Jaguar XE vs. Audi A4: A luxury compact confrontation


It's a question we've been asking ourselves since the 2017 Audi A4 and the 2017 Jaguar XE first rolled into our driveways: which one's better, and can either of them ascend to the 3-Series' old slot as the top compact sport sedan?

We find no shortage of irony that the staid British luxury brand is the upstart in this affair. Perhaps if the Jaguar XE’s seats were made of tweed, we’d feel more comfortable about the new four-door sedan.

Geographical generalities aside, we’re finding ourselves double-taking all the differences between the XE and the new Audi A4.

For the record: We were very nearly over the moon with the new XE. When it arrived on our shores, we were smitten with the drivability and fun from Jag’s newest sedan. The only negative was the fact that it had was born alongside, and therefore overshadowed by, Jag’s new F-Pace crossover SUV.

Similarly, the timing of the latest generation A4 could have been better, too. Audi is involved in a little dust-up over its engines, you may have heard, and the A4 looks so close to its predecessor that even fastidious Germans would be hard-pressed to spot the alterations. Overall, the sedan is a dead-ringer for the family, even if it rides atop of a new platform and with sharper lines.

But both cars impressed us enough to qualify as finalists for our 2017 Best Car To Buy award. So, we brought them to the hickory-smoked hills of north Georgia for a thorough what for. A winner emerged relatively quickly, but not from outright excellence.

I know, I know, hold on. Let me explain.  

2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

Enlarge Photo
2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

Enlarge Photo
2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

2017 Jaguar XE V6 S

Enlarge Photo

Jaguar XE: the basics

Jaguar’s history at small sedans is, we’ll say, checkered. Forget it.

The newest compact sedan arrived on our shores for the 2017 model year, rejuvenating the segment in a way we haven’t seen in a while.

Starting with Jaguar’s steadfast resolve to bring a diesel powertrain after Audi’s (and parent-company Volkswagen) public flub, the small XE seemed like a breath of fresh air in a segment that had started to grow stale.

MORE: Read our 2017 Jaguar XE review

The XE’s competence in corners is intoxicating. In both versions we’ve driven, gas and diesel, we couldn’t find fault in its flat character and willing attitude to devour the line, hold it, and ask for more.

(While we’ve driven the 180-horsepower 2.0-liter diesel XE, we’ll keep most of the powertrain comments confined to the 340-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that we used to blitz the back hills of rural Georgia. Please remember one thing: Even the base diesel has the XE’s best performance trait, which is its chassis.)

Starting at just under $36,000, the XE is a more graceful approach to back roads than we’re making it sound. Its drama-free attitude and street smarts proved to be a revelation for nearly all our editors who took the wheel. Editorial Director Marty Padgett surmised: “First sport sedan in a long time that I've thought could use a little more damping. Leans but in a composed way, and doesn't hammer through corners as much as glide through them.”

Yes.

The XE is gifted with one of the best steering racks we’ve found in the segment for quite some time, BMW’s lost its touch thanks to a maniacal devotion to run-flat tires, and Audi and Mercedes seem uninterested in the idea. Senior Editor Andrew Ganz agreed: “The XE reminds me of the way BMWs used to be, with its predictable rear-wheel-drive dynamics and its good steering.”


 
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