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Can Jaguar’s compact SUV bring flair and dynamic polish to a fast-growing class?

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For an idea of the scale of ambition embodied in the new Jaguar E-Pace, consider that 80% of those who choose to buy one over, say, an Audi Q3 or BMW X1 will be new to Jaguar showrooms. ‘Conquest customers’, as they’re dispassionately known within the industry.

That’s a mighty statistic even for a car expected to supplant the Jaguar F-Pace as the brand’s bestselling model, although it is one bolstered by the fact that quite a few will be built specifically for the Chinese market in a state-of-the-art plant in Changshu.

The three-piece rear spoiler is prominent, but we can’t help thinking Jaguar might have been better off mimicking the smooth fastback tail of the F-Type.

To grease manufacturing wheels and meet anticipated demand in Europe, every other E-Pace will be assembled in Austria by Magna Steyr, the firm that has built the Mercedes-Benz G-Class since 1979 and is currently configuring its lines for the electric Jaguar I-Pace.

If all goes to plan, the E-Pace will be something of a breakthrough car for Jaguar, and one, it is hoped, that will push annual global sales past the quarter-million mark. Predictably, we’re talking about a compact SUV here, one that slots into the range beneath the F-Pace, although mechanically it has more in common with a Land Rover Discovery Sport.

Entry-level models will be front-driven, but the majority – our test car included – will benefit from an on-demand clutch-based four-wheel-drive system capable of channelling drive to both axles. And to capture that rear-driven Jaguar feel, the most powerful variants also get a GKN Driveline ‘twinster’ torque-vectoring rear differential related to the one you’ll find on the current Ford Focus RS. It only distributes up to half of available engine torque between the rear wheels, mind, rather than the 70% you get in the Ford.

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Of some concern to its maker will be that the E-Pace arrives almost concurrently with our class leader of the moment, the Volvo XC40, which is competent, desirable and likeable in equally formidable measures.

With parallel values, this downsized Jaguar SUV is in some respects a British-designed and engineered XC40, so does it have what it takes to mount a convincing challenge?

Jaguar E-Pace FAQs

Is the Jaguar E-Pace available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

The E-Pace was one of the first Jaguar’s to be available with a plug-in hybrid set-up - and the good news is that it’s rather a good one. Combining a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol with a well integrated electric motor, the all-wheel drive P300e delivers a combined power output of 305bhp and a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds, yet claims an all-electric range of up to 39 miles. If you want a fully electric Jaguar, then the larger and more expensive i-Pace is your only option.

What are the main rivals to the Jaguar E-Pace?

There’s no shortage of rivals for the Jaguar E-Pace in the hotly contested compact premium SUV class. Few are quite as engaging to drive as the Jaguar, but models such as the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA arguably offer even more upmarket appeal, while the closely related Land Rover Discovery Sport serves-up more space and off-road ability. If you’re not fussed by an upmarket badge, then the Kia Sportage and Skoda Kodiaq deliver greater practicality and kit for a lot less cash.

How much power does the Jaguar E-Pace have?

Like many of its rivals, the Jaguar E-Pace has a choice of engine options to suit most tastes and budgets. The entry-level D165 features a 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel that’s available with front-wheel drive guise and a six-speed manual, or four-wheel drive and a nine-speed auto. This latter transmission combination is standard on the 201bhp 2.0-litre diesel D200 and the 246bhp 2.0-litre petrol P250. At the top of the range is the plug-in hybrid P300e, which delivers a hot hatch-humbling 305bhp.

What choices of gearbox are there for a Jaguar E-Pace?

A manual gearbox is an increasingly rare option in premium SUVs, but the entry-level front-wheel drive Jaguar E-Pace D165 gets a six-speed ‘box as standard. On all the other petrol and diesel models, a smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic is the only transmission available, which is mated exclusively to an electronically controlled four-wheel drive system. For the range-topping P300e plug-in hybrid there’s an eight-speed auto, plus a single speed transmission for the rear axle-mounted electric motor.

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Where is the Jaguar E-Pace built?

