When Jaguar last leapt into the compact luxury sports sedan segment, rivals with more performance and valet-stand appeal clawed it to death. That car, the 2001-2009 X-Type was in some ways better than history will remember, but it wasn't the right one to take on the benchmark BMW 3 Series. This all-new 2017 XE is.

Having been birthed under Ford's ownership of Jaguar, the old X-Type was an all-wheel-drive sedan based on the Blue Oval's front-drive Mondeo, a prosaic four-door we know today as the Fusion. The XE, by contrast, is the first model to ride atop Jaguar's sophisticated new aluminum modular chassis designed for both rear- and all-wheel drive.

Contemporary styling

The XE's shape is pure contemporary Jag, with many outward similarities to its XF kin, including a rounded rectangular grille bookended by twin-element headlamps incorporating LED eyeliners. It's a handsome form with a wide, wheels-at-the-corner stance, but it's not particularly daring.

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We sampled the 3.0 S, which will be the sportiest XE at launch. The rear-wheel drive S packs the same supercharged 3.0-liter V6 found in XJ and F-Type, tuned to deliver 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque through a well-behaved 8-speed automatic. That's enough juice to give the S an official 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, but powering out of the corners on Portugal's winding roads, it felt a skosh burlier still - enough to put XE near the top of its accelerative class. 

Fuel economy figures aren't yet available, but the 3.0L has historically favored lusty performance over frugality (the larger XF gets 18 MPG city and 28 highway with the same engine). Jaguar has already promised US dealers a 2.0L gasoline four-cylinder from its new Ingenium engine family, as well as a diesel and a manual transmission.

Modern Interior

The XE's interior is a fully modern environment - if you still envision Jaguar interiors as quaint, wood-paneled English libraries, you're in for a shock (albeit a pleasant one). Visibility is good, as is the driving position, with supportive seats under cheek and a right-sized steering wheel. Even in our preproduction tester, cabin fit and finish was pleasing, with all major switchgear predictably placed, including the rotary drive mode knob and simple climate controls. 

A caveat: The XE's interior can look a bit funereal in darker colors like black, but choose a lighter shade of leather and trim you'll be rewarded with upliftingly sumptuous confines.

Jaguar's new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, dubbed InControl, replaces the company's frankly miserable setup of recent years. It's a decisive step in the right direction, but lacks some key features of its German rivals, many of whom incorporate larger screens and finger-swipe address entry. At least there's available WiFi and a smartphone-based app system that allows for things like remote start and unlocking.

This Jaguar's calling card won't be its interior tech, though; it's going to be its superlative performance. We alluded to XE's quickness earlier, but it's also shaping up as the category's best-handling car (we'll have to wait for a US-spec car to know for sure), with excellent road manners, tenacious grip and surprisingly communicative electric power steering. In confident hands, it's a formidable back road time-eraser with sharp turn-in from its 19-inch Dunlops, yet it won't beat you up on the morning commute. 

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Aluminum architecture

The XE's girder-rigid yet light aluminum chassis is the chief enabler here. It's allowed Jaguar to reinvest mass where it benefits performance, including in the F-Type-derived double-wishbone front suspension and unique rear integral-link array that helps make this sedan's excellent manners possible. Like a good wide receiver, the result is an XE that isn't necessarily lighter than its adversaries; it's just better at holstering mass in the right places.

Of course, all the latest safety gear is available, including intelligent cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, but the XE's best accident-avoidance technology will be its handling.

The XE won't arrive until Spring, 2016 thus the 2017 model year designation. Jaguar is regrettably delaying its US launch in order to ensure that available AWD will make it 50-state compatible. We appreciate that logic, but our first drive has made us impatient.

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