What is it?

This is the Jaguar XE, Britain’s answer to the all-conquering BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class. The entry-level luxury sedan pitches Jaguar into the D-segment for the first time since the 2002-2010 X-type -- a sedan sharing DNA with millennium-era Ford Contours and Mercury Cougars, its dress sense with WW2 British fighter pilots.

Jaguar knows it has to bring something unique to the party to make us go “woah!” and forget its past. On paper, it has. The XE adopts Jaguar’s new modular platform and becomes the only car in its segment with an aluminum-intensive monocoque -- 75 percent aluminum, the remainder is high-strength steel -- and double-wishbone front suspension. It is, promises Jaguar,the driver’s car in its class; you can’t aim much higher than knocking an ultimate driving machine off its pedestal.

There’s also the carrot of up to 62 mpg on the European combined cycle – U.S. figures are coming -- exceptional comfort and refinement and new infotainment. Of course, Ian Callum and his design team have taken care of the exterior design, the slick 0.26 coefficient of drag makes it the most aero-efficient Jaguar ever; the design’s a little safe and derivative perhaps, with 3-series hints in the nose and Audi A5 in the rear, but it looks sharp.

At launch, the XE fields a range of four- and six-cylinder gas and turbodiesel engines. The headlines focus on Jaguar Land Rover’s all-new Ingenium engines. They’re high-tech, with all-aluminum construction, friction-reducing technology to cut stickiness 17 percent, variable-flow oil and water pumps and much more.

Only the 2.0-liter turbodiesels (163hp and 180hp) represent the modular Ingenium family initially. The 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engines (200 hp and 240 hp) and the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 (340 hp) carry over, the latter shared with the F-Type V6 S. Expect the engines to be upgraded as the modular Ingenium family starts to multiply. Only the 180-hp 2.0-liter diesel and V6 S are confirmed for the U.S., but that makes the XE the first Jaguar to be offered Stateside with a compression ignition.

Either six-speed manuals or eight-speed automatic transmissions are paired with turbodiesel engines, but it’s autos only for all gasoline engines.

Several driver-assistance systems are offered, including emergency autonomous braking, lane-departure assist, blind-spot monitoring, laser head-up display and All Surface Progress Control, the latter borrowing Land Rover expertise to, claims Jaguar, “give unrivalled all-weather capability.”

The American market is crucial for the XE. Jaguar isn’t anxious to project volumes, but insiders hope it doubles sales from today’s 80,000 globally to closer to 160,000. The upcoming F-Pace SUV forms part of that plan, but it’s the XE making up the majority of sales. Call it a cautious 50,000 cars a year, similar to X-type, far less than the 3-series sedan and Touring’s 350,000 annual production.

The XE launches in Britain this May, but we have to wait another year. All-wheel-drive is deemed so important in the U.S., Jaguar wants to offer it from launch, hence the delay.

What's it like to drive?

We tested both the top-spec turbodiesel and the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 S on the launch in Lisbon, Portugal. Both were preproduction prototypes, but both were representative of final specs.

You can probably guess which keys we grabbed first. Climb into the V6 S and before you even start the car, you notice the electric memory seats’ relatively low-slung driving position, reinforcing the promise of class-leading dynamics. A few things are familiar -- the keyfob, steering wheel, instruments, rotary gear controller and indicator stalks -- but much is new, including Jaguar’s all-new 8-inch touchscreen. Long overdue, it consigns the old ponderous and unintuitive infotainment system to the dumpster.

The four main functions -- audio, climate, sat-nav, phone -- are displayed on the homescreen, and you can swipe the capacitive screen to access additional sub-menus. Steps between functions are pared back and entering addresses and syncing smartphones is intuitive. The underlying dashboard architecture isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, though, and the sat-nav and climate functions could be more clearly differentiated on the homescreen.

Push the engine start button and the V6 wakes with a roar that’d turn a Mustang fan’s head, then settles to an understated, buttery idle. Jaguar’s engineers talk about the 50-meter feel being crucial, and you quickly notice the smooth transmission, the chunky D-pillars (the XE’s backup camera is essential), the precise steering and suspension compliance over speed bumps.

As speed builds on the freeway, the refinement really catches your attention: subdued wind noise, minimal tire roar, suspension administrating a shot of local anesthetic to fractured pavement and pronounced expansion joints. Even when you push the XE beyond 100 mph, the cabin has a detached calm.

All the while, the XE feels planted and almost immune to crosswinds, presumably a benefit of Jaguar’s first electric power-steering system: It gives the engineers numerous tuning options and allows them to dial out unwanted interference from external factors. Somehow it does this without feeling sterile and dumbed-down.

So it’s a Jaguar, it soaks up bumps, it’s refined; this much you could’ve guessed. What about that 3-series?

On the most challenging mountain roads we could find, the XE sticks to the surface like a pair of El Capitan free-climbers with the summit in sight. The double-wishbone front hooks into even damp bends and just swoops on through; the XE just doesn’t even understand understeer, and the Integral Link rear suspension puts all 335 hp down without scrabble. Jaguar says torque-vectoring by braking helps turn-in -- it subtly slows an inside wheel, enabling sharper direction changes -- but the truth is you’re not really aware of it. The whole package just integrates beautifully; we can’t think of much this side of an Olympic bobsled that seats four adults and carves so quickly.

The engine has a linear, smooth and eager delivery, punching hard up beyond the mid-range before discouraging you from winding it right out with a gentle drop off in power. It doesn’t croon quite as audibly as in the F-type, but its melancholy warble really adds to the engagement. It punches out 40 hp more than the BMW 335i, but is heavier -- 3,671 pounds to 3,555 pounds -- despite that aluminum-intensive bodyshell.

The brakes have a well-judged bite and build-up of stopping power, and the eight-speed auto is both intelligent and responsive in full auto mode, and obedient in manual mode. It’s as quick to drop from seventh to fourth with three quick paddle taps as a McLaren 650S and it never balks at changes; partly because it always feels better to keep the S in the mid-range, so you instinctively don’t ask for sky-high revs.

Electrically assisted power-steering systems can kill driver involvement, but not here. There’s a tight and precise feel from the second you move the XE’s helm off-center, a progressive loading of weight to work against, and natural self-centering when you’re past the apex. We’d put more steering feel on the wish list, but respect where it’s due, this is an excellent system.

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