THERE’S a new contender about to rattle the compact SUV cage and it’s not German. Say hello to the British-designed, Austrian-built Jaguar E-PACE that I sampled last week on the French island of Corsica on the international media launch.
Jaguar came rather late to the SUV party with the F-PACE but it used the delay to its advantage as this model secured the World Car of the Year title in 2017 and has become the manufacturer’s fastest-selling car ever.
Limited manufacturing capacity prompted the decision to build E-PACE in Austria but let me tell you that the Magna Steyr plant in Graz does as good a job as anybody as the gleaming paintwork, tight panel gaps and rattle-free interiors of the four E-PACE models I tested over two days proved.
So what is the E-PACE, you might well ask? In as few words as possible, it’s a compact yet premium sporting SUV that’s designed to blend practicality with the sporting overtones that are a Jaguar hallmark. Its purpose though is to extend the brand footprint through appealing to a broader target market which at present may well be eyeing out an Audi Q3, a BMW X1 or a Merc GLA in particular.
It’s not only the way it drives that matters to Jaguar but the way it looks and in that regard, the company says it was a great challenge to retain typical Jaguar elegance in a body that’s just 4.4m from stem to stern while being a fairly lofty 1.65m tall. For sure, the flowing roofline is very obviously Jaguar – more specifically, F-PACE – while the lower reaches are marked out by muscular haunches housing wheels that are as “pulled out” as far as possible and as near each corner as is practical.
Each to his own, but for most observers, the end result is pleasing to the eye just as is the interior architecture which blends F-TYPE and F-PACE elements with seamless aplomb. To my eyes, the duo-tone colour options really lift the ambience while tactile qualities in the upper reaches are enhanced through the use of what is termed “slush moulding.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick to the term “soft-surfacing” which is enhanced on the dashboard by the presence of double-stitching that pays homage to the leather-panelled-look so widely used in exec models.
At E-PACE price levels, it’s probably unreasonable to find soft-touch surfaces everywhere and so it is here as rather hard and scratchy panels can be found lower down, but they are mostly out of sight and out of mind.
As for space, four adults can be accommodated comfortably enough provided the supportive and multi-adjustable front seats aren’t too far back on their runners. The rear seat is actually a tad upright but given the versatility on hand and the fact that a generous 577 litres is available for luggage (extendable to 1234l, this compromise is nothing unusual in the compact SUV class.
Oddments space abounds in the cabin which can be trimmed in a variety of colours. To my eyes, the duo-tone combinations look slicker and add to the ambience, but I strongly suggest you Google your local Jag importer and find out exactly what’s available in your market. I gather stock should start rolling in from the second quarter of 2018.
South African buyers, for example, can choose from no less than 38 models spread across three diesel and two petrol power units with final spec determined by the specific model selected from Standard, S, SE, HSE, R-Dynamic and First Edition configurations. All-Wheel Drive is standard on all versions. Further, every model will feature at least a 10-inch infotainment touch screen, auto lamps, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, emergency braking, front/ rear park sensors with camera, keyless start and auto wipers.
Again, look to your local importer for full details including a peek at the extensive options list which will permit a real opportunity to personalize your selection.
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty which is how the E-PACE drives. Underpinnings are largely based on those of the Range Rover Evoque with a few tweaks here and there, including the use of a front sub-frame which improves steering feel and overall refinement. Of most relevance is the fact the E-PACE is not aluminium intensive to use JLR language. Steel is widely employed, and steel adds mass, so much so that the best equipped of the E-PACE models weigh around 100kg more than the equivalent F-PACE – specifically around the 1890kg mark.
Cost seems to be the most likely pointer here but in an effort to slim things down, Jaguar has employed aluminium for the bonnet, front wings, tailgate and roof which collectively ensure a 30kg saving. And where it matters in terms of stiffness and safety, ultra-high-strength steel is utilized.
Only the highest-powered engines in the range were available on the media drive and that means D240 and P300, a reference to the respective output of each motor in PS. All four cars we drove were also shod on 20-inch alloy wheels of varying design but more of that in a moment.
Let’s start with the 177kW diesel which comes from the firm’s own Ingenium range. There’s some clatter outside but this is well-enough subdued inside at idle and on the cruise. However, when pushed hard, a gruff note is evident and given that we traversed an endless series of mountain passes, a fair bit of throttle was employed for much of the time.
Below 1700rpm, there is some lethargy to deal with but once the turbo is on song, the amount of shove is pleasing. The provision of paddle shifters to activate the 9-speed ZF auto box provides all the control a driver could want which is just as well as in normal drive mode, the box is keen to shift up early and then to hold onto the higher gear. Doubtless this set-up is dictated by the need to massage fuel consumption and CO2 figures but I do question why nine speeds are necessary when coupled to an engine that produces a healthy toque peak of 500Nm.
The turbo diesel motor was especially effective when low speeds were necessary to negotiate some rather nasty mud-slathered slopes as well as indifferent dirt roads but for sheer punch allied to a more urgent delivery, the 221kW Ingenium petrol mill was, shall we say, more fun.
It too telegraphs a gruff note under load, but the tone is not unpleasant and the punch is more rewarding, albeit that the tight confines of roads in Corsica provided no opportunity to evaluate high speed cruising.
For the record, the full range of 2.0 diesel engines, subject to market, encompasses 110kW/380Nm, 132kW/430Nm and 177kW/500Nm units while the 2.0 petrol units offer 183kW/365Nm and 221kW/400Nm.
Given the mountainous terrain we negotiated for two days, endless cornering was involved which brings the spotlight onto the mass of E-PACE. Let’s say the lard was not as evident as the figures might suggest. Turn-in was perhaps a little tardy when pressing on and body roll could be induced in the most enthusiastic of manoeuvres, but for most drivers, I don’t think there’s an issue here.
Only under extreme duress could understeer be encouraged, a function of the clever electronically activated clutches on the rear axle (fitted to all test units) which transmit power from side to side to benefit stability and safety. Normally, the transverse engines deliver power to the front wheels but depending on motive power, from 50% (top engines only) to 100% can be sent rearwards to maintain that typical Jaguar sporting feel in hard cornering.
The one aspect of the dynamic behavior that stood out consistently was the power steering. Nicely weighted and endowed with a lovely linear feel from lock to lock, you simply won’t find a more convincing helm in this class.
Now if you were paying attention earlier on, you will have noted my reference to the fitment of 20-inch tyres to all the test units. These fill out the quite large wheel arches to good effect but be aware that if you have to tackle lousy surfaces on a regular basis, the 45-profile rubber tends to telegraph broken surfaces which results in a jiggly and slightly restless low speed ride.
Nonetheless, things smooth out at higher speeds and overall refinement is good thanks to effective suppression of extraneous noises, but if you regularly traverse indifferent roads, smaller diameter wheels are available– along with 21-inch monsters that are clearly for aesthetic freaks! (Consult your importer about the availability of adaptive damping – this feature could well mitigate the big-wheel ride niggles. All test units rode on fixed-rate dampers).
Jaguar may have taken its time entering the ever-expanding SUV market but remember that the parent company, Jaguar Land Rover, has had extensive experience in engineering similar vehicles under the Range Rover/Land Rover label. The expertise has already been displayed with the award-winning F-PACE and while some of the technical solutions, not least the use of an aluminium-based platform, are missing from the E-PACE on cost grounds, this package as a whole measures up very nicely, even in off-road conditions. And if you put lots of store on looks, which research suggests most buyers do, the E-PACE could well have the opposition looking at themselves in the mirror.