If ever you needed a window into the complexity of a vehicle’s model range circa 2018, look no further than the 2018 Jaguar E-Pace. It’s the gold standard for offering a specification grade for every buyer – and then some.
The small-SUV segment is becoming a hard-fought battleground for every major manufacturer now, and you know the sales potential is properly significant when smaller players like Jaguar enter the fray. There’s market share to be had here, and a very important first step into luxury vehicle ownership further up the food chain too, if a company can win the hearts and minds of younger buyers.
If my cursory glance across the pricing and specifications list is correct – and I’m more than a little sceptical that I’ve made a meal of it – I count no less than 38 different variants across petrol and diesel engines and model grades. It’s a mesmerising list of small SUVs from one manufacturer.
This time around, we’re testing the 2018 Jaguar E-Pace SE D240. SE is easy enough to work out in JLR-speak, D is for diesel and 240 is for, well, we’re not quite sure. Two-litre, four-cylinder? I can’t quite work it out. In an effort to preserve your own sanity, just think of it as the E-Pace SE with a diesel engine.
Thankfully, the buying equation is a little easier to grasp, with pricing for this model grade starting from $68,850 – before on-road costs of course. There’s actually a fair bit of standard equipment included too, with highlights being: nine-speed automatic, active driveline, LED headlights and DRLs, auto high beams, grained leather trim, a suite of electronic safety equipment, rear-view camera, and a premium audio system.
There is, however, as is JLR’s want, a serious array of optional equipment, and a corresponding increase in the real-world price for this SUV too. The options list is as follows: fixed panoramic roof ($2160), 20-inch alloy wheels ($1690), head-up display ($1630), metallic paint ($1370), black contrast roof ($970), keyless entry ($950), black exterior pack ($890), tow hitch receiver ($780), leisure activity key ($750), gloss-black roof rails ($740), privacy glass ($690), 14-way heated electric memory front seats ($660), configurable ambient interior lighting ($580), DAB+ radio ($430), additional power sockets ($260), and finally a soft-grain leather steering wheel ($210).
That brings the price up to a not inconsiderable $83,610 before on-road costs. You can run through that options list yourself and work out what you’d like and what you don’t need if you were looking at buying an E-Pace, but I will state this: if you’re buying a vehicle from a luxury brand that is directed at those desiring a luxury experience, you’re entitled to expect that things like keyless entry, privacy glass and fancy front seats would be standard.
We’ve opined previously that the JLR predilection for extensive options lists is at odds with the modern buying experience and the luxury brand’s standing. Not simply about money, it makes the buying experience more complex and less obvious than it could otherwise be. It may, therefore, deter some potential buyers who can’t see their way through the minefield. We reckon JLR would have more success if it simplified this level of optional complexity too, especially in this voraciously contested small luxury SUV segment.
Competitors? Audi Q3, BMW X2 and Volvo XC40 spring immediately to mind, but feel free to toss the Mercedes-Benz GLA into the mix as well, and that’s before you get to the well specified, more affordable models from the not-so-luxury manufacturers.
On first impressions, the cabin is tasteful and attractive. There’s a broad infotainment screen, solid inclusions like Bluetooth that works well and DAB+ through a system that delivers high-end clarity and sound quality. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though, meaning you have to rely on the conventional Bluetooth and proprietary navigation system.
There’s a digital display for the driver between the two gauges, and the rear-view camera display (the angle can be changed) through the central screen is broad but can be a little grainy, especially in low light.
Storage is catered for to an above-average standard for this otherwise compact segment. Two cupholders reside near the centre console, there’s storage ahead of the shifter along with a 12V socket, and two USBs plus another 12V socket in the small centre console bin. The front door pockets are quite large and useful as well, once again delivering more storage than you might expect at this size.
There’s quality leather trim on the seats, which are heated, and we found them to be comfortable even after a few hours of driving. The cabin is, in fact, quite airy, aided by the expansive glass sunroof that lets plenty of light in when you want it. The quality cover, which we’d call a proper blind, keeps the nasty Aussie sun off your scone too, when it’s too hot and you don’t want to work on your tan on your way to work.
