chock-full of modern Jag design elements that flow nicely into each other, starting with the wraparound dash. Unfortunately, the cabin’s a little heavy on the plastics, with plenty of cheap-feeling bits strewn throughout the cabin. Our tester’s interior had some added performance flare through the $800 carbon-fiber veneer finish on the dash and center console, though more would have been nice — particularly in this R-Sport model.

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Stepping up to the V6 version of the R-Sport trim adds $14,300 ($13,600 in Canada) to the price of a base XE, but brings with it a laundry list of standard features. It starts at $50,025, while adding all-wheel drive brings the starting price to $52,525 (the V6-powered R-Sport in Canada starts at $57,500, and only comes equipped with all-wheel drive). Included in that price, aside from the V6 engine, is the aforementioned body kit, as well as features like a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, albeit plastic ones. The infotainment system is a pretty good one that runs through an eight-inch touchscreen on the center stack and includes a bunch of built-in apps like Spotify. Curiously, the car features only one USB port and doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

On the safety side, features range from adaptive headlights and lane-keep assist to rain-sensing wipers and emergency brake assist. Taking those safety features to the next level with adaptive cruise control, self-parking and traffic sign recognition, among others, is a pricey optional package at $3,495 ($3,350 in Canada) but is worth every penny.

The biggest complaint about the car’s cabin comes from how little space is on offer no matter the seating position. The best assumption to make is that Jaguar tailored the confines of the XE’s cabin to accommodate a quartet of professional jockeys. Headroom is poor in either row of seats, while legroom in the back is barely enough to fit an adult. Worse still, outward visibility isn’t great from the driver’s seat. The A-pillars are awfully wide, creating big blind spots, while the rear window is equally difficult to see out of.

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The Verdict: 2017 Jaguar XE R-Sport Review

While a valiant effort, the 2017 Jaguar XE R-Sport simply lacks the same level of refinement and sophistication in its drive as the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class, this sedan’s chief competitors. It’s also not a pure performer either, this despite its taut chassis and agile handling. Alas, as AutoGuide.com Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai so eloquently put it, not every Jaguar can be an F-Type.

It’s not, however, as if the Jaguar XE is a bad car by any stretch, and features a well-crafted interior that, while simplistic in its approach, offers all the amenities expected of a car in its class. It’s only the heavy dose of plastic that brings the cabin down a notch, leaving it feeling a step below many of its rivals. But it does well to stand out from those adversaries — mainly the German ones — and if nothing else, provides an alternative to the segment’s usual suspects.