Slightly chubby styling undersells the baby Jaguar’s ability to hunt with the junior SUV pack.
LIFE is never less than fast-paced for Jaguar …. barely five minutes after the brand has sorted its model family than it’s announcing a whole new strategy for the cars that come next.
Once again, it’s truly full on, too. Three new models over the next five years and a gradual shift to a new modular platform.
Okay, this isn’t just Jaguar but also partner brand Land Rover. The first model rolling out under a new plan revealed just weeks ago is the long (or maybe that should be lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng) awaited new-generation Defender, arriving in the 2020-21 financial year. Two more vehicles will be launched between 2021 and 2024, increasing JLR's model range to 16 from 13 presently.
JLR's new Modular Longitudinal Platform (MLA) will bring cost efficiencies, primarily by being shared across the bulk of its vehicles but also because they can be offered as mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full-electric vehicles.
It’ll stand in for six platforms, including a steel one underpinning the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Jaguar E-Pace that’s a legacy from the days when Ford ran the ship.
Does this suggest the E-Pace, that as the latest Jaguar to come here is the last one on, is going through an interim phase? Not quite. While JLR has identified this Premium Transverse Architecture underpinning is to be replaced, it also cites that not occurring until the 2024-25 financial year.
Mind you, there will some tampering before then, mainly to finesse for plug-in hybrid and 48-volt mild hybrid models, though not exclusively. The first family member to update to this refined platform will be the new Evoque, which is only a year away.
How much pressure Land Rover’s ‘E’ model will thereafter put on Jaguar’s will be interesting to gauge. You’d think it unlikely that they won’t be chasing the same customer. Of course, they’re hardly alone. The E-Pace is out to compete with a whole lot more well-blinged baubles - the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and X2, and Mercedes Benz GLA being cited as particular rivals, though the Volvo XC40 and perhaps the Lexus NX might also crave consideration. Busy space, all in all.
Nonetheless, high hopes are held for the junior Jag. Built made in Graz, Austria, by Magna Steyr on a line running alongside that set up for the impending i-Pace electric crossover, the smallest modern Jaguar is here in six long-term nine-speed auto all-wheel-drive editions, all with 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engines, two diesel, two petrol. The ‘D’ and ‘P’ prefixes tick off the engine type, then there are numericals – 150, 200, 250, 300 - to indicate power output (in horsepower, not kiloWatts) then either S or SE suffixes to show the trim level. On top of this, there's a styling/equipment upgrade package called R-Dynamic.
So, the line starts with a D150 S at $69,900 and goes up to the R300 R-Dynamic SE at $89,900. Jaguar also had a dozen First Edition cars, which cost $99,900. These are based on a P250 R-Dynamic SE, the next trim level up from the S edition on test, a $84,900 consideration with R-Dynamic tweaks as incorporated here.
Fashionable small SUVs are a growth market but there’s no shortage of choice. So why buy this one?
The major point of difference promoted by the marketing people is that this is the ‘ultimate compact practical sports car’ that, with a design brief to combine SUV practicality with Jaguar performance, delivers an emphasis on the sports.
Yes, okay, you’re potentially not going to be convinced of this simply from a visual inspection. Modern Jaguar design is really impressive, but it’s mainly about the one factor that the E-Pace comes up short on: Svelte sleekness. It’s hard to make a tallish, truncated body look long and lean. The design is not awkward, by any means, but from some angles the shape leaves impression of it being a wee bit too chubby to be cut for the chase. Still, it does at least carry a lot of visual references to the big brother F-Pace.
Anyway, that impression of it being a bit chunky is unfortunate, because it’ll spur you to check out the actual kilo count. Which is, erm, ‘above average’ at 1832kg. That means it is around 100kg heftier than the lightest, 400mm-longer F-Pace. The reason? Well, it’s that platform. Jaguar’s other crossover is on an all-new alloy underpinning. Ford steel might be strong, but it does bring a penalty. Jaguar has done all it can to offset this, with the use of aluminium for the bonnet, front wings, roof and tailgate, and a magnesium dashboard cross member.
How does that reconcile on the road? It’d be unfair to call this variant the runt of the litter, but not untoward either to suggest any absolute performance aspect is going to be expressed more forcefully with a P300 and perhaps even either diesel. That’s a solid logic simply based on outputs. The first has a lot more power and all three others produce much more torque than the entry 184kW/365Nm petrol.
At the same token, the sole difference between the petrol engines is in how much turbo boost they have and while the entry choice has a degree of languor, it doesn’t wholly express as an outright tortoise by any means.
All the same, those chasing outright pep will soon treat Dynamic driving mode as the default setting and will likely avoid the alter-ego alternates altogether. Going for enhanced responsiveness somewhat scuppers any chance to achieve the 7.7 litres per 100km thrift that the brand attests is possible but it does add an edge. In addition to quickening the step Dynamic also adds a cheeky rasp to the exhaust note.
In saying that, the best individual aspect about the entry version of this Ingenium engine is that it is far more civilized than the Ford EcoBoost–derived unit that preceded it in the JLR portfolio. Being somewhat more linear under throttle allows it to generally work satisfactorily with the automatic.
