Price & Equipment - Winner: Draw
The new Audi S4 narrowly edged out the Benz-AMG C43 in a recent sub-muscle sedan stand-off (April issue of Wheels Magazine) and returns to fend off Jaguar’s ultimate mid-size performance sedan, the XE S. It ticks most boxes, often with greater flair than the Jag, boasts extensive active safety and the superb virtual cockpit, but misses a power-adjust steering column.
Among the kit the $105K Jaguar XE S shares with its $100K Deutsch rival are a tyre-pressure monitor system, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlights, LED DRLs (with bi-xenon rather than LED headlights), 19-inch alloys, powered, memory front seats, climate control – dual zone here, tri-zone in the Audi – and six airbags.
Interior & Versatility - Winner: Audi S4
We’ll change the record when a rival brand upstages Audi’s interiors. But for now the S4 applies sporty leather, suede/Alcantara and aluminium to a classier cabin with a fundamentally sharper focus on finish and tactility. A 480-litre boot is plenty big – about 25L larger than the XE; a space-saver costs extra.
The XE takes the clean, minimalist approach established by the original XF, which still appeals. But in details such as the odd trim gap and switch or trim piece, the XE feels less rich inside than the S4. There’s less rear legroom too, though like the Audi, the seatback folds 40/20/40, which is great for maximising occupant/cargo possibilities.
Performance & Economy - Winner: Draw
The S4’s adoption of the turbocharger, replacing the prior model’s snarly supercharged 3.0-litre V6, results in an objectively better engine that uses less fuel and produces more grunt, at 260kW and 500Nm. With an eight-speed auto and AWD, it’s a slick, all-weather powertrain, but without the old donk’s – or its rival’s – top-end lust.
Like the S4, the XE S is less flamboyant about its performance than some of its contemporaries – such as the AMG C43 – and far tamer than a full-on sports sedan. In the Jaguar’s case especially, that’s a shame because the 250kW blown 3.0-litre V6 is wild in the F-Type. If it was as angry in the hi-po XE, it’d give the Jag a malevolent edge.
Ride & Refinement - Winner: Audi S4
The Audi A4 is a lovely, pliant and quiet medium sedan and, elevated into the second-tier sports sedan realm on 19s and firmer suspension – with help from adaptive dampers – it remains so as an S4. Sure, this is no base A4 on chubby sidewalls, but given the extra performance and handling ability, the modest compromise is justified.
The XE, like the A4, is a fabulously fine-riding mid-size premium sedan. You gain the brand’s adaptive dynamics system as a standard feature in the flagship, which helps offset uprated springs and bigger wheels – 19s, like the S4. The result is the Jaguar makes the high-performance transition without significant ride trade-off.
Steering & Handling - Winner: Draw
Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive gives the S4 a substantially different dynamic flavour – and an edge if the road is slippery or wet. So, while the S4’s steering is lighter, and not as connected or fluid as the XE’s, its point ’n’ shoot personality and grip on the road make it immensely rapid and almost foolproof over a challenging back road.
The Jaguar XE doesn’t hide its sporty streak, even in the base 20t. But while adding grunt in the S should be a surefire way to make a better, quicker sports-sedan version, the extra weight over the nose removes some of the lovely balance found elsewhere. Yet there’s still plenty to like about a talented rear-drive chassis packing 450Nm.
In Wheels Magazine's April issue sports sedan double-header, the new B9-series Audi S4 stacked up as the everyman’s ‘sports sedan lite’ alongside Alfa Romeo’s liveable M3/C63-beater, the Giulia Quadrifoglio. However, Jaguar’s XE S didn’t figure in those fights. Before the Giulia arrived, at least, it was the left-field pick of the premium medium sedans.
And, while experience suggests that some dynamic purity is lost as you scale the XE range, surely a 250kW supercharged rear-driver with such fine fundamentals deserves a shot at greatness. Here, the Audi S4 has a nicer cabin, with more space in the back and a refinement and ride advantage. It wins. But the Jaguar XE S has nicer steering, a snarlier top-end, and individuality on its side. We’d certainly be tempted.
First published in the June 2017 edition of Wheels Magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.