The compact SUV has been around for a couple of decades, if you consider the Suzuki Samurai to be the first of its ilk. As SUVs have grown in popularity, especially in North America, almost all manufacturers have gotten in on the action, with models to fit all sizes of parking space.
Jaguar was slow to arrive on the SUV scene, only launching the F-Pace for the 2017 model year. The car maker seems to be content to let its corporate sibling Land Rover build larger SUVs, as Jaguar’s second entry into SUV land is the subcompact E-Pace. Starting at $38,600 (you’ll want to spend more, naturally), the E-Pace is an incredibly fun car to drive, albeit with a few quirks.
New for the 2018 model year, the E-Pace targets the likes of the BMW X1, Volvo XC40, and Audi Q3. The E-Pace is powered by the same 2.0L, four-cylinder Ingenium engine seen in the Range Rover Evoque and the low-end Jaguar F-Pace. The base-model E-Pace uses the P250 Ingenium engine, capable of 246hp (183kW) and 269lb-ft (364Nm) of torque. We drove the E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE, which sports the same P300 used in the base F-Pace model and cranks out 296hp (221kW) and 295lb-ft (400Nm). The engine is paired with a 9-speed transmission and Active Driveline all-wheel drive that sends torque where it’s needed most. Built on the same platform as the Land Rover Evoque, the E-Pace suspension has struts up front and a multilink at the rear.
As tested, with the R-Dynamic HSE trim package, the sticker price on the E-Pace is $53,100. That extra $15,000 gets you some exterior design tweaks, like deeper outboard air intakes, fog lights, and some satin chrome detailing on the front grille. On the inside, it means sport seats with deeper bolsters, stainless steel pedals, and black gearshift paddles. Oh, you also get that extra 50 horsepower from the P300 engine, 20-inch wheels, the full driver-assist package, and a heads-up display.
The F-Pace’s little brother
One of my neighbors recently bought an F-Pace, so I took the E-Pace down the alley for a side-by-side comparison. As you can see in the image above, the E-Pace takes some design cues from its larger sibling but has a lower profile and a more rounded feel to the exterior. The E-Pace is 13″ (33cm) shorter and 7″ (17.8cm) narrower than the F-Pace, with the space difference making itself apparent in the rear storage area. Sitting in the front and back seats, the feel is almost identical between the two cars. The E-Pace eschews the pop-up dial shifter of the F-Pace in favor of a standard gear lever.
Jaguar has been responsible for some of the most beautiful cars ever made, but the E-Pace isn’t one of them. In large part, that’s because it’s difficult to make a small SUV look sleek and sinuous. Don’t get me wrong—the E-Pace is an attractive-looking car in its own way. The teardrop-shaped side windows, tapered-off rear end, and cladding make for an attractive, albeit squat-looking vehicle.
Inside, the E-Pace has the touches one would expect from Jaguar. The 10-way adjustable sport seats in the R-Dynamic HSE manage to be supportive and comfortable, and the leather steering wheel looks and feels great in the hand. The left side of the steering wheel controls the instrument-panel settings and the infotainment system, while the buttons on the right are dedicated to the driver-assist functions.
Behind the steering wheel is a 12.3-inch HD display that can be configured to look like an old-school speedometer and tachometer with trip info in the middle, or you can throw a map up there and see your speed and other data in a thin row along the bottom of the display. Jaguar’s heads-up display is excellent, showing the usual driver-assist, speed, and navigation info. And when you switch to sport mode, there’s a widget that shows your engine revs.
The backseat won’t win any prizes for spaciousness, but throw a couple of kids back there and they’ll be fine. There’s a fold-down armrest and cup holder for rear passengers, along with three 5W USB ports for charging devices. Moving to the back, there’s 24.2ft³ (688L) of cargo space, expanding to 52.7ft³ (1,492L) with the rear seats folded down.
Your gateway to Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system is the 10″ display above the center console. The screen faces upward slightly, and some of the dialog windows can only be closed by touching an “X” toward the top right corner of the screen, which is a reach from the driver’s seat. Also, the angle of display means that direct sunlight through the window or panoramic fixed sunroof will wash out the display.
Android Auto and CarPlay support is sadly lacking in the E-Pace, with Jaguar forcing drivers to install and use their InControl apps in order to interact with their smartphones (you can use plain old Bluetooth for making calls, but almost anything beyond that requires an app). This wouldn’t be so bad if the apps looked good and worked well, but they don’t. Imagine /r/CrappyOffBrands versions of your most-used Android and iPhone apps and you get the picture. JLR needs to hop on board the Android Auto/CarPlay bandwagon and ditch its in-house apps.
Releasing your inner big cat
Once you fire up the ignition and pull out of the garage, you’ll know you’re in a Jaguar. And that’s not just because of the silhouette of a jaguar and her cub projected onto the ground next to the door at night. The four-cylinder engine sounds , greeting accelerator pressure with a rumble that’s music to the ears. (Oddly enough, the E-Pace engine sounds a bit deeper to me than the 3.0L, six-cylinder power plant in the F-Pace.) It’s not lightning-fast, as the R Dynamic HSE does zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds (the base 249hp engine takes 6.6 seconds), but it’s fast enough, and it’s quick off the line.
Get the E-Pace off the interstate and onto some country highways and the car truly shines. Handling is nimble and dynamic, and the E-Pace corners incredibly well, even at pace. With the sport seats, throaty engine sounds, and extremely responsive steering, you may forget you’re behind the wheel of a small SUV. It drives like a sports car—. It’s an entirely different beast than the Audi Q3 or Volvo XC40. The easiest comparison is the BMW X2, but the Jaguar is much more rewarding to drive.
JLR’s driver-assist package does what’s needed. Lane-keep assist is rather aggressive, with the steering wheel offering a fair bit of resistance if you try to change lanes without turning on the blinkers. I also found the collision-avoidance warning on the E-Pace to be really touchy. There’s no way to adjust its sensitivity—your options are “on” and “off”—and it went off a few times for things as mundane as moving into the left-turn lane at an intersection when there was already a car waiting to turn left. I haven’t seen the over-sensitivity issue on the Range Rover Velar or Range Rover Sport I drove this year, so this may have been an issue particular to this car. There can also be some lag with the cameras when you need them for backing out of the garage or pulling into a tight parking space.
If tollways are a part of your daily commute, be aware that JLR uses a solar-attenuating coating on the windshield to block UV. The E-Pace has two spaces on either side of the mirror for a toll transponder to be mounted, but I found that even with the transponder positioned correctly, the receivers at the toll plazas occasionally had issues picking up the transponder.
The E-Pace comes with four driving modes: Normal, which is tuned for a comfortable ride; Dynamic, which changes up the shift points and driving dynamic for better acceleration and a more enjoyable driving performance; Rain/Ice/Snow, which gives you more stability in low-grip conditions; and Eco, which is focused on maximizing fuel economy. Speaking of fuel, the E-Pace is rated at 23mpg: 21mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway. With my usual mix of driving, I got 19.9mpg during my week with the E-Pace—no doubt because I kept it in Dynamic much of the time because it made driving so damn fun.
Jaguar is trying to accomplish a lot with the E-Pace. The end goal is a high-end sporty subcompact SUV that is quiet, comfortable, and fun to drive—and Jaguar has largely succeeded. The infotainment system isn’t on the level of Audi, BMW, or Volvo, the infotainment display is positioned a bit oddly, and navigating to some of the settings on the instrument-panel display can be irritating. And I noticed a hint of wind noise near the B-pillar when I got up to around 75mph. But if you love the subcompact SUV form factor and want to drive something that handles like a sports car, look no further than the E-Pace.