The 2017 Jaguar XE is the 3 Series we've missed

This is not a luxury sedan. Adjust your expectations. Expect classic BMW greatness with a thick British accent.

Jaguar's saying we'll see our first XEs on sale in "spring 2016," almost a year behind the rest of the world. Reason for the delay: JLR doesn't want the car on sale until the all-wheel-drive model is available. Its development isn't finished yet.

Jaguar has an image problem in the United States. Everyone seems to think of Jaguars as luxury cars. That's probably because they're luxurious. But the company's four-doors—the medium-size XF and the - size XJ—are sport sedans first and foremost. Their wood and leather and good looks are merely a bonus, because they're already the best driver's cars in their classes.

Next spring, when the new Jaguar XE joins the compact- sport-sedan fray, it's poised to conquer its segment, due to the way it combines impeccable ride quality and exquisite body control. The XE uses adaptive dampers to control its suspension, which consists of double wishbones up front and Jaguar's "integral link" in the rear. This multilink arrangement allows for softer bushings for the vertical plane, to provide a smoother ride, and stiffer bushings elsewhere for better works like a charm.

At launch, the XE will carry the familiar 3.0-liter, supercharged 340-hp V6. This isn't the best six in the world, but if it fits in the car, that means a V8 will, too. Reason being: This V6 shares its external dimensions with the company's V8—it's essentially the same block, just with the rear cylinders left out.

Under the bonnet, Jag's ubiquitous super- charged 340-hp V6 is mated to ZF's ubiquitous eight-speed automatic and either rear- or all-wheel drive. The automatic is, as usual, amazing, and the supercharged six is more refined in this application than in other Jags. Its immediate power delivery is a reminder of how good life was before every- body else went all turbo on us. Speaking of turbos, a 2.0-liter 180-hp diesel will be available to American buyers shortly after launch. It's not as responsive or powerful as the V6, of course, but it's almost as smooth.

Jaguar stood by hydraulic steering until it felt that electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) technology was ready, and that time has come. Even though the XE's EPAS isn't quite as communicative as the company's old hydro setup, the weighting is natural and the rim is talkative. Had EPAS started out this good, no one would have complained.

Jaguar's 400-year-old, slow-as-molasses touchscreen infotainment system has been replaced by a new one. It's much more colorful, slightly quicker, and still sucks. Okay, perhaps that's harsh, especially because it shows the most adorable Bob Ross paintings when it comes time to exit a highway—bucolic scenes with happy little trees and pretty little bushes. Too bad the system lacks happy little radio presets, and too bad it often takes many complicated button presses to accomplish simple little things.

We'll continue to complain, though, about Jaguar's touch- screen. Despite more colorful graphics, the infotainment system is still cumbersome, slow, and frustrating. We'll also note that the XE is almost entirely aluminum yet weighs more than the similarly sized, steel-bodied BMW 3 Series. The baby Jag thus continues Jaguar's recent paradoxical practice, which began with the F-type, of using a lightweight material to create a heavier car. Even more frustrating is the fact that a manual transmission will be available, but not with the V6 or diesel. It'll be attached only to a 2.0-liter turbo four due in 2017.

Perhaps Jaguar's product-planning department is the source of the brand's image problem. The XE has all the right moves to earn the sport- sedan crown, but without the right powertrain, it will be just another luxury sedan that enthusiasts don't notice.

Jaguar doesn't muck around when it comes to suspension, and the XE is certainly no exception. Double wishbones up front, Jaguar's unique "Integral Link" multilink setup in back, and a whole lot of attention paid to the ride-and-handling equation pays enormous dividends to the driver. Body control is downright flawless no matter which model, but adaptive-damper models ride more smoothly. Steering precision makes the 3-Series feel like a Buick. (An old Buick—the new ones aren't bad, remember.)

Jaguar XE S

  • Price: $43,000 (est)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter supercharged V6, 340 hp, 332 lb-ft; awd, 8-speed automatic
  • Weight: 3650 lb
  • On sale: Spring 2016
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