2020 Jaguar XE First Drive Review | Specs, photos, impressions, more

ST. TROPEZ, France — It’s tough out there for compact sports sedans, even top contenders like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Jaguar resorted to a big-winged, bestial XE Project 8 that toppled a Nürburbring record to try and gain some attention, but the regular 2020 Jaguar XE will have to attain relevance on its unwinged charms against stiff German competition. We piloted the updated underdog through jagged hills above coastal France to see how its improvements stack up.

For 2020, the XE receives a few subtle but effective styling tweaks — a resculpted front bumper, a wider and more purposeful grille, and a rear bumper with slimmer LED tail lamps that make the backend appear wider and more aggressive. Aerodynamic efficiency is slightly improved or equal to the previous model, depending on equipment. But the cabin receives more critical updates, specifically a much-needed upgrading of interior materials and trim. While higher-quality materials lend the XE a distinctly more luxurious feel, also welcome is a 12.3-inch driver display screen, Jag’s familiar InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment system (optional), and modern features like a wireless phone charging pad and a new steering wheel with updated illuminated controls. Small touches like wider, softer armrests, posher seat coverings, and more spacious door pockets also elevate the passenger experience — although the rear seats are tight at the knees and head for my 5’11” frame.

Speed freaks and diesel fanatics will be disappointed to learn that the XE’s engine options have, in Jaguar’s words, been “rationalized” for 2020, dropping the 380-horsepower supercharged V6 and 180 hp four-cylinder turbodiesel. The only available engines for 2020 are both carryover units: the turbocharged 247 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder (dubbed the S / P250), and the R-Dynamic S / P300, which is essentially the same mill with a bigger turbo producing 296 hp. Expect 0-60 mph times of 6.2 and 5.4 seconds, respectively. All-wheel drive is optional in the P250 model ($39,900 or $41,900 with AWD), and mandatory with the P300 ($46,295).

2020 Jaguar XE
2020 Jaguar XE2020 Jaguar XE

Click the gear selector into Drive, and the cabin feels quiet and well insulated as the XE accelerates. There’s a noticeable, but not enormous difference between the P250 and P300’s acceleration. The added torque of the bigger turbo aids in the midrange and upper end of the power delivery, but there’s also a subtle tradeoff in handling, as the mandatory all-wheel drive setup in the more powerful car adds 115 pounds of mass, which puts the P300 at 3,560 pounds. Both models turn in with a good, sharp response, and exhibit excellent body control and feel.

Superior handling might, in fact, be the XE’s biggest surprise, with its rock-solid chassis and overall dynamics inviting high-speed cornering and agile apex clipping. Both engines are competent, working well with the smooth-shifting ZF eight-speed. But there’s also a somewhat un-soulful aspect to the 2.0-liter inline-four engines. Power delivery is linear but not overtly charismatic or dramatic; the engine note is there, but it’s not particularly distinct or evocative. If anything, the XE’s strengths lie its prevailing sense of composure: the quiet cabin, smooth ride, and deft handling take center stage, especially since there’s no longer a screaming supercharged V6 to overshadow the chassis’s lovely balance.

2020 Jaguar XE2020 Jaguar XE2020 Jaguar XE

Which bring us to the aforementioned German competition. The XE can’t compete in shuttling around four full-sized adults comfortably — the rear quarters are simply unimpressive. And if you’re craving a driving experience to the soundtrack of a soulful engine, the XE’s two flavors of turbocharged fours don’t delight the senses with the bliss provided by the Alfa Romeo Giulia’s raucous 280 hp turbo four.

But the XE’s interior improvements and chassis strengths do conspire to elevate the Jaguar well beyond its previous generation’s offerings. The 2020 XE isn’t a conventional choice — it’s an outlier, but also a bit of an underdog. And if the XE already appealed to you, the 2020’s enhanced charms might present a solid case for straying off the beaten path.

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