We liked the chunky steering wheel too, which errs on the side of sporty and fits the Jaguar character most buyers will be looking for. The three-position memory seats also add to the premium feel from behind the wheel, purely by virtue of being there really. The same goes for the ambient puddle lighting inside the cabin. It adds a premium feel in a really easy way; something aspiring premium manufacturers could pay attention to.
The driving position, something Land Rover always gets right, is excellent here in the Jaguar platform too. The seats themselves are great, as noted above, but the visibility is also excellent. The tall seating position and short bonnet mean you get a commanding view forward, which makes for easy city manoeuvring.
Rearward, it’s only the small back window and thick C-pillars that obstruct the driver’s view slightly, but the broad camera angle does counteract this somewhat. All in all, though, you don’t feel like you’re buried down in a cave with a high hipline and limited visibility in this E-Pace – as you can in some small SUVs.
Into the second row, space is – understandably – in somewhat short supply. This segment isn’t really known for its commodious occupant space, and aside from the TARDIS-like Honda HR-V, there isn’t really a small SUV of any colour that is spacious. It’s a compact SUV by segment, and very much a compact SUV in real terms in the second row.
The doors themselves are also quite short, meaning the opening itself is quite tight, making entry and egress not quite as elegant as it could be. Second-row occupants do, however, get three USB ports and air vents for the HVAC system, meaning the kids will be happy back there on longer family road trips.
The luggage space is also compact and larger prams, for example, are going to be a tight squeeze back there. It works for a couple’s weekend away or a road trip with three people tops, but you’d be hard pressed to squeeze a week’s worth of luggage for four adults in there. That’s a small concern, because the E-Pace isn’t really directed at that style of buyer. It’s more a city-focused urban crusader.
And, in that environment, the E-Pace does very well. Its manoeuvrability, quick steering and short wheelbase make it a cinch to point around town no matter how tight the laneway or parking space. The tall seating position also helps here too, and you almost feel like you’re steering a small hatchback, such is the compact nature of the exterior.
Rolling on 245/45/R20 Pirellis, the E-Pace’s ride quality is a surprise. It manages to absorb the worst Sydney can throw at it without disturbing the cabin ambience. Only the sharpest of ruts register into the cabin, and the E-Pace is otherwise unruffled. Alternatively, the standard 19-inch rims would offer an even more plush ride.
Its handling is better than many SUVs too, and while most buyers won’t ever properly stretch the E-Pace, Jaguar’s ability to turn out a chassis that respects its sporting heritage is untainted here.
We didn’t love the stop/start system, and the engine itself isn’t a standout of this specification grade. The relationship between engine and gearbox isn’t seamless, with some tardy shifts, and the slow-to-react gearbox not making the most of what the engine does offer. Stop/start being laggy and slow to react itself didn’t help here either, and a sharper driving experience would add to the premium feel of the E-Pace.
Figures of 177kW and 500Nm seem above average for the size of the E-Pace, and it certainly gets moving quickly when you do mash the throttle pedal. In fact, the engine and gearbox are more content when you’re asking them to work harder than they are crawling around town. While that will suit some buyers, we’d prefer a more effortless experience at low speed around town.
We couldn’t get the average fuel-usage figure beneath 10.5L/100km either, but having said that, we did spend nearly the entirety of our week in heavy urban traffic. You can expect, therefore, a better figure if you do a bit more cruising and a bit less going nowhere – certainly closer to the 5.6L/100km combined claim.
Buyers get a three-year/100,000km warranty and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty. You can also access a service plan, which costs $1500 for the first five years – more than reasonable in this segment. Servicing is required every 12 months/26,000km for the diesel engine.
The E-Pace is unquestionably a beautifully designed SUV that will appeal to plenty of buyers on looks alone. It’s not the best SUV in the compact or small segment, and in some ways it’s not quite as premium as we’d hoped.
It does, however, add a breath of fresh air to the segment that hasn’t always been as dynamic stylistically as it could be, and its aggressive pricing (before you add swathes of options) is a prime reason to take a look at one if you’re shopping for a small SUV.