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Another Week With: 2017 Jaguar XE 35t R-Sport

Pretty persuasion

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographer Andrew Trahanphotographer

The driver in the next lane caught my attention through our open windows. "Beautiful car! What is it?"

"Jaguar," I said. "The new 2017 XE."

"Jaguar, eh?" The man looked the car over again. "That sure wasn't my first guess."

And there you have the new XE four-door sedan in a nutshell: it is a lovely piece, with taut lines, an aggressive fastback roofline, and a rakish nose full of blacked-out mesh grille-work and chiseled Xenon lamps. Yet at a quick glance, the XE's proportions and chamfered edges seem familiar. Audi? Maybe even … Kia? The XE doesn't jut out in a crowd like, say, its F-Type stablemate. But you get the sense that designer Ian Callum & Co. are totally fine with that — while the XE may not make a statement like an F-Type, it's a clean, attractive (read: approachable) design that should have a far broader appeal.

We're right smack in BMW 3 Series territory here. The up-level XE 35t R-Sport version features a blown twin-cam 3.0-liter six like the BMW 340i (though the Jag uses a mechanical supercharger instead of a turbo) and is only fractionally longer and wider. Extensive aluminum architecture (the V-6 is all-aluminum, too) gives the Jaguar a roughly 100-pound edge in weight over the steel BMW. Both cars use a ZF 8-speed automatic (the Bimmer offers an optional 6-speed manual, which Jaguar only offers in the four-cylinder XE) and both are available with all-wheel drive (my XE test car was a rear-driver).

The 3 Series is by now so familiar that no one is likely to look over and crow about how beautiful yours is. The Jag has the easy edge in visual appeal — especially in R-Sport trim, which adds a more aggressive front bumper, body-color side sills, and chrome power vents, among other tweaks. The Brit is distinctive on the inside, too, with a gear-selection knob that rises dramatically out of the center console at engine start, racy perforated (and contrasting) leather seats, and mood lighting to swank-up your nighttime drives. That said, the touchscreen infotainment display will quickly have you uttering British swear words you didn't even know you knew. Reach for the button to dial-in your radio station and … it isn't there. Instead, try pinging your finger against the glass over and over and over as you climb, station-by-station, up and down Sirius XM radio's 175-plus channels. Inputting an address on the nav screen is equally slow and archaic. Maybe Charles Dickens had a hand in designing this dreary system.

Fortunately, at its main task — driving — the XE is a standout. It's not as nimble as, say, a Cadillac ATS, but it's still light on its feet, stable in turns (tending to understeer predictably), and easier on the backside than the Caddy. Jaguar has got the ride/handling tradeoff just about right. For 95-percent of your behind-the-wheel missions, you'd quickly prefer the Jag over the stiffer ATS. Curiously, the ZF 8-speed doesn't feel as crisp in the XE as it does in the 340i, especially on downshifts — even using the steering-wheel paddles. Sport mode helps a bit. In fact, I never used anything else.

The supercharged six is deceptive. It tends to groan at modest throttle inputs, but give it the spurs and it winds up deliciously. There's decent thrust here, too — Jag claims 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds but the car feels quicker. And that six, which emits merely so-so audio at light duties, sounds mighty fine whirling toward its redline. The XE enjoys playing hard. I hurled it through a series of my favorite mountain two-lanes in Malibu, and while the XE is no Porsche, it's right there with the likes of the ATS and the 340i. It's a combo any shopper in this category will appreciate: moves to thrill when the whim strikes, and a relaxed cruise and 30 mpg highway for the daily commute.

The XE isn't a big car and room in back is merely adequate if the occupant up front has the seat set up a six-footer. Anyone taller up front could cause some griping from behind. The trunk is likewise marginal — rolling luggage will fit, but a couple of big suitcases could strain the space pretty quick. The rear seat does split 40/20/40, though, so if it's just two or three of you, you'll likely do just fine.

In the 35t R-Sport edition, all the usual conveniences are standard. My test car included a rear parking camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, heated steering wheel, and much more. The safety systems work well, nudging you with helpful info rather than getting in your way. Also on board was nearly $10K in options; among them, a driver-assistance package (surround-view parking camera, traffic-sign recognition, adaptive cruise, and more), a Technology package (including a boffo 825-watt Meridian surround-sound system and that awful 10.2-inch touchscreen interface), a head-up display, and a Black Design package that darks-out all those gaping grilles.

Would you take one of these over a 340i or an ATS? On paper, it's a remarkably even fight. But it's not an easy call. The Jag has game. Based on novelty alone you'd have to give the XE a look; it brings to the class a fresh style the others can't match. On a dynamic level, too, the XE has the goods to make a solid purchase case. It's the most powerful of the three, the chassis brings its own unique blend of poise and spirit, and there's simply no denying the cachet that's part of the Jaguar brand.

Translation: There's a new sport-sedan option in town, and the Jag XE is well worth a look.

2017 Jaguar XE 35t R-Sport Specifications

PRICE $50,195/$59,775 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/340 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 21/30 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 183.9 x 72.8 x 55.7 in
WHEELBASE 111.6 in
WEIGHT 3,600 lb
0-60 MPH 5.1 sec (mfr)
TOP SPEED 155 mph