Good things don't always come in small packages.
The Jaguar E-Pace is the British car maker’s second SUV, joining the hugely successful Jaguar F-Pace. This is the large SUV that, in just one year of production, has already been crowned the 2017 World Car of the Year and become Jaguar’s best-selling model. The desire for Jaguar to create another smaller, more affordable SUV therefore seems to be as logical as it is exciting.
Sadly, E-Pace doesn’t mean electric - that’s reserved for the forthcoming i-Pace SUV - it just means smaller than F-Pace. Instead, this baby SUV will be available with four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines as well as the choice of front- or all-wheel drive, although only the entry-level 148bhp diesel can be ordered with front-wheel drive.
Given that popularity and consumer confidence around the ‘d’ word is dropping like a bunch of Conservative front benchers, we’ve focused here on testing the petrol-powered E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic HSE with 296bhp, four-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic. Jaguar describes it as being as close to building a hot hatch as the company will ever get.
In the metal, pictured here in Silicon Silver, the Jaguar E-Pace is a similar size to the Audi Q3 and forthcoming Volvo XC40: dinky yet perfectly formed. This may only be the second Jaguar SUV in history, but it offers a sharp, confident design that borrows the very best design cues from its F-Type sports car. Most noticeable are the large headlights and muscular rear shoulders that are pure F-Type, while interior elements such as the exaggerated rake of the dashboard, the passenger grab handle and pistol-style drive selector help deliver a much sportier vibe than you get in rivals like the BM1 X1 and Mercedes GLA.
Those striking proportions do take priority over passenger space, with access into the rear seats impeded by both the sloping roofline and large wheel arch cutaways that accommodate a maximum (and huge) 20-inch alloy. Storage space up front is good, with a centre console that houses multiple USB charging points and can carry two 1-litre bottles of water, although the passenger footwell is noticeably tight on wriggle room. Jaguar claims the boot offers 577 litres of space, which sounds bigger than the space looks, so we’d advise bringing along your pushchair or golf clubs to your test drive, just to check your life fits.
The E-Pace is based on the same platform as the Range Rover Evoque (Jaguar and Land Rover belong to the same family) but it features substantial revisions that help give it a stronger road bias, plus further updates that will be filtered into the second generation Evoque.
Jaguar hasn’t been afraid to inject a bit of playfulness into its baby SUV, either. Not only can you specify an optional wristband called the ‘Activity Key’ to open your car, visible in the lower windscreen and illuminated in the puddle lights is a scene that could have been grafted straight from The Jungle Book: a Jaguar in stealth mode, being followed by its younger cub.
All versions feature 17-inch alloys, and Jaguar’s large-yet-inferior infotainment system, which lacks Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or the response and user friendly nature of rival systems from BMW and Audi equivalents.
How does it drive?
The fundamentals are as predictable as they are appealing. The driving position is low-set and sporty in feel, visibility is good, while the steering is accurate and modestly weighted. It all feels very predictable and assured. This being a Jaguar, the E-Pace doesn’t have to jump through as many off-roading hoops as the Range Rover Evoque, either, so the front end feels noticeably pointier and the Pirelli P Zero tyres grippy in damp conditions. So far, so Jaguar.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine is less convincing. This may be the same unit that is used in the F-Type Coupe, but while the power is delivered in a smooth, linear fashion, in this application it’s noticeably less tuneful and doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick as the figures suggest.
Confusingly, there are two all-wheel drive systems available on different versions of the E-Pace: there’s a more benign Haldex-based ‘Standard’ driveline, or the ‘Active’ driveline as fitted to the P300 AWD. When cruising at steady speeds, this drivetrain is able to shift all drive to the front wheels to save fuel, but during more spirited drives, it can send 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. Despite this and the optional Configurable Dynamics Pack that allows you to personalise the steering weight, throttle response and gearshift speed, the E-Pace never feels particularly exciting to drive.
The one over-arching factor severely blunting your enjoyment and this car’s sporting intentions is weight. Despite such compact dimensions, the E-Pace is unfathomably heavy. Jaguar usually extols the virtues of an aluminium chassis, and while that may be the case for the F-Pace, the E-Pace’s core structure is made from super-strong boron steel with only the bonnet, tailgate, roof and wings formed from aluminium.
Jaguar bosses say a steel structure has helped improve interior packaging while making the E-Pace almost as stiff as the F-Type sports car. While that may be true, it also makes this baby SUV weigh nearly two tonnes. That’s heavier than its bigger sibling, the F-Pace. Fluid in the corners the E-Pace may try to be, but you cannot disguise that weight under braking, acceleration, the brittle ride quality or in the suicidal fuel gauge.
Cutting costs may be another reason for the choice of material change, but then this E-Pace doesn’t seem to offer good value, either. Sure, pricing starts at £28,500 for the entry-level diesel manual that nobody will buy. But even the 238bhp 2-litre petrol E-Pace (the cheapest petrol engine, currently), which may well be the sweet spot in the range, is £40k if you want leather and those smart LED running lights; that'll get you the equally precise-feeling Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI or the swanky and desirable Volvo XC60 T5 R Design, both of which are from the class above and therefore much bigger, more practical cars. You'll need to part with £50k for a version that resembles the E-Pace P300 R-Design in these pictures.
Add items such as the panoramic roof, the adaptive dampers, even that wristband that thinks it’s a key and you could easily see your E-Pace priced nearer £60k. Sorry Jaguar, but even the bigger, faster and dynamically more competent Porsche Macan S can limbo under the £50k barrier.
Should I buy one?
No. For all its presence, prettiness and on-paper potential, the Jaguar E-Pace pushes style over substance, squeezing affordability, practicality and mechanical refinement into the corner more than it should for this class of vehicle. While it may be a cool-looking, leftfield choice, there are rivals that offer more space, performance and better infotainment for similar money. Making a baby Jaguar SUV is a no-brainer. Making a Porsche Macan-beater is clearly a lot tougher.