Slinking Around with Jaguar’s Brand-New Cat

July 15, 2015, 6:34 PM UTC

Behold the Jaguar XE. It’s an all-new car from Jaguar, a British sports sedan aimed at taking away market share from the Germans.

The bad news. You can’t have it yet. The sedan won’t be available in North America until next year, although it’s already on sale in Europe. Blame the fact that the company is waiting until the all-important all-wheel-drive model is ready, a critical selling point in the snowier parts of the States and Canada.

The good news. We had an early drive of the car in northern Spain, and it proved a compelling alternative to the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Jaguar has been the lucky recipient of a huge influx of research and development dollars from its owner, Tata Motors, and the XE is a clear example of the movement to make the boutique car company more competitive. Jaguar’s sales numbers are low, and the brand dearly needs a contender in the luxury compact sedan segment.

To that, the engineers went all out. The XE is built from aluminum, its engines are fresh and capable, and the interior layout and electronic systems have been thoughtfully conceived.

We’ll get both a 340-hp, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel variant with 180 hp. Both are easy engines to live with. The V-6 sounds great and is potent when it needs to be, and the torque-rich diesel is an ideal tool for long highway drives.

The XE has the obvious dimensions of a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car. To my mind it isn’t quite as sensuous as it might be, with the body lines a bit too rounded and soft. It lacks the sharp angularity and brash attitude of the all-new Audi A4, or the obvious sporting intentions of the BMW 3 Series.

But that aesthetic difference may also be one of its major selling points. The exterior is less in-your-face than is the Germans’ wont, with a good measure of British reserve showing through. Some buyers don’t want to look like they’re always in a hurry, with a predatory stance and grille hunched to the pavement.

This ethos translates to the ride as well. The suspension lends a happy, cushy equanimity, sashaying over crumbling asphalt and evening out bumps. Carrying medium speed, it rolls a bit into corners. Push it beyond that, interestingly, and its relative lightness and aluminum chassis begin working for it. On a series of twisting mountain roads, I blasted through tight turns, limited far more by the tires than the agility of the suspension.

Over a long day of driving, that was our takeaway. The XE is competing with the Germans, but it doesn’t really want to be German. It’s looking for the kind of buyers who are want something else.