Originally published November 30, 2015

“It looks like a Jag,” design chief Ian Callum told us just a day before the L.A. Auto Show under a beautifully sunny California sky. “10 years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to say that.”

Callum is right, of course. He’s talking about the 2017 Jaguar XE, the British brand’s second go at a small car after the forgettable X-Type experiment fizzled following just a few short years on American shores. More important is that the ghost of Jaguar’s past is nowhere to be found in its present renaissance, a divergence made flesh in the sleek modern lines of the XE’s chiselled profile. In fact, the four-door draws down from the mid-size XF, the car that kicked off Jaguar’s split from the heritage design language that had firmly anchored it to days gone by.

The XE is pegged as the new face of Jaguar in terms of more than just visage: it’s been tapped to lead the entry-level luxury charge for an automaker that has girded its loins in the battle for volume sales against its Continental adversaries from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Connecting with more than a handful of customers every year has always been Jaguar’s biggest challenge, and its product planners, engineers, executives, and designers are collectively holding their breath in the hopes that its smallest model might give the company its biggest chance to finally draw a showroom crowd.

No Follower

I’ve been wanting to drive the Jaguar XE for a long time. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, the little guy, and underneath its dapper Oxford accent Jaguar has long found itself on the periphery of the luxury souk outside of the British Isles. Not only does the XE have its work cut out for it in transforming the trickle of interest in the brand into a torrent, but it’s up against one of the world’s most dominant market constructs: the BMW 3 Series. The Teutonic sedan has enjoyed decades of unchallenged sales supremacy despite repeated assaults from the likes of Audi (the A4), Mercedes-Benz (the C-Class) and, most recently, Cadillac (the ATS).

It’s understandable, then, that the 2017 Jaguar XE has adopted a few of its chief competitor’s characteristics, including a focus on delivering high tech goodies and lively handling that have become the de facto yardstick for premium sedans. Don’t peg the XE for a player in the imitation game, however, as there’s definitely enough of Jaguar’s unique perspective on high end motoring mixed into the car’s all-new platform to make it more than a mere cipher for the current luxury zeitgeist.

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