It’s moment of truth time at Jaguar Land Rover. Land Rover SUVs are selling like hotcakes, but Jaguar cars are mostly selling like old cakes left out in the rain. Which means the company has a lot riding on the new XE model, which it’s showing on American soil for the first time here in Detroit.
Positioned against BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, the XE will rely heavily on lightweight aluminum for its structure, which will make it a technological standout in the entry-level luxury class. But it will also become the most affordable Jaguar and whether it’s successful or not, it’s sure to become Jaguar’s volume leader when it goes on sale in 2016. With prices likely to start in the high thirty thousands and run all the way up to the low fifties, options will include diesel engines and all wheel drive, as well as that increasingly rare commodity, a manual transmission.
Inside, interior plastics are not the last word in tactile pleasure, but the XE certainly looks and feels like a fully modern luxury car, notwithstanding the fact that JLR’s sales and resources are so much smaller than any of its German competitors. But the real proof will be in the driving; all other Jaguars we’ve experienced Iately drive as well or better than those from the Fatherland, with an accent on ride quality sublime, so there’s good reason to be hopeful. We’ll be watching, too, however, for substantial warranties and adequately subvented monthly lease rates, two things that will strongly improve XE’s chances. Further addressing the brand’s slow to erase (and increasingly unfounded) reputation in the U.S. for unreliability, Jaguar plans to sell the car in Europe for a year before sales begin here, hopefully ensuring that any teething troubles can be resolved before the American consumer gets involved.
And then there’s this other prong of Jaguar’s comeback plan: Depressingly, for those of us who’ve admired Jaguar’s purity and singularity of purpose, the Detroit show was also home to the formal announcement of what everyone expected – Jaguar’s CX-17 SUV concept is indeed to become a reality in 2016 as the F-Pace, a sporty crossover that pays heed to the reality of the current marketplace, the American one in particular – people love them some SUVs. Look for a strong on-road bias and decent fuel economy from turbocharged and diesel engines. Though in today’s cheap-gas, head-in-the-sand environment, it’s not hard to imagine some people saying, “27 MPG? That’s too much, I better get something bigger and thirstier.”