“Grace, space and pace” are the characteristics company founder William Lyons said make up a Jaguar. Were he still with us today he would probably add, “…and a highly profitable diversity in the compact crossover utility segment.”
When Jaguar added the F-Pace to its lineup two years ago it doubled the company’s sales almost immediately. Like it or not, crossover utility vehicles are moneymakers. So adding more of them to any carmaker’s lineup just makes good business sense, even for the company that brought us such sports car icons as the C-Type, D-Type, E-Type and the XJR-14. So, acquiescing to the inevitable world domination of the CUV, and following the profit-busting F-Pace, tadaa, here is the one-foot-smaller Jaguar E-Pace.
The E-Pace makes sound business sense in a number of ways, not the least of which being that Jaguar is building it on the shared JLR D8 architecture that we’ve already seen beneath the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport. While the hood, roof, front fenders and tailgate are aluminum, the balance of the D8 architecture is stiff, relatively inexpensive steel. It saves Jaguar money but costs the E-Pace weight –- at a hefty 4176 pounds the E is more than 150 pounds heavier than the more aluminum-intensive F-Pace.
Life’s full of tradeoffs.
And while the rest of the world gets a couple engine choices, including a diesel, we here in the U.S. will have to make do with just one “petrol” powerplant. But it’s an appropriately powerful-enough engine for the job – the 2.0 Ingenium twin-scroll turbo four-cylinder. We will have a choice of two versions of it, one making 247 hp and one 296. It sits transversely under the hood, bolted to the seemingly ubiquitous ZF nine-speed automatic, which comes with handy and sporty paddle shifters, as you might expect in a Jag, even in a crossover. Up to 100 percent of engine torque can be sent to the rear wheels and from there to either individual rear wheel via wet-clutch packs on each half shaft. Front-wheel torque is split using brake-application.
The E-Pace controls and distributes all that power and torque with a variety of electronic aids. The one with the most potential for fun is the “Active Driveline,” similar to the system found in the Ford Focus RS that sends all the torque to the rear wheels and lets you drift your car to your heart’s and tire budget’s content. More on that in a moment.
So how does it drive? On my first stint behind the wheel over paved two-lane twisties it felt sportier than its platform mates the Evoque and Disco Sport, as you’d expect from a Jag. Jaguar says the E-Pace competes against the Mercedes GLA, Infiniti QX30 and somewhere between the BMWs X1, 2, and 3. On its own, my first impression is that the E-Pace, as its competitors, feels set up for suburban comfort, not mountain two-lanes. The steering is too light, with too much boost and too little feel. The engine sounds just a bit raspy at idle and the powerband feels a bit peaky, as if all the power is coming on higher up on the rev range. Torque is also not as strong as I would have liked at lower RPMs, even though the spec sheet says all 295 lb-ft of my R-Dynamic S P300’s torque was online starting at 1500 rpm. But the E-Pace hits 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, so, that’s something.
But that was only a first impression, what you might get during a dealership test drive. Don’t make your decision based on that. As with anything, I got used to the E-Pace’s character after a while and then started to exploit the thing. By the afternoon of my day-long drive I was working the paddle shifters to blip the nine-speed ZF trans into whichever gear felt best. In just a short time I was flogging the E like a dusty welcome mat hung on a clothesline. It responds well, even if you’ll never mistake it for a sporty anything — the steering is just a little too vague and the body roll, while well-controlled via the continuously variable Adaptive Dynamics dampers, is still more than I’d have liked.
We headed off road at various parts of the day’s drive and it got up and down a few dirt roads without any troubles. The steel chassis is, indeed, stiff enough for the task. The feel is of a taut crossover SUV, not a fully articulating rock crawler, of course, but you would feel entirely confident taking this on any graded dirt road anywhere, even if there were a few washouts and ruts in your way.
On a closed sandy course I tried out the Active Driveline feature and was soon drifting it like an old Camaro on a snow day. It is way more fun than I would have expected in this segment. This feature alone would be worth the price of admission, especially if you have access to your own patch of dirt.
Should you buy this over the GLA, QX30 or a small BMW crossover? The Jag is more expensive, starting at $39,595, while the others start at a couple/few grand down from that. They are also a few hundred pounds lighter despite being within inches of the E’s wheelbase and length. The Jaguar cachet is certainly worth something, especially if you go around pronouncing it “Jag-you-are” and sound like you know what you’re talking about.
What to do, what to do? Maybe buy a used F-Type? There are several certified used Fs at my local dealer for $45K, and you can load an E-Pace up to $54,095. Sure, they only seat two and have almost no cargo space or any ground clearance, but we’re not talking practicality here, we’re talking freedom, baby! Okay, that’s terrible advice for a CUV customer. Or is it?
Finally, one weird footnote to an otherwise fun day’s drive: The hood airbag exploded on me even though I didn’t hit anything. This European-only system is designed to protect pedestrians in an impact by raising the hood and placing the inflated air bag at an assumed point of pedestrian head-whang. (U.S. E-Paces also have a pedestrian standard but it is met without the airbag. So this is not really relevant to us.)
There were no pedestrians anywhere near the car. I was driving on a paved, hilly, mountain two-lane road and slowed suddenly to turn left into a parking area. The ABS was not functioning as I slowed, I was not stomping on the brakes, just pressing on them a little hard. On one edge of the entrance to the parking area was a wooden post. I was about ten feet away from the wooden post, turning left into the lot when this big, wide airbag under the trailing edge of the hood suddenly and violently inflated outside the car where the back of the hood and the base of the windshield intersect. The hood itself was raised a couple inches on that trailing edge by pyrotechnic inflators. I continued into the parking area and parked. I never hit the post or anything else and I knew I wasn’t going to.
I don’t know why the bag inflated and Jaguar had no immediate answer. My suspicion is that some radar sensor assumed the wooden post was a pedestrian and that I was going to hit it, which, as I said, I didn’t and knew I wouldn’t. If I was to continue guessing I’d say that that some algorithm saw the steering angle, the rate of deceleration and that some radar sensor saw the post, added it all up and decided it better fire the air bag. But that’s my layman’s guess. Jaguar is looking into it. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $39,595
As Tested Price: $54,095
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbo I-4, 9-speed automatic, awd
Output: 247 hp at 5500 rpm, 296 lb-ft at 1500-4500 rpm
Curb Weight: 4176 pounds (mfg)
0-60 MPH: 6.6 seconds (mfg.)
Pros: Drift mode!
Cons: Heavier and more expensive than the competition