From Jaguar, two smooth, agile luxury cars

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The Jaguar XE is a compact sports sedan starting at $34,900 with rear-drive and a 2-liter 240-horsepower turbo. AWD tacks on about $1,500.

The Jaguar renaissance continues with two new models that the British automaker expects to account for half its sales: the XE, a compact sports sedan, and the F-Pace, a performance-minded compact crossover SUV.

Now in the showrooms, these two models will put Jaguar in play in two crucial segments where it hadn't been represented.

"The compact sport sedan is the largest segment of the premium auto market," noted Nathan Hoyt, Jaguar Land Rover's product communications director. "And the compact SUV segment is the fastest growing."

And Jaguar will welcome the anticipated sales boost because it expects Britain's EU exit to hurt its business a lot.

Both vehicles turn out to be as lovely as they are agile and comfortable. Ian Callum, Jaguar's crack design director, has managed to retain the Jag's essence while striking out in fresh styling directions. Both cars achieve their beauty in a very lean, clean way.

As Callum says of the XE: "It's about paring it down to the bare essentials. Good designers have always said less is more."

The XE and F-Pace, like the recently introduced somewhat larger XF sedan, all use essentially the same, largely aluminum platform.

"We were able to design those three new cars in a year because they were developed from that common architecture," said Tim Clark, an engineering team manager.

Let's take a closer look at these two:

The XE. This is a delightful driver that will make the X-Type (Jag's earlier attempt at a compact sport sedan based on a Ford platform) even more forgettable.

The XE starts at $34,900 with rear-drive and a 2-liter, 240-horsepower turbo. The new, torque-rich, 180-horse, 2-liter turbodiesel raises the ante to $36,400. And the supercharged, 340-horse, 3-liter V-6 starts at $41,700. All-wheel-drive tacks on about $1,500.

The top-of-the-line AWD R-Sport V-6 and diesel models I drove will set you back $51,700 and $49,000, respectively.

These models boast pretty good economy. Even the top-performing V-6 (0 to 60 in about five seconds) has EPA ratings of 20 mpg city and 29 highway.

The car affords a quiet, comfortable ride, yet is remarkably agile, thanks to a suspension more sophisticated than you'll find in its BMW and Mercedes-Benz counterparts. Its power steering is the best electrically assisted system I've found in a sport sedan.

The exterior's lean and lovely pursuits persist inside. There are a couple warts, however. "Tight" would be a kindly way to describe rear seat leg room. Also, the speaker enclosures intrude on the armrests.

F-Pace. A practical sports car? Why, yes. Like its architectural brethren, the XE and XF, Jaguar's first crossover uses a double-wishbone front suspension very similar to the one in the Jaguar F-Type sports car. And that's part of the reason this car handles so well.

But the F-Pace's suspension goes beyond exceptional agility, which is usually obtained at the expense of ride comfort. It affords both, causing me to nominate the F-Pace for an automotive Oscar for "best cohabitation of handling and ride comfort in a crossover."

Like the XE, the F-Pace is a handsome driving companion. Unlike the XE, this roomy compact SUV doesn't induce rear seat knee claustrophobia.

Like the XE, the F-Pace employs ZF's nifty-shifty 8-speed automatic gear box. Unlike the XE, it is available only with AWD and doesn't offer a base, 2-liter gas turbo. The engine choices include the new, 2-liter turbodiesel found in the EX (estimated mpg of 23 and 31), and 340 and 380-horsepower renditions of the supercharged V-6. The latter (estimated mpg of 18 and 23) gets from 0 to 60 in five seconds flat.

F-Pace prices start at $40,990 and wend their way up to the $56,700 S model.

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