Watch Your Back, 3 Series: Jaguar’s XE is On the Prowl

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When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne SUV, it was immediately decried by purists as a corrosive force on the brand which built its named building rear-engined, high-performance sports cars. Before the company had even produced it’s first family-sized sedan, it shot for the big leagues with a full-size SUV for affluent families who wanted Porsche prestige with space for car seats. And to date, it remains one of the best business decisions that the company has made.

The Cayenne opened up the brand to a huge new pool of potential buyers, many of whom showed up to dealers money-in-hand to put down for the new car. It’s done so well that Porsche has followed it up with the Macan, a compact SUV that starts at a more affordable price point (a mere $50,000 or so). But Porsche is far from the only high-end luxury brand to push for a more mainstream presence — on Monday, Jaguar (NYSE:TTM) revealed the XE sedan, a car meant to compete directly with some of the biggest names in the industry: the A4, the 3 Series, and the C-Class.

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Actually, those are the biggest names in the industry, and Jaguar, which has enjoyed great success in the upper end of the luxury spectrum with its roadsters, coupes, and full-sized sedans, is hoping to jump into the fray of those seeking to land younger demographics of customers. After much teasing and mystery, Jaguar has finally brought its entry-level player into the light.

First off, it’s easy to see that the XE embodies much of the larger XF’s design language, and at a quick glance, it looks like a sort of mini-version of the larger car. This is a good thing, because few are those who would argue that the XF is a bad looking automobile. There’s a certain elegance in being understated and simple, and with Jaguar’s reinvention over the past years, it has turned that idea into a science.

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It’s likely that the entry-level Jag would start off a bit higher than the existing small luxury sedans. Audi’s A4 starts at $35,500, BMW’s 3 Series begins at $32,750, and the Mercedes C-Class starts off at $40,400. Jaguar pegged the XE as starting at around $44,000, making it the pricier than the Germans; it still falls well short of the Maserati Ghbili, however; the Italian marque’s mainstream bid begins at a lofty $66,000.

The XE will only be Jaguar’s fifth car to join the portfolio, though it will be the fourth as the XK coupe will be put out of production before the 2015 model year. It’s Jag’s third sedan, and joins the ranks made up of the XJ, the XF, and the F-Type coupe and roadster models.

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Jaguar has been getting back to its feet over the last several years after watching its command of luxury prestige dissolve under the care of Ford, which sold the Jaguar and Land Rover brands to India’s Tata Motors in 2008. Under Tata’s leadership, the two brands have flourished, and Jaguar’s latest products — and Land Rovers, too — have garnered immense praise from critics. However, given that Jaguar’s U.S. offerings start off at $50,175 for a base-level XF, and can swell to $165,000 for the limited edition F-Type 7, the mass-appeal for Jaguar has been rather limited.

The XE will arrive in 2016 as a 2017 model, but it will see action on other continents well before then. Styling wise, it’s a mishmash of Jaguar’s current models — the longer hood hints at the F-Type, while the snarling grille can be traced to both the XF and XJ. It looks poised and composed, doesn’t go over the top with design flares, and in the S trim, looks aggressive without being brashly muscular or excessively adorned with gaping intakes, vents, or scoops.

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Under the hood, Jaguar gave up the details for only trim for the XE, the S, which offers 3.0-liter, supercharged V6 paired with a ZF eight-speed transmission that makes many appearances throughout Jaguar-Land Rover’s respective lineups. In this application, the supercharged six will produce 340 horsepower, and boast a 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds, and the top speed is restrained at 155. In short, it has what it takes to beat the Germans, at least on paper.

This is carried over to Jaguar’s aluminum-framed design, making the XE the “lightest, stiffest and most aerodynamic Jaguar saloon” that the brand has ever made. The company adds that the XE “boasts the lowest cost of ownership of any Jaguar and is also the most environmentally sustainable.” 

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The interior is comfortably familiar, as a recent Jag driver will tell you; it’s not as sumptuous as the XF or XJ interiors, but takes after them in design. Overall, it looks comfy, ergonomically friendly, and par for the course in he entry-level luxury sedan segment. Outside of parading its “outstanding levels of comfort and spaciousness” and “exquisite materials and finishes,” Jaguar didn’t go into much detail regarding the insides.

The XE has all the makings of a fine entrant to the low-end luxury race, but the issue is timing; Jaguar needs this car on the roads soon, because two years is a long time on the auto industry’s watch, and it’s competition maybe well be updated by then; young buyers now who are waiting out for the XE might lose patience before the car is delivered to showrooms, and instead favor a competitor that’s more readily available.

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