Small is beautiful, and particularly so when the object of desire is the new E-Pace. This newborn cub from the Jaguar lair has been created to compete in the booming compact SUV segment. It follows on from the F-Pace to give the British brand a two-pronged presence in a sector which continues to grow at a rapid rate.
Indeed, globally, the brand sold 26,000 more F-Pace models last year than the total number of Jaguars sold in 2011. That instantly puts the importance of these new SUV models into perspective. To be blunt, without SUVs, the big cat could all too easily become an endangered species.
The smaller E, therefore, represents great opportunity in a segment typically dominated by the Audi Q3, BMW 1-Series and Mercedes GLA.
Stand-out style isn’t something that’s synonymous with this sector. The majority of options are inoffensive enough to look at but, when the right specification is chosen, absolutely nothing else has the presence of this baby Jag. Scots design boss Ian Callum’s trademark design cues – the muscular rear haunches in particular – translate wonderfully into the compact SUV concept.
Like many Jags, colour is everything. Silver, white and grey are safe bets but Firenze Red, Caesium Blue or the First Edition’s Caldera Red definitely show off the car at its best.
The correct wheel choice is also absolutely essential. Basic E-Pace models run on 17″ alloys and, to be brutally blunt, they make the car look like something rolled out on a zero deposit Motability offer. Opt for the 19″ or 20″ rims, which look good and don’t damage the ride quality like you might expect.
There’s a huge range of personalisation options but these can quickly push the price up. Despite a list price starting at £28,500, it’s possible to configure a £55k E-Pace online within seconds and that’s a sizeable amount of money in anyone’s book. Few, of course, will buy cash these days and that’s where the car claws back with strong predicted residuals meaning lower-than-you-might-think monthly PCP or lease rates.
While standard issue kit is decent, and includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, the extensive options catalogue does allow buyers to create a car that’s very personal to them. A personal favourite is the Mars Red Windsor leather interior which gives the E-Pace the character and charm a Jag deserves.
It also brightens up a well-designed and surprisingly spacious interior that’s very much driver-focused and one of Jaguar’s better efforts in recent times. Only excessive windscreen glare from the head-up display and an infotainment system which really isn’t good enough prevent it from being best in class.
Both the E-Pace and E-Pace R-Dynamic are available with S, SE or HSE specifications married to a mix of three diesel and two petrol engines.
All the two-litre powertrains are from the Ingenium family. Designed in-house by Jaguar Land Rover and built at an all-new, purpose-built factory in the Midlands, outputs span from 148 to 297bhp.
This is also the first Jaguar since the X-Type to offer a front-wheel drive option although the majority of E-Paces sold are expected to be all-wheel drive and with the D180 engine.
This is an engine that’s hugely popular in the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It’s not particularly cutting-edge in terms of performance or economy but it’s refined enough and delivers just enough power to keep the driver content.
My time at the helm of the Jaguar cub was in the D240 (diesel) and P300 (petrol) models paired up with the superb nine-speed automatic gearbox.
While there was no faulting the diesel’s responsiveness – 0-60mph in seven seconds – it’s the petrol model which makes the biggest impact. This is a smooth and free-revving engine which has the potency to woo buyers out of hot hatches and performance coupes.
The benchmark 0-60mph sprint can be dialled up in 5.9 seconds and this power gives the car an athleticism which disguises the fact that it’s actually heavier than the bigger F-Pace.
Efficiency-wise, forget the brochure claims of 50+ mpg for the diesels and 35+ mpg for the petrols. Think 40mpg and 25mpg respectively and you’ll be closer to the mark. CO2 emissions span from 124 to 181g/km.
Launch cars were also equipped with the Active Driveline system. This effectively uses torque vectoring to deliver rear-wheel drive handling characteristics during cornering but with the reassurance of four-wheel drive grip. Moreover, it disengages in steady driving so power is supplied to the front wheels only, reducing friction losses and improving efficiency.
Dynamically there’s not a lot wrong with the Jag. Okay, so it’s on the firmer side of comfortable but it’s still more compliant over the rough stuff than the equivalent S line Audi model.
It’s also a very agile thing and it certainly won’t disappoint those who drive with a sporting persuasion.
Surprisingly for a vehicle with such a road bias, it’s capable on the rough stuff thanks, of course, to know-how from sister brand Land Rover.
Ultimately the E-Pace is an SUV with grace and pace. It’s a Jaguar for the world of today but, importantly, it’s one which hasn’t sold its soul.