Reviews from the Road: The Jaguar XE

Jaguar’s compact-ish XE sports sedan gets a refresh for 2020, with an updated exterior and all-new interior. Jaguar tossed us the keys to its hottest model, the P300 R-Dynamic S AWD, and told us to keep it shiny side up. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Let’s start by getting the obvious out of the way: this Jaguar XE is one strikingly beautiful car. It’s a sedan with a classic sports car feel thanks to its long hood, short rear deck, and purposeful stance. Its design shows that simplicity can be compelling, with surfaces that are clean and without fuss. Given that every other car manufacturer is in a race to see who can add the most creases to their vehicles, it’s nice to see a design that finds elegance in restraint.

That’s not to say the XE is boring to look at; the way it sits over its 18-in. alloy wheels is just about perfect. And there’s a presence to the fenders that helps this car denote strength, without making things too cartoonishly large. We’re also fans of the R-Dynamic front grille, which makes this athletic XE look more like the insane Jaguar Project 8. All told, we feel that this is one of those rare cars whose design not only looks great today but will continue to do so years from now.

While the exterior gets only minor changes, Jaguar says that the 2020 XE gets an all-new cabin. If you’ve been in a Jaguar/Land Rover product recently, then things will immediately feel familiar. The inside of our Jag gets the same full-glass display, with a digital gauge cluster, a dual-screen control centre, and those HVAC knobs whose displays change depending on what function you’re trying to access. This glass control centre remains easy to use overall, but still requires you to dive deep into different menus to control different features. And as we’ve said before, these screens are still prone to getting smudged.

Other surfaces inside the XE are wrapped in soft leather, highlighting the cabin’s simple design. The front seats feel a bit bulky for the car, making things feel a bit tight visually. But once settled in, the driver’s seat is a very nice place to spend some time — whether it’s on the freeway or on a back-mountain road. But if you want to take the Jag on a back-mountain road — or any road, for that matter — well, the XE P300 R-Dynamic S AWD isn’t always a willing partner.

Let’s get into the mechanics, because they sound great on paper. The heart of this Jag is a turbocharged, 2.0-litre inline four rated engine at an impressive 296 horsepower. A proven ZF 8-speed automatic transmission comes standard, as does the rear-bias AWD system. Jaguar claims that this car can run from 0-60 in a respectable 5.4 seconds, and we believe them. It just takes a bit of work to make that happen.

The ZF 8-speed family of transmissions is used in just about any car of note, so we know it’s a solid performer. It’s just got an odd software tune here. Throttle inputs seem more like suggestions than commands, with the XE always choosing to be in a higher gear than what is appropriate, and then continuing to shift up as you add more throttle. And this happens regardless of one’s selected driving mode. What this car needs, we think, is a manual transmission. Luckily, the manual mode here works pretty well.

So yes, we’re spending our time in the XE living as manually as we can. The flappy paddles work well, with quick response and quicker shifts, but we’re pretending to row our own gears via the floor-mounted gear-select lever. Its manual mode is set up the correct way — pull back to shift up and push forward to shift down — so we’re at least getting a close approximation to that solid, tactile feeling we crave from our transmissions.

And here we can finally feel that the XE P300 R-Dynamic S AWD is the car it’s claiming to be. With the engine in its sweet spot, we can finally explore the dynamics of this sports sedan. Steering is sharp and precise, with just enough feedback to let you know what the front tires are doing, without making things feel too tiring. This Jag is also very well composed in the corners, its intelligent AWD system sending power to the front only when needed. This means no mid-corner torque steer, and more confident handling.

All told, we’re quite fond of the Jaguar XE P300 R-Dynamic S AWD. It’s got the right balance of comfort and style, and if you don’t mind taking a more hands-on role during the drive, it’s a solid performer, too. We’d still love to see Jaguar update the transmission software to make shifts a bit snappier. And while they’re at it, maybe they can shorten the name — XE P300 R-Dynamic S AWD — to something a bit snappier, too.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.