In photos, it looks a bit bulbous, at least from front-on, but in the real world, the all-new Jaguar E-Pace is as much a looker as its distinctive big brother, the F-Pace.
But, don’t think it’s simply a scaled down version of its larger SUV sibling, because for starters, despite its smaller proportions (shorter by around 400mm), the E-Pace is something of a fat cat – tipping the scales at nearly 1.9 tonnes – 100kg heavier than the substantially bigger F-Pace.
You see, Jaguar has ditched its all-aluminium architecture the F-Pace is built on, in favour of the steel platform from the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport – citing reasons around cost and timelines.
If you look at where Jaguar sits in the SUV segment compared to its German luxury rivals, it starts to make sense. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been busy launching SUV after SUV for years, spawning entire ranges of these high-riding family haulers, while the E-Pace represents the British marque’s second only attempt at the game.
That need to play catch up is also the reason it won’t be built in the UK, either. Instead, the company has opted for a more convenient strategy that will see the E-Pace manufactured by Magna in Austria, rather than Jaguar’s plant at Halewood in the UK.
That’s fine, if it means quicker production cycles, not to mention production quality, given the likes of Audi’s iconic TT and Aston Martin’s Rapide were also built by Magna at their cutting-edge facility in Graz.
The design, though, is 100 per cent British, while the brief, as always with Jaguar is to make them first and foremost, visually desirable. And, while the E-Pace clearly borrows a few styling cues from its F-Pace sibling, it also counts the stunning F-Type sports car as one of its key design influencers.
No more so is that evident than with the rear lights and pumped-up guards down back. So, too, at the front of the car, particularly the headlamps, complete with Jaguar’s trademark J-Blade light signature. The front bumper and grille are deep and assertive, which also encompasses some active aero vanes tacked in behind.
So, it’s a bit of mix as far as design goes, but still instantly recognisable as a Jaguar. Few will argue against the good looks of the E-Pace, especially in the metal, but just as important is the way it rides and handles, and that’s where Jaguar has gone to great lengths to ensure its latest and heaviest SUV is up to the task and on-brand with the very foundations of the Leaper badge itself.
It’s hard not to keep coming back to the weight issue, but we’d hate to think how many more kilos this small SUV might have put on had it not been for the raft of weight-saving measures built into this vehicle.
For starters, the bonnet, roof and tailgate are manufactured from aluminium, so too are the engines (there are diesel and petrol versions). The main suspension components are also made of the lightweight metal (the front knuckle is even hollow cast), while under the dash lies a magnesium cross bench, which lightens things up further.
We only got to sample the E-Pace in its range-topping models – P300 petrol and D240 diesel – both of which were fitted with Jaguar’s Active Driveline system, effectively the same kind of all-wheel drive system fitted to the hell-raising Ford Focus RS – meaning outstanding lateral grip on a variety of surfaces.
Both engines are part of Jaguar Land Rover’s latest Ingenium range of turbocharged four-pot units – only these two high-power units, providing sufficient enough outputs for what is a fun driving experience in relatively demanding conditions – short for twisty, narrow roads with some wet patches to boot.
The D240 makes 177kW and 500Nm of torque going to all four wheels via a nine-speed ZF auto. There’s a bit of low down lag if you jump on it too quickly, but once up to speed, there’s a satisfying immediacy to throttle inputs. It gets even better when the road opens up and you give it a boot-full. High-speed overtakes proved effortless and gave both my driving partner and I plenty of confidence.
But, there’s no escaping the rattle though, so often the case with smaller displacement oil burners, though, it’s pretty-well muted inside the cabin. Jaguar is billing the E-Pace as a dynamic driving experience, as well as useful family SUV, so 0-100km/h in 7.4 seconds in diesel guise is about right, we think.
For those that want peak performance from their Jaguar SUV, the P300 more than delivers the goods, with 221kW and 400Nm – knocking a full second off the diesel’s sprint time, as well as feeling significantly livelier.
It’s more responsive, too – not just under throttle, but up front, too, especially on turn in. The difference is under the bonnet, where the petrol engine brings a 32kg weight-saving bonus to driving dynamics over the diesel version.
I guess it comes down to those who favour driving pleasure over economic prudence, or less stops at the fuel bowser, given the diesel’s frugal 6.2L/100km consumption over the petrol’s 8.0L/100km usage.
Performance testing of the less-powerful engines will have to wait, but that might also reveal some less than satisfying results, given the E-Pace's sheer heft.
