3.5 stars

By Wayne Gorrett

 

Following on from the larger and internationally successful F-Pace SUV – which sold over 63,000 units in 2016 and formed a whopping 43 per cent of the brand’s sales in 2017 – Jaguar has introduced the compact E-Pace, its second assault to garner a larger slice of the SUV market.

The E-Pace (the letter ‘E’ designates Jaguar's smaller models, such as the automaker's XE saloon) is a compact SUV with seating for five that mirrors its larger sibling's recipe for showroom success: blend luxury, sport and a healthy dollop of off-road prowess into one concise package.

I recently spent a week with the Jaguar E-Pace, delivered in top-end P300 R-Dynamic HSE guise and filed this report…

 

Exterior

Size-wise, the E-Pace is larger than an Audi Q3, smaller than the Q5, but in the flesh is closer in size to BMW’s new X2. Nevertheless, what is evidently clear is that no one will mistake the E-Pace for anything but a Jaguar cub.

The nose features the iconic Jaguar grille offset by a pair of sleek cat-eye-shaped headlamps. The sides are artfully sculpted, with strong shoulders over each wheel and there are oversize mirrors mounted to the base of the A-pillars.

At the rear, the compact Jaguar boasts a pair of prominent exhaust ports and thin F-Type-like tail lamps beneath its small rear window. The overall look is cohesive, sleek, sporty and VERY Jaguar.

The E-Pace shares platforms with the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque. While that gives it plenty of off-road breeding, it also means it differs from its traditional aluminium-intensive Jaguar siblings.

To keep costs and prices down, the chassis is primarily steel, but lightweight aluminium has been used for the roof, bonnet, front fenders and tailgate. Those measures indeed reduce its overall mass, but the baby Jaguar still has too much baby fat. At 1,890kg, the E-Pace still arrives in showrooms 70kg heavier than its larger and more aluminium-intensive brother, the F-Pace.

 

Interior

The interior of the E-Pace has adopted some of the styling elements of its F-Type sports car in the making of the E-Pace. It is pleasantly styled and distinctly fashionable. The more astute will notice the grab handle on the central console and the sloping dash are from the F-Type – which to be honest is no bad this as it lends a sportier feel to the interior than that of the larger F-Pace SUV.

Premium materials cover all the critical touch zones such as the steering wheel and gear-shift lever, but cheaper plastics lower down in the cabin – some of which, I discovered to my detriment, are rather sharply-edged, let the side down. You just wouldn’t find this lack of attention to detail in its Germanic rivals.

Front passengers face high-resolution configurable digital displays for the instruments and infotainment, while (bravo!) conventional round knobs control cabin temperature, fan speed and audio volume. There’s an option to have a TFT screen instead of traditional dials behind the steering wheel.

Ergonomically, the Jaguar works well, but the learning curve for the Touch Pro multimedia system more closely resembles a paper clip as there are often far too many commands to do what should be simple tasks. And it’s slow to respond, too.

Driver and front passenger sit in well-supportive seats and there's plenty of headroom and legroom for those gifted with extra height than I. The second row is cosy and may require the front passengers to scoot their seats forward a couple inches to accommodate proper grown-ups, but children and in-betweeners will be fine.

 

Load space

With the second row of seats in place there’s 577 litres of space on offer, which is more than you’ll find in a BMW X1 (507 litres), or an Audi Q3 (427 litres), or even the five-door Range Rover Evoque (575 litres). However, fold row two down to reveal its 1,234 litres of space and the baby Jaguar loses out to the 1,550 litres in an X1 and the 1,325 litres in a Q3.

 


Trims and equipment

In a new move, Jaguar has introduced two main E-Pace body styles – the Regular E-Pace and the R-Dynamic E-Pace. There are subtle styling differences with the R-Dynamic versions have body-coloured door cladding, a different front bumper design, front fog lights and twin exhausts, for a sportier, more aggressive look.

Each of those two body styles has its own range of S, SE and HSE specification packs. I won’t go into detail here as I don’t have enough skin covering the bones of my fingers. Suffice to say the range-entry S specification is superbly well-equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, fabric seats, plus heated windscreen and door mirrors. It’s also equipped with the aforementioned 10-inch touchscreen Touch Pro infotainment system.

 


Engine and transmission line-up

Petrol engines:
All petrol E-Pace models use the powerful 2.0-litre Ingenium engine offered in three states of tune and come with four-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard. The entry-level P200 delivers 197hp, the P250 offers 246hp while the thirsty P300 as tested has 296hp and is the fastest E-Pace in the range, managing 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds.

Diesel engines:
Likewise, all diesel E-Pace models use the strong 2.0-litre turbocharged Ingenium diesel unit offers in three states of tune. The entry-level diesel is the D150, which offers 148hp via front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual ‘box. All-wheel drive and an automatic transmission are optional.

In manual, front-wheel-drive form, the engine feels willing and keen and the six-speed manual gearbox is pleasing to use, too, although stick travel between the gears seems overly long.

Move up to the D180 and you get the same 2.0-litre diesel engine but with 178hp. With four-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, the D180 reaches 60mph from a standing start in 9.4 seconds or 8.6 seconds if you go for the automatic gearbox.

The range-topping D240 has a 237hp version of the same 2.0-litre diesel engine and gets four-wheel drive and the automatic gearbox as standard. It can do 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds and speed will peak at 139mph. Its performance hike comes courtesy of a second turbocharger and the P240D feels faster when overtaking slower traffic. It’s an impressive and reasonably refined engine if you can afford it, but for most people, the mid-range D180 will be more than adequate for a lesser financial investment.

 

Safety

Euro NCAP awarded the baby Jaguar a full five stars when tested in late 2017. Standard safety kit includes emergency braking, a driver tiredness monitor, lane-keeping assistance and front and rear parking sensors. There's a Drive Pack also available, which is standard on some of the higher-spec models and consists of blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with queue assistance and high-speed emergency braking.

 

Ride and handling

The E-Pace leans towards the sporty side of the driving dynamics spectrum, with a ride that's a little firmer than you would expect. That’s not to say the E-Pace is really sporty because you’re never too far away from being reminded of its bulky weight. While the steering is light and not particularly communicative to the fingertips, its accuracy is excellent.

The suspension setup does a great job of keeping the car flat through corners, which makes the E-Pace more enjoyable to drive on a twisty road than the Audi Q3, BMW X1 or Volvo XC60. All models have a JaguarDrive Control system, with configurable settings for steering assistance, gearbox and accelerator response and, where fitted, adaptive dampers. In models without the latter and with a manual gearbox fitted, the settings make no real difference to the overall feel, and you may as well leave it in 'comfort' mode.

Courtesy of a local farmer (who accompanies me), am fortunate enough to have access to my own off-road course and the baby Jag behaved impeccably throughout. With minimal suspension travel, the little SUV prefers to lift a wheel when things get really rough. However, its electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive system appeared nearly unflappable regardless of the task. Safe money says that if the road has been crudely created, the E-Pace will confidently get you to your destination.

 

SUMMARY

Jaguar is expecting buyers to step up to its newest offering by asking them to pay more for its E-Pace than its myriad of rivals. While that may seem like a challenge, especially considering its tight rear quarters, there's more than enough substance in terms of technology, equipment and innovation to justify the choice.

If your eyes are focused on premium luxury and you've got an adventurous lifestyle, Jaguar’s newest kitty just may have your name on it.

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