One R-Design remit is to enhance the handling so, understandably, snicking into the sportiest setting does impact on ride and handling. You’d think the obviously short wheelbase and this maker’s preference for quite sizeable wheels and rims, would also colour the car’s attitude, but in fact those factors are possibly less influential than could be expected, as when left in the Comfort it actually imparts as a cosseting small SUV.
But you do have to trade off some suppleness when choosing the sportiest setting, which lends a cockier attitude that also gives a literal edge to the term ‘hard-out.’ It does at least stop short of being rock-solid, as some German alternates tend to be, but you will feel the bumps and ruts.
The car’s deportment beyond the ride quality is one of the highlights. Those who enjoy driving will really appreciate this fun little tyke. It sits almost completely flat even during hard cornering, delivers tight, rewarding body control and despite being obvious all-wheel-drive, delivers with enough of a rear-end impetus to keep things trad. Sudden changes of direction do not diminish the grip and the steering is quick, well weighted and communicative. It’s more engaging in this respect than many others, including the Volvo XC40. And, again, it’s quiet, with little surface-generated roar from the tyres.
Off-roading is within the E-Pace’s remit, with responsibility for safe operation being left to the All Surface Progress Control system that takes charge of the throttle and braking inputs while off-road. Conceivably, once initiated, the driver has to only concentrate on steering and the speed is set by a control on the wheel, just like cruise control.
Jaguar says clever packaging results in an interior that’s a size bigger than it should be. That should not leave impression that it’s an absolute Tardis, but it’s certainly roomier than the shape suggests it could be. There’s good head and shoulder room up front yet the back row is not hardly off-limits to adults, either, save for being a little tight on leg room.
A fold-down armrest hides two cupholders, while three USB points should be enough to ensure devices are kept juiced up. There are air vents for the back row too, but no separate climate controls.
Instruments and controls facing the driver are standard JLR. The electric parking brake takes a little finding; FYI it’s a push/pull control to the lower right of the steering column. Quirky. It integrates an asymmetric 'grab handle' on the passenger's side, just like the Jaguar F-Type sports car, and has a 'pistol grip' gear selector. Nice.
This car features Jaguar's latest 10-inch landscape touchscreen infotainment system, which doesn't smudge thanks to its matte finish but falls down in several ways. First, it really seems a pity JLR has yet to switch into the phone mirroring competency that has become so in vogue; makers (and Toyota/Lexus is another) that still ignore Apple’s CarPlay as being the best set-up out there now are on a hiding to nothing.
Moreover, the JLR system is a bit weird. For instance, figuring out how to manually tune the radio is far more of a challenge than it needs to be. Also, the processors are perhaps being taxed by the job. Certainly, the system took a while to wake up when you keyed the ignition and the reversing camera often didn’t appear for some seconds when reverse gear was selected.
Beneath the big screen is a line of small buttons for functions like the heated screens and three large rotary dials for the climate control.
Deep, tiered door bins allow you to fit plenty in and a deep storage box between the front seats – nicknamed the ‘cubby box’ of course - offers plenty of space for smaller items along with USB charging ports.
It also features decent boot space, Jaguar claiming 484 litres with the back row in play rising to 1141L with it wholly folded away. The back seat has a 60/40 split-fold.
If you’re looking for the optimal example of a junior SUV representing as the best entry to Euro luxury, then the E-Pace struggles in comparison with the BMW or Volvo options. It has some nice materials, but the trim colours are dull and the finishing is not quite as premium.
That’s a shame, because the specification is plush. The base configuration ticks off a six-speaker sound system, automatic wipers, dual-zone climate control, tailgate spoiler, push button start, 10.0-inch Touch Pro infotainment system, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, daytime running lights, power adjustable front seats, puddle lamps, folding side mirrors, satellite navigation, 360-degree cameras, rear traffic monitor and Wi-Fi hot spotting. The R-Design adds niceties like sports seats, shift paddles, alloy pedals, fog lights and a rear diffuser with integrated twin exhausts.
Adaptive cruise control and blind spot assist – all commonplace with many rivals for this money – only furnish with the next-step-up SE, which also adds a kick-to-open tailgate, keyless entry and head-up display.
The E-Pace, F-Pace and next year’s all-electric i-Pace do more than any other Jaguar to completely shred the marque’s image of being old and crusty. There are cars for a new time; and are timely additions.
For all that, I found I didn’t quite settle into the smallest model as easily as I thought I might. And perhaps that’s understandable: While Jaguar expects the E-Pace to comfortably become the brand’s best-selling model, they also anticipate it to bring a new demographic of buyer; mainly younger, more female types. That’s me down two strikes, just like that.
Potentially, then, people like me – not so much into tweed, but certainly quite fond of playing in the mud, enjoying the company of lolloping dogs and perhaps having the occasional bang-bang with a shotgun – at clay targets, of course – aren’t quite in the picture for this car. Or at least, this car in its Jaguar guise. A Land Rover Discovery Sport, on the other hand …