What if we told you there are no less than 44 individual variants of the 2019 Jaguar E-Pace, ranging in price from as low as $47,750 plus on-roads for the entry-level D150, up to a sky-high $82,339 for the top-shelf P300 R-Dynamic HSE? Is that something that might be a tad confusing for the buyer?
The list of optional extras is just as exhaustive and possibly even more bewildering, because many of those are also included in various packs on offer. However, the packs themselves appear to offer better value for money than if purchased individually.
Oddly enough, almost two years had elapsed since attending the international launch of the E-Pace in Corsica, before an opportunity arose to drive it locally and evaluate the small cat on poorer road surfaces than we experienced overseas.
The small-SUV segment (over 40 grand) is one tough field to do business in. Now, more than ever, it’s crowded with A-list contenders like the top-selling Volvo XC40 and BMW X1. But there are also other good sellers including the Lexus UX, Audi Q2 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, all of which have been notching up decent sales each month.
Jaguar’s E-Pace is languishing near the bottom when it comes to monthly unit sales, even selling less than all-time niche player, the Mini Countryman. Like I said, it’s a tough market filled with lots of highly prized offerings for those that want plenty of luxury in their piccolo SUVs.
We’re not saying the Jag doesn’t stack up, because it surely does in key areas, including design and interior fit-out. The problem for Jaguar is that most of its rivals have got this stuff well and truly sorted, too.
Take design: it’s not quite as aesthetically tasteful nor as well executed as its larger F-Pace sibling, but it’s still a standout in the segment. The rear-end treatment works best, but for me, at least, the front end appears slightly bulbous and misses the mark, as per my first impressions at its launch.
Inside, it’s pretty much the same scenario, with a premium look and feel to the leather-wrapped upholstery, and enough brushed-alloy accents to offset the larger expanses of typically grey dashboard and door cards.
It’s clean, well presented and contemporary, but some of its German rivals have already pulled ahead in this regard offering enormous dual, high-definition screens covering off infotainment and instrument displays, even in mid-spec variants.
Even though we’ve got the $57,540 (plus on-roads) R-Dynamic S, it still makes do with the P200 powertrain – meaning it’s got the same 147kW and 340Nm as the regular E-Pace P200. The $10,590 premium for the R-Dynamic pack adds more bolster and contrast stitching to the seat design, along with brushed stainless steel tread plates and pedals, and paddle-shifters for a touch more engagement.
On the outside, there are also a few design enhancements for a bit more presence, like rear valance and tailpipe finishers with satin-chrome highlights on the side vents and grille surrounds, but these additions are simply cosmetic and have nothing to do with boosting the vehicle’s performance.
That’s not really an issue because even our E-Pace P200 tester still packs plenty of punch when you need it, as well as an exceptionally well-sorted chassis. My impressions haven’t changed in that regard – dynamically, this is a very accomplished SUV when it comes to cornering prowess. Jaguar got that part right from the get-go. That’s not the issue, it’s the way the powertrain works with the nine-speed auto transmission – and as you can probably guess, not very well.
Mind you, it’s not any one thing that annoys more than any other, though. The turbo lag at times can be positively infuriating, particularly if you have cause to bury the throttle in one single action rather than wind it on gradually. It’s all of that and more.
That nine-speed auto never seems too keen to settle, either. Instead, it’s always on the hunt, either for a lower gear if you’re punchy with the throttle, or it’s too eager to shift up to top gear in the interest of yielding better fuel economy, no doubt.
Only, it doesn’t seem to work out that way, given you’re constantly dabbing at the throttle to maintain a consistent and linear power delivery, but seemingly unable to find the right balance and using more fuel because of it. It’s frustrating.
We toggled through the three on-road drive modes, Eco, Normal and Sport, and opted for the latter more times than not due to the lack of response in those lesser modes. And therein lies my frustration with an engine that on the one hand seems highly strung, yet on the other is too slow to respond at low revs.
In fact, put your boot into it proper and the E-Pace responds in much the same manner as a hot hatch, but the moment traffic slows you’ll be forced to select Eco for any semblance of a smooth and relaxed drive. Again, the E-Pace seems less at home on the more restrained office commute than out on the open road, where progress can be quite rapid and without the hesitation that affects the powertrain at low speeds.
Even driving it with a gentle throttle can still be irritating when you finally have cause to punch it out of a roundabout or intersection, for example. There’s just too much lag, despite employing a variety of different driving characteristics in an attempt to get more comfortable with the vehicle’s nuances.
For all its foibles, the E-Pace delivered excellent fuel economy, which was surprising given we tended to drive it in a more aggressive manner than we would have liked. We regularly saw 7.8L/100km around town, but frankly expected much worse given the throttle-heavy driving style we employed with this vehicle.
We’ve also had issues with general ride comfort, and not just this tester, either. The same criticism was echoed throughout the entire editorial team, who agreed the suspension was way too busy on anything but billiard-ball-smooth tarmac. It’s most likely down to the E-Pace’s passive suspension settings, which are clearly biased towards sporty handling and taut chassis control. We're just not sure that’s the priority for buyers in this segment.
It’s a far better proposition when it comes to practicality, though, with the E-Pace scoring high for its generosity of passenger and load space. And, given its categorisation as a small SUV, you’d have to agree its 484L luggage capacity is excellent.
By way of comparison, the Mercedes-Benz GLA suffices with 481L, while the Volvo XC40 makes do with 460L. The Lexus UX only gets 370L, while BMW’s X2 has 470L of luggage space and the Audi Q3 measures 420L. Only the BMW X1 (505L) bests the E-Pace.
And, yes, while there are options aplenty on offer, it’s also fair to say the E-Pace (even in this lower spec tested here) comes loaded with a raft of standard features like an electric parking brake, electric windows with one-touch (up/down on all four windows) and anti-trap function, auto headlamps and wipers, auto-dimming power-fold heated side mirrors with approach illumination, LED headlamps with signature DRLs (daylight running lights) and 10-way electric front seats.
Other kit included an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, twin-zone climate control, 10.0-inch Touch Pro infotainment screen with Navigation Pro, along with InControl Apps and Connect Pro Pack.
Our tester was also equipped with a few useful options that one might have assumed were included in the base spec, like keyless entry ($950), powered tailgate ($900), privacy glass ($690) and DAB digital radio ($430), along with 19-inch alloys ($1050), black contrast roof ($970), rear animated directional indicators ($190), and the Drive Pro Pack ($1020) adding adaptive cruise and queue assist, blind-spot assist and high-speed emergency braking.
All that bumped the price of our E-Pace P200 up to $63,940 plus on-roads. Mind you, active safety is also covered off, too, with the likes of emergency brake assist (EBA) and hill launch assist joining the other collision-avoidance systems mentioned above.
There’s no question Jaguar’s smallest SUV has got significant on-road presence and appeal, handles well, and is nicely appointed. But let’s be clear, it’s not Jaguar's finest work, and there are more accomplished propositions to choose from in the small-SUV segment over 40 grand.
Our P200 R-Dynamic S tester (in particular) misses the mark in some key areas like ride comfort and general drivability. It’s got a few drivetrain nuances that can make the driving experience much less rewarding than we might have expected from this smaller cat.