One of the highlights, though, is the E-Pace’s ability to corner flat and with solid composure even while tailing what was clearly a local in a big hurry to get across the mountain pass through the spectacular Alta-Rocca region of this French-owned island off the coast of Italy.
Better still, the whole thing feels nicely balanced, so that rarely, if ever, do you feel any uncomfortable weight-shift – even in the most demanding sections. At that point, the small, high-riding Jag becomes an entirely fun thing to pedal – mostly.
The jury is still out on transmissions with more than eight forward gear ratios – at least, for this reviewer. On more than one occasion, it just seemed like one too many, with the gearbox (more so with the diesel) seemingly taking too long to pick a gear, before catapulting the Jag towards the next bend.
Jaguar’s chassis engineers have got the steering just right, though. There’s plenty of meat at the straight-ahead position and it’s quick to respond to delicate inputs. There’s not a lot of arm-twirling required, either, bar the occasional super-tight bend that would surely catch even Lewis Hamilton out. Good feedback, too, feeling more like a warm hatch experience than an SUV.
Shame about the ride, then, which is decidedly firm. And that’s the part that doesn’t quite gel with that luxury Jaguar heritage. Blame it on the fixed-rate dampers if you must (adaptive suspension will be available later in the year), but we’d like a tad more suppleness across less than perfect roads. You feel it more from the front passenger seat, especially over potholes with sharp edges, at least on the 20-inch alloys the launch vehicles were fitted with. We’d steer clear of the optional 21s, then.
Clearly, Jaguar has favoured sure-footed handing over absolute ride comfort with the E-Pace. Final judgement will need to wait until we try it on Aussie roads, then again, with adaptive dampers, and perhaps even smaller wheels.
Despite its compact proportions, the E-Pace we drove is an entirely family-friendly SUV, boasting 577 litres of boot space behind the rear seats, and a useful 1234 litres when folded (not exactly flat, mind). That said, the Australian model will feature as standard the space-saver offered as an option in Europe, so the boot space number in local models will drop to 484 litres.
By way of comparison, Porsche’s small SUV, the Macan, gets 500 litres, but opens up to 1500 litres with a flat-folding second row.
You’ll also find oodles of cubby holes around the entire E-Pace cabin – enough to swallow multiple wallets, phones and water bottles. The central storage bin alone provides 8.42 litres, while the glovebox yields another 10.07 litres of hold space.
Rear-seat leg- and head room is pretty good, too, with my driving partner (all of 183cm and long-legged) comfortably seated back there complete with R.M. Williams boots and all.
For those who thought Jaguar was slipping with its interior fit and finish, the E-Pace is bound to change your mind. Inspired by the F-Type, though somehow, looking even more svelte than the marque’s proven two-door eye popper.
There’s a decided leap in the look and feel of the materials – it’s more premium, no question. The perforated leather is sumptuously soft, yet supportive even in these twistiest of terrains. And the polished metal accents properly pop against the soft surrounding plastics.
Thankfully, the impossibly unintuitive rising gear selector knob has finally been banished from the parts bin in favour of a pistol-grip shifter from the F-Type. There’s the familiar grab handles there too, along with a properly thick-rimmed leather-bound steering wheel.
It’s a driver-focused cockpit, too, with a big 12.3-inch digital instrument display along with a crystal-clear colour head-up display and 10-inch Touch Pro Nav/Media infotainment screen tops of the main in-cabin tech, which is fast, easy to use and perfectly positioned for quick access.
The one big omission is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (it’s been coming for a while, they tell us), and if you’re like me, I’d rather not go without, as it’s something you get used to living with all too quickly.
However, Jaguar’s latest effort has got a lot going for it; proper good looks, genuinely capable handling, and a beautifully crafted cabin – better than the F-Pace, even. It’ll also pass the space test for younger families and sports-mad couples with plenty of outdoor kit.
It’s not all roses, though. We’re less enthusiastic about the firm ride, though, we’re hoping the inclusion of adaptive dampers might better iron out the ride/handling balance more evenly.
There’s pricing, too. While the E-Pace might start from $47,750 plus on-roads, there’s a compendium-style list of optional extras that could see this new entry-level Jaguar’s price skyrocket with just a few short strokes of the pen.
Still, key rivals include Audi’s aging Q3 and the newer BMW X1, none of which have the style and panache of the E-Pace. The real completion will come in the form of Volvo’s XC40, due here in April, just one month after the Jaguar lands in showrooms.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Jaguar E-Pace.