The Jaguar E-Pace falls short of the slick performance and handling that you expect of Jaguar.

Quietly, the world was wondering when Jaguar was going to enter the SUV market. It knew that things would be difficult for the cat people, as treading on sister company Land Rover’s toes would be a bad idea, yet difficult to avoid. Luckily, its first attempt at an SUV - the F-Pace - was both different from a Land Rover and pretty chuffing good. Jaguar no longer made saloons and sports cars that not-as-many-people-as-they-hoped bought; now it made an SUV that would go on to become its biggest seller.

Except it couldn’t stop at one SUV. Why would it? Why should it? Not everyone wants a big motor, and as we live in a time where not offering ALL OF THE CHOICE is a bad thing. A smaller Jag SUV would need to be born to compete with the likes of the Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and Porsche Macan. And lo, the Jaguar E-Pace came to be. 

2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive
2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive

First impressions

As its name suggests, it’s not as big as the F-Pace, yet it still has to offer decent space. This is the car that’ll fit in better with urban, rather than suburban living. It’s the car that’ll live on the street rather than a gravel driveway, and it’s the car that will be bought by more funky lifestyle-y people than ever before.

On the looks front all the modern Jaguar hallmarks are there, though with a modern twist. The rear lights don’t ape the F-Pace, it squares them off, aping a circuit board. The headlamps look similar but not quite the same as those found on the F-Type – a bit like a character being replaced by a different actor on a sitcom, but no-one notices kind-of-way. The whole car is familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on why. It’s a bit tall and a bit narrow, and in white (from some angles) it looks like an egg. It can be quite handsome as well.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive

Inside, the familiarity continues with an instrument cluster you’ll recognise from other Jaguar products, an infotainment system you’ll see in a number of Jaguar and Land Rover cars, and a centre stack layout you feel you’ve seen before – it even had the grab handle you get in the F-Type sports car.

In a fit of excellent engineering, the E-Pace’s navigation system worked flawlessly – it’s usually a weak spot on Jaguar Land Rover’s cars, so it was a genuine pleasure to see what happens when it works well.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive
2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive

Small SUVs need to be all things to all people which means, as well as looking cool, it needs to have space for all your stuff. The boot is a good size, with a claimed 577 litres, and there’s a slot in the centre console to store an iPad and even a wide phablet – something that others fall down on. The door bins are commodious enough, as is the glovebox.

Narrow and tall dimensions are standard for this kind of car, but you can feel a bit pinched in there, while the car feels bizarrely wide. It’s impressive when a massive car feels narrower than it actually is, but the E-Pace feels the opposite. City drivers may not enjoy that… 

How does it drive? 

Jaguar’s old mantra of ‘grace, space, and pace’ doesn’t appear to be on the E-Pace’s radar. Sure, the space thing is pretty well taken care of, but pace and grace? Nah. 

The E Pace S D240 AWD we had on test packs a 236bhp, 368lb ft 2-litre diesel motor, and it doesn’t feel half bad. Where the more powerful, top spec, 296bhp 2-litre petrol gets a touch breathless quite easily, the diesel’s extra torque comes into its own. Pop your foot down and it gently whisks you to higher speeds with little fuss or drama. The 0-62mph dash comes and goes in a hot hatch-baiting 7.4 seconds, and it’ll hit 139mph if you feel the need – basically, if you want to cruise up the motorway and occasionally overtake things you’ll be fine, but a sports car it is not, despite its hefty power figures. 

2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive

That's very likely got something to do with the fact that the D240 weighs in at over 1,900kg. It’s nearly two tonnes! No wonder the performance figures are a bit whelming despite the power figures…

It’s mated to a nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which is not a great thing. The ‘box can be indecisive and slow to react, something you’d not expect from ZF. Any thoughts that it’s just this particular engine/gearbox combo can go out the window – swapping cogs in the petrol is just as laborious. It’s simply not a good pairing. 

So far it’s a win for space, not so for pace, and grace? It’s not a thrilling car to drive. The steering doesn’t offer great feedback, so placing it on the road can be challenging. In the car’s comfort mode the gearbox and powertrain are fairly relaxed, which is just fine for day to day driving – even if the gearbox can be a touch too relaxed. The ride, on Corsica’s tarmac at least, was smooth enough on 20-inch wheels, though potholes and ruts made their presence loudly known.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive
2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive

If you want to drive a little harder you can pop it in to Dynamic mode and watch as the digital dash goes all red and flashy, then hear the gearbox decide it needs to be a gear lower than usual. It does feel more sporting, sure, but in the same manner as a cake enthusiast going through the first steps of ‘couch to 5k’. Congrats on the effort, but hold off on contacting the Olympic commission for the moment, eh?

If you’re worried about its AWD system not being able to tackle the rough stuff… don’t be. Don’t take one across a desert, but if you need to get up a muddy path or over a field you won’t have any problems.

Should I buy one?

This is the first Jaguar in a long while that doesn’t feel like a Jaguar. It’s wearing the right badge, and has some of the right design cues, but it looks tall and thin rather than low and wide like the bigger, lighter F-Pace. It’s also expensive. Not reassuringly so, either, to get an E-Pace with a decent diesel motor in a decent trim will set you back over £40,000. If it drove better maybe it’d be worth it, but in reality it doesn’t have the trousers to match the mouth.

Buyers want small SUVs more than ever, and this will suit the people who buy it down to the ground: it has the right badge, fits stuff in the back, and it doesn’t look too shabby. However, to get one on your drive you have to ignore many better cars. 

2018 Jaguar E-Pace D240 S

Base Price £40,850
Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Output 236bhp / 368lb ft
Drive Type Four-wheel drive
Speed 0-62 MPH 7.4 seconds
Top Speed 139mph
Fuel Economy 45.6mpg
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 577 - 1234 litres

Gallery: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace S D240 first drive