2017 Jaguar XE 20d RWD offers a delightful, fairly inexpensive ride

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2017 Jaguar XE 20d RWD

Automotive model designations tend to read like algebraic equations. Consider, for example, the recently coined Jaguar compact sedan I just test-drove: MN (model name) = XE 20d RWD.

That would be the XE with the 2-liter turbo diesel and rear-wheel-drive.

The XE is a lovely date whose sleek anatomy, interior ambience, and athleticism make for pleasant company. It also administers merciful amnesia to those who had experienced its dreary predecessor, the X-Type.

And in its base form, it is rather inexpensive by this luxury automaker’s standards. The XE starts at $34,900, which gets you a rear-driver powered by a 2-liter turbo. Go upmarket and equip it with the turbo diesel ($1,500) and all-wheel-drive ($2,500) and the entry gets a little saltier. The diesel rear-drive Prestige model I tested opened at $42,900. The highest XE life-form, the 35t R-Sport AWD, a supercharged, 340-horse V-6 that does 0 to 60 in under five seconds, weighs in at $51,700.

(If you have an even more ravenous speed need than the fleet-footed 35t R-Sport can satisfy, you might wait around for the recently announced 600-horse XE SV Project 8, which will be the most powerful Jaguar ever built. They are going to hand-assemble only 300 of these guys, and I’m guessing they will cost about half the national debt of Botswana.)

While the diesel model I tested doesn’t do the 35t R-Sport’s kind of business, it got along nicely enough. Like any diesel, its modest horsepower rating (180) belies the performance derived from its big torque number (318 lb./feet).

The XE also handled delightfully. And it delivered the kind of fuel economy I don’t normally associate with Jaguars. The EPA mileage estimates of 32 city and 42 highway are eyebrow-arching for a 3,320-pound compact sedan. The mileage readout awarded the tester 33.9 mpg in largely local driving.

I never met a Jaguar body I didn’t want to fondle, and the civil sexiness of the XE’s styling did nothing to change my mind. The visual pleasure persisted inside the test car, where Jaguar showed once again that no one is any better at creating interior ambiance. I’ve been in more expensively appointed Jags, but even at this price point, the clean, tasteful flow of this veneer-accented interior caused a raising of the thumb.

As lovely as it is, the interior isn’t all sweetness and light. It is rather small by segment standards. People a couple of inches over 6 feet will find themselves with barely enough rear-seat legroom — and with their scalps brushing the headliner. Also, I’m no fan of the rotary control for the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. I just want to change gears; I don’t want to open Daddy’s safe.

On the plus side, the seating position is excellent and forward visibility is good at any angle. The instrument/control layout is intuitive.

Driving underlines several more pluses. The XE is afforded a very quiet diesel, for openers. And the comfortable seating is complemented by a comfortable ride, the latter thanks to a sophisticated suspension that negotiates a nifty compromise between comfort and handling.

In addition to a suspension that keeps it flat and composed in the corners, the XE benefits from solid braking and the most communicative electrically assisted power system I’ve run across in a sport sedan.

On the minus side, I didn’t like when the stop/start system would occasionally restart the engine before I took my foot off the brake.

The XE is built in Solihull, U.K. It has an exceptional bumper-to-bumper warranty: five years/60,000 miles — and complimentary scheduled maintenance while the warranty is in force.

2017 Jaguar XE 20d RWD (Prestige)

Base price: $42,900.

As tested: $43,895 (including shipping).

Standard equipment: 2-liter turbo diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive and a plethora of hedonistic and safety electronics, ranging from a blind spot alert to 10-way power front seats with heat and leather, and a power washer for the Xenon headlights.

Options: None.

Fuel economy: 32 city and 42 highway.

Engine performance: Fine.

Handling: Agile.

Ride comfort: Civil.

Styling: Even more civil.

Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper.

Three Bens: Good.