Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.
Reviewer: John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD R-Sport
Price: $64,585 (as tested)
The best thing that ever happened to Jaguar was Ford getting rid of it. The same thing goes for Volvo. Both companies are now blossoming, like phoenix’s rising from the ashes.
Make no mistake, Ford actually rescued both companies. They’d probably be out of business right now if the Blue Oval brand had not taken them under its wing. But while Ford rescued and nurtured them, it failed to let either brand reach its true potential. Happily today, under new ownership, Jaguar and Volvo are flourishing like never before.
The XE is the perfect example of how that’s happening at Jaguar. Free from mandates to use the corporate parts bin, Jaguar was able to optimize the design of its newest cars and SUVs. It came up with its own new powertrains and the all-aluminum architecture that form the basis of the XE and the F-Pace, and probably most models coming out in the next five years.
As a result, the XE has good bones, a sturdy yet lightweight structure. That allows Jaguar to rely on 4-cylinder turbo-engines as standard equipment on the XE and F-Pace, something that would have been unheard of in the luxury segment just a few years ago. But knowing its customers’ penchant for performance, Jag knew it better have something a little extra up its sleeve.
And that brings us to the XE 35t AWD R-Sport. Powered by a supercharged 3-liter V6 that cranks out 340 horsepower, it is a big step up from the base XE in performance, appointments and price. It’s the quintessential European touring sedan: powerful, comfortable and premium. Very premium. The fully-loaded version I drove is about twice the price of the base car.
I got the chance to take the car on a long road trip that showed up its strengths and weaknesses. First, the strengths.
This is a great car for extended drives, everything that you would expect from a European touring sedan: powerful and comfortable with plenty of room for front seat passengers (The rear seat knee room is not what you’d call roomy).
It’s especially well suited for winding two-lane roads when you need to open it up and get around lumbering trucks. In fact, you start to look forward to coming up on slow moving vehicles just to have another excuse to punch it and pass.
This is such a delightful car to drive that I found myself forced to engage the cruise control lest the local gendarmes clock me at speeds well over the limit. If you covered up the speedometer and settled in at a speed that felt safe and prudent you would still be breaking the law. At legal speeds this car feels like it’s crawling.
But even though the XE 35t has plenty of punch, I found that in certain situations there can be an annoying amount of lag time before it gets up and goes. At very low speeds, especially when you back off the accelerator then step into it again, it seems to take a moment or two before it opens up. I didn’t expect that from a supercharged engine.
There are several driving modes you can select and what Jaguar calls Dynamic Mode alleviates this condition. But I don’t like having to look down, push a button and select a different driving mode if I suddenly need to select a different mode.
I also found the touch screen on the instrument panel to be quirky. Most the time it worked fine and I never gave it a second thought. But at other times I’d touch it to select a radio station and the screen would jump up or down. Then I’d touch it again and it would jump again. Then I would try to steady my hand and very carefully and slowly touch and hold my finger in place. That didn’t always work either. Besides, that’s not easy to do when you’re driving down the road because there’s no place to rest your hand. I never quite figured out why it would work fine at some times, but not at others.
Another peeve. When you select “Favorites” to choose the radio station you want, it always defaults to the top of the list. So you have to scroll through several pages to get your station , unless it happens to be on the first page. You can also type in the station number you want, but all this is time consuming and keeps your eyes off the road.
All automakers, including Jaguar, are struggling with their Human Machine Interface issues. Today’s infotainment systems are complicated, have too many features and can be quite distracting. That’s too bad because in this case it really takes away from what is otherwise a superb sedan.
John McElroy is an influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He is a journalist, lecturer, commentator and entrepreneur. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of industry news and analysis.