Despite having a number of factories in the UK, Jaguar actually builds all versions of the E-Pace in two of its overseas plants. Most examples are assembled at the in Graz, Austria, at the Magna Styer facility that also produces the all-electric Jaguar i-Pace. Since 2018, the Jaguar E-Pace has also been built by Chinese partner Chery Jaguar Land Rover at the joint venture company’s factory in Changshu, China, where it also builds long wheelbase versions of the Jaguar XE and XF saloons.

How many generations of the Jaguar E-Pace have there been?

Jaguar is a relative latecomer to the SUV party, and when it launched in 2017 the E-Pace was its second ever model in this sector, following on from the larger F-Pace. As a result, the current car is the first generation model, although it was facelifted in late 2020, gaining a subtly refreshed looks, plus an even smarter interior with improved infotainment. It also saw the introduction of the plug-in hybrid, with its 39 mile range and claimed fuel returns of up to 201.8mpg.

DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar E-Pace review hero rear

Jaguar’s design team deserves credit for going further than simply scaling down the look of the Jaguar F-Pace SUV for this car. It is, after all, a depressingly familiar tactic in this class.

The E-Pace instead takes inspiration from the Jaguar F-Type sports coupé, and before you dismiss that as a marketing contrivance, just look at the details. The ovoid headlights, wrap-around tail-lights, pronounced haunches and wheels pushed as close to the car’s extremities as can reasonably be expected all draw strong parallels.

Jaguar design boss Ian Callum may have preferred our test car to wear bigger wheels, but these 19s make for a reasonably well-resolved ride.

While the overall effect is perhaps a touch cutesy, the E-Pace does possess a stance rare among its peers. Acres of honeycomb plastic at the front underline the sporty message, although there is something about the car’s proportions that make it seem curiously tall in the metal.

Less encouraging to some may be the fact that this new model uses a platform sourced from the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, albeit with a unique wheelbase owing to an altered mounting for a stiffer front suspension subframe that is said to improve steering feel.

It means that while you’ll find magnesium in the dashboard crossmember and aluminium used for the bonnet, tailgate and front wings, the E-Pace is heavier than the F-Pace. The latter’s monocoque is far richer in lighter, more expensive aluminium. The resulting 1768kg kerb weight makes the E-Pace almost 40kg heavier than the equivalent Volvo XC40 and more than 180kg heavier than the BMW X1.

This is also, of course, the first transverse-engined Jaguar since the X-Type, with all of the compromises on weight distribution that brings. The fight against bulk is led by JLR’s 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine, offered in three states of tune. Our test car is the mid-ranking D180, which makes 178bhp and, rather more encouragingly, 317lb ft from a lowly 1750rpm.

Claimed combined economy is 55.4mpg – matching the Volvo XC40 D4 – with CO2 emissions of 147g/km. There are two petrol options, including a flagship 296bhp four-cylinder which is shared with the F-Type and can fire the E-Pace to 60mph in 5.9sec.

INTERIOR

Jaguar E-Pace review cabin

Whether you find its particular hue fetching or not, the quilted ‘Siena Tan Windsor’ leather of our test car holds your attention immediately. And perhaps that’s just as well, because the clean architecture of the E-Pace’s interior is so conservative as to be just a little sterile, and it therefore relies on the quality and colour of its materials to bring it to life.

The E-Pace is a mixed bag in this respect, because while its cabin is a pleasant enough place in which to while away miles, closer inspection is hardly likely to endear it to owners. Plastic – matt finished, and of fairly high quality, admittedly – features no more heavily than in many of the car’s premium rivals, but you perceive it more acutely because there’s not much in the way of switchgear to break up its expanse.

I was appalled to discover that a £40,000 SUV didn’t have any cup-holders. Until, that is, I found them hidden under a plain plastic tray ahead of the central armrest.

A smattering of chrome finish helps matters, although, somewhat curiously, that of the air-vent surrounds is more lustrous and cooler to the touch than the large piece found on the transmission tunnel.

Jaguar’s Touch Pro infotainment, which is standard across the range, uses a 10in touchscreen neatly integrated into the dashboard (rather than sitting atop it in the manner of so many rivals’ systems).

That means there’s no click-wheel – a device we find currently offers the best balance of control and usability. Latency is usefully improved over slightly older Jaguar models, even if some of the icons along the bottom of the screen are inconveniently small.

