Before we discuss our impressions gleaned from driving the refreshed 2020 Jaguar XE, it's worth pointing out that before the 2017 XE appeared, small sedans had never really been Jaguar's thing. Sure, sedans-saloons as the British call them-have buttered the bread in Coventry for most of Jaguar's 85-year history. But the only other Jaguar four-door built in size Small was the 2001 to 2009 X-Type, which we chiefly remember for its matronly styling and new-Ford smell. So, you're forgiven if the thought of Jaguar building a small, appealing sedan seems new, especially as the brand also now dabbles in building appealing crossovers and electric cars, which also haven't been its thing heretofore.
As for the XE, which for 2020 comes only in newly christened P250 and P300 guises (the previous V-6 models are dead), it finally feels like the sport sedan that Jaguar needs. We reported a full rundown of the XE's changes for 2020 earlier this year, but after our day behind the wheel in southern France, we can characterize some of these changes as subtle, while others, particularly in the interior, are comprehensive and effective.
Arguably the most subtle changes were made to the car's skin. Since its debut, the XE has always been a smaller clone of Jaguar's mid-sized XF, and the 2020 updates bring it even closer to its bigger brother. Squintier LED headlamps with "J blade" running lights impart a bit more character to the XE's snout, while wider grilles with some internal curvature evoke Jaguar's I-Pace EV. All versions feature updated rear bumpers with separated chrome exhaust tips, while the more aggressively styled R-Dynamic models add black mesh trim front and rear. The R-Dynamic also brings black exterior trim in place of chrome, a rear lip spoiler, and sportier wheels up to 21 inches in diameter.
However prolific Jaguar may try to become, no one will accept a Jaguar that doesn't exhibit one of its most longstanding core competencies: luxury. In this respect, the initial XE fell short. The company deserves credit for quickly mobilizing in response, making upgrades each year to phase in improved cabin materials, a new screen-based gauge cluster, and an improved infotainment system, among other tweaks. Taking tech to the next level, the 2020 XE adopts the steering wheel and Jaguar Land Rover's InControl Touch Pro Duo interface from the I-Pace, both of which serve to reduce what few physical buttons the XE had left. Even the rotary knobs for the climate system have multiple functions and incorporate tiny screens.
As with any new screen-based interface, the menu paths and hidden functions take some time to learn and operate smoothly, but nothing stands out as grossly ergonomically weird. Also among the XE's new-for-2020 componentry is a conventional pistol-style shift lever that replaces the previous model's quirky rotary shifter and facilitates manual gear selection-push forward for downshifts, pull back for upshifts, as God intended. A digital rearview mirror is newly optional, as is an inductive charging pad for devices. And Jaguar's latest head-up display proved to be useful and informative, specifically its display of ever-changing speed limits that we tried not to break too egregiously along the rural roads around St. Tropez.
Beyond the XE's new glass screens and tech features are furnishings that Jaguar characterizes as all-new. While the upper dash and door panels appear similar to before, the 2020 model does incorporate plenty of soft-touch materials while integrating added functionality, mostly below elbow level. The newly designed door panels fit one-liter water bottles, for example, and the center tunnel and rear door panels are better finished and provide more cover for discreet ambient lighting. R-Dynamic models add steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles and contrast stitching, plus updated sport seats that, as with the similarly new standard thrones, are much more comfortable than before.
Eager Handling Remains
While the XE retains its rather tight rear-seat quarters, the cabin upgrades make it easier to focus on its driving dynamics, which remain quite good. It steers with laser precision, and the body stays wonderfully flat in corners. The newly optional Dynamic Handling package on the R-Dynamic model we drove brings adaptive dampers and upgraded brake hardware, plus a configurable setting among the standard drive-mode selections (Comfort, Eco, Rain/Ice/Snow, and Dynamic) that allows for the fine-tuning of the steering, engine, and transmission responsiveness, though we're not sure the breadth of actual adjustment is very large. In no mode did the dampers destroy the ride nor allow it to flop over in corners, nor did the steering liven or dilute when adjusting them one way or another. The only oddity was the active exhaust note, which sounded a little too obvious in its amplification of the 2.0-liter inline-four's exhaust sounds.
And the sound of a four-banger is all you're going to get in the 2020 XE, as the previous and occasionally raucous 340- or 380-hp V-6 is gone. Which is fine really, given our preference for the 296-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter found in the P300 model, which now represents the XE's most powerful setup. At $47,290 to start, the P300 comes standard with all-wheel drive that primarily drives the rear axle until detected slippage prompts the front axle to step in. Also gone is the 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder diesel model, leaving the P250 model's 247-hp version of the gasoline four as the more miserly choice. That engine comes standard with rear-wheel drive and a lower starting price of $40,895, with all-wheel drive available for $2000. As we've experienced in previous XEs, both of these engines and their attendant ZF eight-speed automatic are nicely matched to this Jaguar's size and weight, and this drive reminded us of just how eager the XE can be when equipped with the more powerful of the two.
Keeping the best parts of a car while fixing the bits that aren't up to snuff is what mid-cycle updates are for. With its nicely freshened interior, the XE now feels better suited to fulfill its luxury sports-sedan mission. Jaguar still has work to do before drivers hold the XE in the same high regard as class stalwarts such as the BMW 3-series, the Audi A4, and the Mercedes-Benz C-class, but the revised XE certainly has become much more worthy of consideration.