The XE tackles corners with the best of them while generating a surprising amount of grip.
Sedan sales in general have cooled off with the crossover market takeover; however the luxury compact segment is one that has remained relatively hot over the last few years. Stiff competition has pushed these sporty sedans from entry-level cars wearing a brand to luxury machines well worthy of their storied badges. If you look beyond the German rivals, you can find some truly unique and exciting options. The Alfa Romeo Giulia (reviewed here) and the Jaguar XE are the first to come to mind.
Each of these slightly less mainstream options has its own little edge, and for Jaguar it is certainly the diesel powertrain option. In a time where diesel cars have almost entirely disappeared from the market, Jaguar stands alone in the segment as the only oil burner. Is the diesel enough to give the Jag the competitive edge it needs to survive? We got behind the wheel of the 2019 Jaguar XE 20d R-Sport to find out.
Firstly, let’s take a minute to appreciate just how gorgeous the XE is, especially when equipped with the R-Sport package and its sporty appearance goodies. I haven’t loved everything Jaguar has put together over the last decade or so, but every once in a while the magic shines through and the proportions of the XE are just perfect to my eyes. It’s sleek, powerful, and very business-like looking, exactly what a small luxury sports sedan like this should be.
Finished in Fuji White and hunkered down over nice 19” alloy wheels the XE is, in my mind at least, the best-looking car in the segment. I also like that opting for the diesel doesn’t relegate you to a base model trim. Our tester enjoys all the aggressive goodness of the R-Sport package including deep body side mouldings, athletic fascia and prominent twin exhaust tips. As expected from Jaguar, the exterior fit and finish is top-notch, reinforcing the notion that this is a true luxury car.
The same quality carries into the interior of the XE, which is a very refined and customizable space. The perforated leather sport seats in our tester are two-tone; black with pimento red inserts with matching door panels. Similar can be said for the dash and center console veneer which can be carbon fibre ($820) like our tester, or a more luxurious wood veneer ($410) instead of piano gloss black. There is liberal use of fine leather throughout, including a leather wrapped dashboard, steering wheel and door panels. The dash itself is clean, and all buttons or knobs in the car have a very nice tactile feel.
The dashboard is dominated by the latest InControl TouchPro 10” infotainment touchscreen; the graphics are crisp and the screen is responsive, and it’s a big improvement over what appeared in Jaguars just a couple of years ago. The system also has full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility now, but despite the improvements simple tasks like adjusting the heated and cooled seats or setting radio pre-sets can be cumbersome and non-intuitive.
Passengers up front are carried in the lap of luxury with a great set of sport seats, and plenty of handy storage. The driver enjoys a nice set of traditional-looking digital gauges that are easy on the eyes, and our tester came with an optional heads-up display ($1,330) that is also very clear and easy to read. Rear passengers however might not be so pleased; headroom is barely adequate for adults, and legroom is very scarce. Children would be fine, but if you plan to carry adults in the back regularly the XE is probably not your best option.
Onto what I was most curious about though; the driving experience. The XE actually has four engine options, which is a lot for a fairly low volume car. The starting point is the 25t, a 2.0L turbo putting out 247 horsepower. This is the 20d, the 2.0L diesel outputting 180 horsepower. Stepping up from there you can get the 30t, which is another version of the 2.0L turbo but with 296 horsepower, and lastly, there is the monstrous XE S (reviewed here) with a supercharged 3.0L V6. Regardless of which engine you choose, you get all-wheel-drive and the eight-speed automatic.
Our tester obviously came with the diesel, and while 180 horsepower is a far cry from some of the other numbers available, the diesel makes up the difference thanks to 318 lb-ft. of torque accessible at a range of 1,750-2,500RPM. That low end torque and eight-speed automatic will keep the motor right in the sweet spot to make the XE 20d feel surprisingly quick, responsive and nimble on its feet.
The diesel isn’t immune to behaving a bit like a diesel; it takes about 20 seconds for the glow plugs to warm up before starting in sub-zero temperatures. It sounds extra clattery when cold, and it does take longer than a typical gasoline engine to get to operating temperature. However, once warm the little diesel is a pretty smooth little mill and from inside the cabin you’d be hard pressed to identify that you’re riding in a diesel.
Of course, the big advantage of the diesel, aside from the copious amounts of torque, is the fuel economy. The XE 20d did not disappoint, delivering an average of 6.4L/100km over a week’s worth of rush hour commuting into the city in January temperatures. This is simply outstanding for the amount of power, fun and control this little sport sedan provides while being so thrifty.
And fun the XE is; the chassis is incredibly tight, rigid and as a result the car feels very well connected to the road. Steering is well weighted, responsive and confident; the XE tackles corners with the best of them while generating a surprising amount of grip. In order to pull of those moves, the suspension is on the firm side, and even putting the optional adaptive dynamic dampers into “Comfort” mode didn’t do much to soften the ride. It’s not quite bouncy, moreso a touch harsh over uneven highway surfaces – a small price to pay for the exciting dynamics the XE delivers.
Highway driving in the XE is also a treat, unlike some other small displacement sporty sedans. The diesel remains smooth at highway speeds, and the stiff chassis feels perfectly mannered and in control. Cabin noise levels are also well controlled, with only a slight tire noise audible from the winter tires on our tester. The XE 20d is a great car to melt away miles in comfort and control while sipping fuel.
Pricing is in line with competitors in the compact luxury sport sedan class, but there are not really any major bargains here. A base model with the diesel starts at $45,900. The Prestige trim at $50,200 gets heated seats, and navigation. Stepping up to the R-Sport here runs $54,500 and this is where premium features are included such as xenon headlamps, perforated leather, and the suite of electronic driving aids.
Our tester came with another $8,590 worth of options pushing the price to $63,090. Add-ons in our tester were the 19” split-spoke wheels ($1,530), carbon fiber veneer ($820), Adaptive Dynamics ($1,020), heated front windshield ($410), bright metal pedals ($260), black-out exterior appearance package ($360) and the Tech pack ($3,170) adding a WiFi hotspot, Meridian surround sound, upgraded navigation and the 12.3” full digital gauge cluster.
If in the market for a small luxury sports sedan, the 2019 Jaguar XE 20d R-Sport would be right near the top of my list. It has the fuel savings for a long commute, Jaguar levels of comfort and refinement, and properly sporty driving dynamics. I would forego a few of the options and for under $60,000 you have a gorgeous car that you won’t see at every other intersection in the city. If you’re considering a compact German sedan, you need to spend some time with an XE before you pull the trigger.