We Drove Jaguar's Most Important New Car Duo in Decades
Jaguar, creator of some of history's most revered race cars, style icons, and symbols of luxury, has bitten the bullet and built not one, but two completely new vehicles for segments in which it's never been competitive -- and in which it never seriously tried, either. Charging head-first into the entry-level luxury market for both sedans and crossovers, the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE crossover -- Jag's first-ever SUV -- and the XE sedan represent an affordable way for buyers to get into Jaguar.
It's an enormous investment for any company to develop one new vehicle... to do two simultaneously, especially for a company of Jaguar's size, is beyond huge. Add to that the critical market space at stake: the brand is now squaring up against the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A3, and Cadillac ATS with the XE, and the Audi Q5, Mercedes GL300, and BMW X3 with the F-PACE. That makes this pair of vehicles the single most important one-two punch Jaguar has launched in at least 20 years, if not since its inception.
I traveled to Aspen, Colorado to see if the XE's emotional side would show while being tested on the sweeping, unfamiliar countryside, and if Jaguar's first-ever SUV was up to snuff.
Jaguar got its first SUV right on its very first try
Somewhere, the racing engineers who established Jaguar's reputation on the track are weeping at the thought of a first-ever Jaguar crossover... or are they? Remember, this is the company that turned the traditionally boring, workaday hatchback into the ever-so-iconic E-Type, generally deemed one of the sexiest designs of all time, including by none other than Enzo Ferrari. Jaguar has repeatedly played the role of innovator, forcing the automotive market to adopt stronger design and push the envelope. Whether you pronounce it Jag-war, Jag-wire (Ed Note: Please don't! ), or Jag-you-err, you know Jag as a brand that delights the senses and overachieves in unexpected ways. The F-PACE might be the most unexpected way yet, barging into the luxury crossover market with plenty of style.
After waiting almost a decade since the dawn of the luxury SUV boom before dipping its toes in the water, Jaguar learned from other automakers' successes and failures. It's no surprise the F-PACE is great to drive, with quick steering, strong brakes, and a gutsy performance from its supercharged 340hp V-6 engine. You can order a quicker, snarl-ier, 380hp version of the V-6, but 340hp is enough. Even at Colorado altitude, the supercharged engine failed to run out of grunt while passing or accelerating.
When you're not hustling it up a mountain, the F-PACE looks at home among the trappings of fine luxury and style. The wedge-shaped design stands out among a group of competitors that basically all look like they're modeled after the Porsche Cayenne. From a base price of $43,385 (before destination fees), the F-PACE outdoes BMW's X3 in terms of how much fun you have while driving it, matches the Mercedes-Benz GL300 for ride comfort, and comes knocking on the aging Audi Q5's hold on driving dynamics. You'll want to spend all day driving it. It's a sure sign that Jaguar can do a hell of a lot more than build sexy sports cars and posh limousines.
There are high expectations for the new XE sedan
Few moments in life cause your heart to race as quickly as the sparks and fireworks you experience behind the wheel of the unconventional and beguiling F-Type roadster. It's widely believed to be the sexiest car currently made -- a passion that has become a life force for the Jaguar brand. Is it too high an expectation to hope that a little bit of the F-Type might sneak into another model in the lineup? Jag's counting on the 2017 XE to bring that seductive, visceral appeal to the affordable end of the luxury sedan spectrum.
In the top-of-the-line XE 35t, with the supercharged 340hp V6 (which is not shared with the F-Type), the razor-effect sound between gearshifts goes straight to the soul. On top of that, it gets an EPA-measured 30mpg on the highway. Whereas the slow-acting XE diesel proved a letdown during tight passing maneuvers (do yourself a favor and get the supercharged 6, eh?), the firm-feeling, smooth-riding chassis redeemed it. The XE's chassis acted unflappable on the rolling mountain roads, regardless of what was under the hood. It's that good, especially for a car starting at $35,895.
It's good enough that the most Jaguar-esque feature of the XE is the way it drives. The suspension is tuned to lay waste to highways and make back roads fun. As for the exterior, the styling is supposed to connect it visually to the larger XF and largest XJ sedans, and it's a job well done on that front. The only problem here is that the XJ in its current form will soon celebrate its eighth birthday, making the XE appear prematurely old.
On the inside, it's hit and miss
The interior of both vehicles is pure New Jaguar, dominated by a central infotainment screen and stubby control display. Jaguar clearly focused on the task of making the driver happy, so the steering wheel feels wonderfully chunky and buttery soft on both. You might never get used to using the circular rotary shifter, though, and both vehicles use it to less-than-impressive effect.
The stylists on the F-PACE interior (pictured) purposely went against the grain of smoking-lounge chic... but they may have gone too far. There's more piano black plastic trim than should be considered acceptable for a luxury product, and there's not a tasteful alternative to the smudge-inducing black surfaces. There are definitely some issues of fit and finish on key touch-pieces, too, like the ill-fitting trim that lines the center console.
While there's nothing quite wrong with the XE's interior, it doesn't feel unyieldingly special, either. The bar for luxury car interiors is sky high, even at this level. The XE falls short and feels cold in terms of design and texture, even if the fit and finish are lightyears ahead of the old XJ, which serves as the patriarch of all modern Jaguar sedans. Technophiles will be pleased, though, with touchscreen controls, a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, customizable dashboard controls, and a superb navigation system.
The $40,000 question: are they worth it?
We're living in an era where MINI can make both a convertible and a sedan, and even Porsche puts out sedans and SUVs to help subsidize future generations of the iconic 911. Why shouldn't Jaguar jump into the crossover game with the F-PACE and into the smaller sedan battles with the XE. The real question is, do they live up to the hype?
When viewed outside the context of its direct competition, the XE is a fantastic value, an excellent performer, and a stylish companion. Something about it, however, fails to enliven my emotional side. The XE felt somewhat disconnected, almost German by comparison to its, um, German competition.
After just a few minutes of driving the F-PACE, it was clear that Jaguar had designed a winning SUV. It's an even better proposition than its corporate cousin, Land Rover's recently launched Discovery Sport. Jaguar's effort is simply cooler and more imaginative in execution.
The most important takeaway is that the F-PACE is proof of concept that Jaguar can build damn fine SUV. There's no denying that the F-PACE is a solid performer and cool option. It's definitely not a poseur.
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