Really, fairly the cub: small, cute and without a hint of beastliness. But the shared genes — quite royal — come to roar the moment you dare to cuddle it. Alvin Thomas prowls around with the new-born Leaping Cat
Very few SUVs make bold statements in the automotive industry. Even fewer do so when it’s merely a sized-down iteration of a larger flagship vehicle. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the long and tired lineup of German SUVs out there (save for Mercedes-Benz perhaps). However great these vehicles may be, it’s always the same SUV whittled down to mimic the performance and styling of its older and (almost always) larger sibling.
And upon first glance, I cannot deny that I thought the E-Pace would fit the bill too. It’s almost like someone force-fed a Jaguar F-Pace into a printer and marked the settings down to 60 per cent, thus creating the smaller, if still handsome, E-Pace. While this has given birth to Jaguar’s first-ever compact SUV, I’ve grown to think that this may be dissimilar to the ilk of cars that I’ve been talking about. Heck, it’s very, very different.
Yes, the outline of the car is similar to that of the F-Pace. It dons similar sleek headlamps as its sibling, but gains a bit more thickness and less contouring to respect the proportions. Else, everything from the large oval grille, all the way to the gaping air intakes and thin LED foglamps, is carried over.
The side profile is comparable too, but the F-Pace – courtesy its length – pulls a sleeker profile. The E-Pace, on the other hand, is almost there, but its short rear overhangs mean that the sloping roofline is cut short. Still, it’s incredibly sporty looking, even with the smaller 19-inch alloys that my tester came in. The E-Pace is also shorter than its counterpart for that added bit of sportiness.
The rear, meanwhile, keeps a clean look. The kink on the tail lamps has been done away with and in place comes a signature LED strip that imitates Jaguar’s signature tail lamp hook. Furthermore, you will get dual exhausts and a faux grille to complement the SUV’s edgy styling.
The interior is where things start taking a slight turn away from the norm. For instance, you’ll find that the E-Pace takes inspiration from the growling F-Type sportscar. Everything is where you’d expect things to be but with an integrated handle for the co-passenger to hold on to.
It also comes as standard with the brilliant and easy-to-use 10-inch Touch Pro infotainment screen. It’s simple to use and is quick to touch responses. Higher variants of the vehicle can be specced with Jaguar’s 12.3-inch TFT screen on the instrument cluster too. Ironically, I’ve only tested the latter system in the Land Rover products, but it should retain all functions and options.
Gone is the rotary knob from the usual Jaguar and Land Rover products and in comes a large and easy-to-use traditional shift-by-wire stick.
The E-Pace is well equipped, even in stock form, and the fit and finish inside is impeccable. The leatherette-wrapped seats for instance are softer than what you’d find in larger SUVs, and most portions of the cabin that you’d normally touch are also padded, save for lower panels which are (as is the case with most cars) made of hard plastics.
Space is available in plentiful – which is surprising given the shrunken-down dimensions of the car. I was astonished that the rear seat passengers were treated with plenty of room even after I had set the front seats to my position. More vertically gifted passengers (six-footers and above) may, however, have trouble with knee room. Mind you, the E-Pace is still at par with its competitors like the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
A part of that could be due to the fact that the E-Pace borrows its chassis from the Land Rover Evoque. While this does away with Jaguar’s usual fondness for aluminium, the final product is still fairly light at 1.8 tons.
All of this also translates to a big boot that is pegged at 577 litres – which is more than the X1 I talked about earlier. The loading area is a nice and wide square with a less than significant lip – a handy feature if you’re trying to load heavy items.
My P250 AWD variant of the E-Pace was powered by Jaguar’s 2.0-litre four-pot banger with a high-pressure turbocharger. The result is a peppy SUV with stellar power and torque figures. It pumps out 247hp and 365Nm of torque at 5,500rpm and 1,200 rpm, respectively.
The power and torque band is spaced out evenly, but you’ll still feel the ‘Gs’ when the torque kicks in. There’s enough steam up until about 4,500rpm, after which it’s best to switch up a gear.
Speaking of which, the nine-speed automatic transmission on the SUV is potent and quick-witted. At no point did it act clueless – and I particularly admired that it kicked down with no lag when asked to. This, coupled with the brilliant all-wheel-drive setup, meant that I was able to hit the 100kph mark in a sharp 7 seconds (validated using an accurate GPS-based speedometer).
The electric-assisted power steering system is responsive and translates a decent amount of feedback to the driver. The steering, however, is sharp – almost as sharp as what I had tested in the sporty X1. It switches direction with ease and holds the line without much tyre squealing drama. Oh, and yes, the steering system can also vibrate or pull you back into the road if it detects you swaying from the white lines on the road.
The ride is compliant, though, I suspect the low-profile tyres on the higher variants may alter the experience. My tester, with the 235/55mm Good Year Eagle F1 tyres that were wrapped around 19-inch alloys, offered sublime road comfort. It did well in sharp corners too, sticking to the road with efficacy.
Body roll is kept to a minimum, and the all-wheel drive system is well-tuned to dole out any under- or oversteer. But the chassis is eager to push out midway through corners.
As is the case with Jaguars, you get a drive mode selector to play with. In this case, it’s (literally) fun to play with as the selector’s a lever that you’d normally find on a flight cockpit.
‘Dynamic’ mode is best suited for… well… spirited driving. The steering firms up, and the throttle and gearbox response is tested to its limits in the mode. This makes it incredibly fun to drive. Dare I say: I was able to have more fun in the E-Pace than in the X1 and the GLA.
While that’s high praise for the British-born SUV, I also found the engine to be fairly economical. For instance, I was able to keep the vehicle running on a quarter tank of gas for two whole days, while covering about 200kms.
Everything about the E-Pace screams luxury SUV for those on a budget. Albeit, its greatness comes from the fact that it maintains – up to a great extent – the dynamics and characteristics of a Jaguar XE sedan while offering those in need for a bit more versatility with additional space and off-road capabilities.
And that’s the very reason that this SUV has a lot going for it; be it in styling, performance or practicality. Plainly put, this is the vehicle Jaguar should be focusing on – and it will undeniably be bettered in the coming years. But then again, it has gone great lengths to showcase Jaguar’s prowess in SUV-making. And for that very reason, this has already risen to become the best small luxury SUV to have come from the United Kingdom. That’s a statement I stand by.