The screen’s matt finish can make it difficult to read in sunlight. Conspicuous by its absence is any potential for smartphone mirroring, either with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, although Jaguar does have its own in-house software called InControl. This connects your phone to the car’s system and allows the use of certain apps, including Spotify.

The driving environment – strongly demarcated by the central passenger grab handle first seen in the Jaguar F-Type – is hard to fault ergonomically, but the steering wheel buttons feel cheap. The underlying sentiment is that the cabin has been assembled to meet a less-generous budget than you might expect of a £40,000 car, and that’s a problem when Audi , Volvo and BMW set such high standards.

The E-Pace does provide well for families on long journeys, however. You can have up to four 12V charging points and five USB connections that cater for front and rear passengers.

The car’s own 4G wi-fi hotspot can also provide for up to eight devices, and most people will find there’s more than adequate rear head and leg room – in fact, the Jaguar surpasses the Volvo XC40 in this regard, although Volkswagen’s Volkswagen Tiguan possesses comfortably more rear-seat leg room than either.

Boot space isn’t so generous, though, but that’s the price you pay for that sloping roofline.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar E-Pace review engine

Nine may seem like an excessive number of gear ratios for a mid-range 2.0-litre diesel SUV, although we all know enough about lab-certified emissions and economy tests to know why Jaguar has opted for so many here.

However, the firm’s decision to use the transmission is made even more mysterious on acquaintance, when you observe that this ZF-built unit tends to cling to each ratio a little too long under acceleration before executing a fairly leisurely – albeit suitably smooth – shift.

A transversely mounted engine isn’t what we’re used to seeing in a Jaguar, but positioning the 2.0-litre diesel this way makes for greater interior space.

Were the car’s Ingenium diesel engine a smoother one at high revs, or had it a greater operating range, perhaps it wouldn’t seem such a problem, but the motor possesses neither of those attributes and feels a little bit laboured for much of the time.

The upshot for the D180 is that progress never feels as energetic as you might hope for from a Jaguar, and that’s confirmed by a 0-60mph time that dips under 10sec by only the slimmest of margins.

By comparison, the similarly equipped and only marginally more potent Volvo XC40 D4 laid down an 8.5sec run in damp conditions, and was quicker by an equivalent proportion in dispatching the 30-70mph rolling sprint that’s important for overtaking. Quite simply, we’d expect better from a car whose marketing taglines seek to place it among the more vigorous and exciting models in its class.

However, one benefit of having so very many ratios is that the D180 E-Pace registers barely more than 1800rpm at 70mph (although with 45.8mph per 1000rpm in ninth, any kind of in-gear acceleration in ‘top’ is very slow).

And so, even though the Ingenium diesel is being squeezed into a particularly compact space here and is also an engine we’ve pulled up for a shortage of refinement in other applications, the E-Pace can progress along motorways in a surprisingly serene fashion.

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar E-Pace review cornering

The E-Pace conducts itself in a capable, inoffensive and broadly class-competitive way. But if you’re going to come away from a drive in one – certainly in an example from the more humble end of the line-up, as represented here – without at least a bit of disappointment, some management of your expectations of ‘Jaguarness’ is in order.

Jaguar says its new entry-level model has the rear-driven character of more expensive range-mates, not least the Jaguar F-Pace, but the supporting evidence for that is largely nonexistent.

Jaguar is caught between a rock and a hard place: if the E-Pace didn’t ride well we’d hammer them for it, but we also expect the brand’s famous handling. Still, Jaguar has missed the mark here.

Running on winter tyres, our test E-Pace’s on-limit cornering poise was inevitably compromised. We can believe that on regular rubber the car would have handled Millbrook’s Hill Route with greater dynamic distinction.

Our D180 model was nevertheless keener to roll on the tortuous elevation changes than we would have liked, although that is perhaps something the optional sports suspension would help to remedy. It’s unlikely any specification changes would inject more adjustability in the chassis, however.

Unlike the larger F-Pace, the E-Pace can never shake the feeling that it is being pulled rather than pushed when it’s loaded during cornering – and you get the impression that there’s nothing you can do to mitigate that. Particularly tiresome also was that the car’s powertrain isn’t given to revving as smoothly or as keenly as other four-pot diesels, and its automatic gearbox feels slow-witted at times.

