Octane
By Amos Kwon
on 3.10.14

The sports sedan meets many emotional, performance and pragmatic needs for car lovers. When done right, a proper sports sedan can move five people with at least a scintilla of luxury, accommodate luggage, groceries or golf bags and also provide more than respectable performance numbers and handling capabilities. It’ll also make you look affluent enough without coming across as a prick — well not a huge one, anyway.

More Scintillating Sports Sedans: Track Day: 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport | Behind The Wheel: 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport | Quick Spin: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

For decades, the BMW 3-Series has been the sports sedan benchmark by which all others are measured, but all that is changing in this steel cage death match that includes German, Japanese and American contenders. BMW, naturally, has its hat in the ring. Then there’s the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C Class, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, Cadillac ATS, and soon a new Jaguar known as the XE, which was recently announced but not fully revealed at the Geneva Motor Show.

But the new Jag has more than the competition to overcome. There’s that nasty thing called stigma. You might remember Jaguar’s last attempt at an entry-level sport sedan several years ago: it was called the X-Type, and though it was a decent performer, its sales were dismal compared to its major competitors. Even though it was Jaguar’s best-selling car during its life (largely due to its price point), it didn’t even come close to its annual target sales of 100,000. Most car critics thought the car was satisfactory, but it was disproportionately cursed as a “rebadged” Ford Mondeo by some brand enthusiasts, even though it only shared 20 percent of the Mondeo’s components.

It probably didn’t help that the X-Type looked like a badly shrunken XJ, a car that at the time was having its own identity crisis of sorts. Jaguar (then under Ford ownership) was still stuck in design purgatory by continuing to use the same design language that started in the late ’60s. There was nothing really original in the X-Type except for the all-wheel-drive setup. But even that idea sucked, because it was mated to a thirsty V6 engine until a 4-cylinder option came out, all too late. Everything else just came across as significantly lesser XJ. Ford got its hands on a potentially great idea and then proceeded to smush pie in its face by creating a limiting sports sedan for a sophisticated brand. It’s like your Ivy League daughter bringing home a college dropout video store clerk home for the holidays — no one’s comfortable.

It’s likely that the new XE will change that. After all, Jaguar is under new ownership by Tata Motors, an India-based company. Virtually everything they’ve done lately has had the Midas touch. Look at the spectacular new F-Type. Sales in 2013 skyrocketed by 41 percent, which any company would envy. But the XE has to take Jaguar to the next level, since its overall sales are like whimpering sneezes compared to the bellowing battle cries of the big guys, BMW and Mercedes. If the XE is as good as Jaguar hopes it will be, their slice of the entry level luxury segment pie will be significantly bigger.

It’s like your Ivy League daughter bringing home a college dropout video store clerk home for the holidays — no one’s comfortable.

But just like the X-Type of old, the XE can’t get by on its name alone. It’ll have to tick all the right boxes of sportiness, luxury and beautiful design. At least this time around, it has the advantage of great genes from the current generation, and it will borrow chiseled and sculpted cues from the F-Type as well as its sedan brethren. Initial photos show an attractive front fascia with a very XF-styled grille and hood, but the overall look is cleaner. The car won’t be too adventurously styled, as most carmakers avoid too much drama from their bread-and-butter cars, but if it’s anything like Jaguar’s other cars, count on a very attractive design that will both turn heads and open wallets.

From an engineering standpoint, it seems that Jaguar has learned its lesson from the X-Type debacle. Both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive will be available, as well as a new line of four cylinder gas and diesel engines now known as Ingenium, in addition to V6 power.

In today’s sport sedan world, it’s imperative that Jaguar offers exactly what its customers are looking for in an entry level car — power, sophistication, and powertrain options. If Jaguar/Ford had adopted this kind of thinking back in the days of the X-Type, it would’ve changed the numbers positively (not to 100,000 annual sales, but still). No detailed photos have been revealed yet, but you’ll see a full production car later this year and then official sales in 2015. Jaguar will likely have a winner on its hands, and then perhaps they will be able to forever remove the black armband from the dark, vacuous hole created by the X-Type.

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