Jaguar’s second SUV faces up to the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Tough task, so is the E-Pace up to it?
This is the first transverse-engined, front-driven Jaguar since the X-Type. Only quite a lot seems to have happened since that car.Back then, it was a saloon designed with more than a gentle nod to the past.Today, the E-Pace arrives looking every bit as fresh as the rest of the Jaguar range and sits squarely in an ever-growing market.This whole SUV thing doesn’t look like ending, either. Around half a decade ago, Jaguar was selling 60,000 cars a year. Now it reaches that figure with the F-Pace alone.The E-Pace sits below the F-Pace, then, as the XE sits below the XF, so although ‘E’ implies electric in most other people’s ranges, it ain’t here. So, here we are: a compact SUV is a departure for Jaguar, but man cannot live on elegant saloons and sports cars alone. And so we get a natural, Callum-lite design touch applied to a 4.4m-long SUV.Which looks? Well, you decide. I think if you grabbed each wheel and pulled it outwards a bit, you’d have a rather elegant car. Place a hand over the lower half of it in pictures and the roofline is as graceful and flowing as you’d hope. But, down to its compact length and 1.65m height, it looks like a stress-ball version of an F-Pace. F-Pace in caricature.The architecture is interesting. The E-Pace is based on the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque’s platform, but there are key differences. From a practical consideration, it won’t be built at Halewood, Merseyside, because those plants are at capacity.This one, then, will be built by Magna in Austria plus, later, by Jaguar Land Rover in China.But there’s more of significance than that. This mostly steel monocoque, with a transverse front engine, is designed for mostly front-drive cars, rather than rear-drive cars like Jaguars of old. Our test car is four-wheel drive, but front-drivers will be available at launch, too.There are, still, key differences from an Evoque. The front suspension subframe is rigidly mounted – at least, in places – to the chassis, to improve steering precision. At the back, there is Jaguar’s integral link set-up.But making a car with this kind of ground clearance and body height, and with a mostly steel monocoque, means the resulting car is heavy, despite the use of some light materials. At 1894kg in this trim, the E-Pace is more than 100kg heavier than an equivalently engined, 1770kg F-Pace.Engineers will work to accomplish remarkable feats, though. But by gum, we’re asking them to here, aren’t we? Create a tall Jaguar but make it behave like an XE, please. The constant goals are to make cars faster, more efficient and more comfortable, and then we throw at car makers the challenges of making them taller and having a larger frontal area, too.On the inside, then, what do you get? A car that feels like a Jaguar, no question. The E-Pace’s interior follows a theme first set out by the F-Type, where the driver and passenger areas have a clear demarcation.On the left is an open, swooping dashboard section, shaped like the kind of cascading waterfall feature you’d find in the lobby of a posh office, while the section on the right is more driver-focused and there’s a big grab handle between the two.You can imagine seeing this design on a piece of paper and thinking ‘wow, that looks terrific’, and it looks pretty good in reality, too.Some of the plastics don’t necessarily look as solid as in something out of Germany, and you get some glare out of the big metallic plastic gearlever surround. But if you’re asking whether it feels premium, it does. Absolutely.As well it’ll have to, given that the minimum price is £28,000 and this HSE version is £48,410. If you wanted R-Dynamic design highlights, that would become £50,710.Why’s that? Because it has the 296bhp Ingenium petrol engine, which is the top mechanical spec.It, like all E-Pace engines, is a 2.0-litre four-pot. There are diesels of 148bhp, 178bhp and 237bhp, and petrols of 246bhp and 296bhp, all variously mated to six-speed manual, or automatic transmissions. Some are front drive, others four-wheel drive.Here the P300-designated motor is mated to a nine-speed ZF auto gearbox, which was designed specifically for transverse engine applications, and it drives all four wheels in this instance.There are two types of four-wheel-drive system in the E-Pace. One is the Haldex system that’s all but the same as you’ll find in an Evoque. It drives the fronts in normal conditions but can put up to 100% to the rear if there’s loads of slip.The other – reserved for the highest-powered petrol and diesel models – is a GKN system that you’ll also find on, of all things, a Ford Focus RS.It’s much cleverer, much more able to push torque where it wants to at the rear, because it has a clutch either side of the rear differential that can distribute power left and right. The intention is to make the E-Pace feel more rear-driven.In the RS, up to 70% of torque can go to the rear axle, but in the Jaguar, for reasons as yet unknown (we’ve asked), only a maximum of 50% shuffles to the rear. Adaptive dampers will come later, complete with 21in wheels.Meantime, although I’d like to know what an E-Pace is like with a £15k-£20k-lower price, we’ll have to make do with this all-singing, all-dancing 20in-alloy-wheeled version that, until adaptive dampers arrive, is the most dynamic an E-Pace will likely feel.