Even if you’ve mustered enough commitment to enlist the rear driveshafts of the Haldex four-wheel-drive system, the sensation given when handling bends is perpetually one of being pulled rather than pushed. Handling adjustability and liveliness, as well as driver engagement, are all fairly average for a compact SUV, which is also to report, of course, that they’re in relatively short supply for a Jaguar.

That’s unlikely to induce too much angst among the customer base, because the E-Pace does just enough elsewhere to convince that it’s worth the premium billing.

The high-speed ride is particularly well conceived. It settles nicely on motorways, and as long as you don’t ask an unreasonable amount from the chassis, body movements are not only respectably slight but also effectively cushioned. It means the E-Pace, despite being on the portly side, is tenacious enough to tolerate being hustled if the need arises.

The steering is unusually crisp off-centre, too, and weights up with a progression that is probably the most pleasurable element of the entire driving experience. However, the ride is doubtless necessarily a touch firmer than Jaguar would have liked.

The E-Pace has a low-speed ride capable of unearthing hidden road imperfections in a manner that can be downright sleuthy. It’s no deal-breaker, but there’s a hint of brittleness at odds with the luxury brief. It at once betrays a platform less cultured than Jaguar’s more aluminium-rich offerings while also coming without the tautness of body control, and surfeit of grip, you’d want in a keen driver’s default pick.

And that’s the nub of it. Given the hardware on offer, the chassis engineers responsible have probably done as a good a job as could reasonably be expected in balancing athleticism with comfort. The results are acceptable for the segment but unremarkable by the standards of Jaguar itself, and must rank as an opportunity missed.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar E-Pace 2018 review hero front

You can buy an E-Pace for £28,500, but it will have front-wheel drive, come with a six-speed manual gearbox and muster only 148bhp from its 2.0-litre diesel engine. At that price you also forgo leather seats and make do with 17in wheels, although a decent array of safety and infotainment technology is included.

Most buyers will spend rather a lot more. Depending on which engine and gearbox combination you elect for, above the basic specifications you have a choice of S, SE and HSE trims. The changes are mainly cosmetic, but before that you’ll also need to decide whether to go for the more aggressive R-Dynamic bodystyle too.

Residuals are set to be exceptional, bettering those of diesel rivals such as the Volvo XC40 and Audi Q3.

Once the dust has settled from your box-ticking, don’t be surprised if you’re met with a car costing more than £40,000, particularly if you want one of the more powerful engines.

The E-Pace, then, is substantially more expensive than the class-leading Volvo XC40 once you correct for equipment level. Its residuals are forecast to be nothing short of spectacular, though, so you can expect to recoup some of that expenditure down the line.

Our sources suggest the D180 AWD SE model tested will be worth close to 60% of its original value after three years and 36,000 miles.

A touring economy of 49.2mpg from our test car – commendably close to the official claim of 55.4mpg – endows the D180 with a theoretical range in excess of 600 miles. Those are encouraging figures for anybody who drives mega-mileages, but they don’t fully make amends for the bland performance.

 

VERDICT

Jaguar E-Pace review static

With the Jaguar Jaguar F-Pace being such a hit, it was inevitable that Jaguar would follow it with a smaller, more accessible compact SUV – one that could propel global sales figures beyond 250,000 for the first time.

The resulting Jaguar E-Pace is a car that hits a few highs, chiefly in its exterior design, but mostly leaves you disappointed at the missed opportunity to set a new benchmark in a class short on handling dynamism.

It misses the mark for keen drivers, but is still a desirable SUV nevertheless

The E-Pace is hamstrung by its heavy underpinnings and, in D180 guise, has particularly lacklustre performance. Neither moderately enticing steering nor a fairly keen front axle can quell our regret that the car doesn’t handle with more of the alacrity, fluency and balance we now expect of Gaydon’s sportier brand, and nor can the fact that this is a comfortable long-distance cruiser with good fuel economy.

Even so, the E-Pace will find buyers because it espouses traditional luxury values better than rivals and stands out as a car of style and desirability in a sea of anonymity. It’s good enough for the segment but not quite good enough for Jaguar.

 

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Jaguar E-Pace First drives