As much fun as it is to pick on crossovers, a really good one can make a lot of people very happy. They ride higher, can handle a greater variety of conditions both on- and off-road, are easier to access and work with on a daily basis, and (usually) look pretty good doing it all. To top it off, crossovers are lighter, quicker and more fuel efficient than the hulking SUVs that preceded the crossover in popularity.
Jaguar’s new entry into the sector — the E-Pace ($38,600), a notch below the F-Pace SUV ($42,065) — works valiantly to meld performance and capability. Around the smooth asphalt and rougher edges around the undulating landscape of Corsica, the new Jag handily proved its worth.
The E-Pace rises to the challenge of meeting or exceeding Jaguar’s expected levels of luxury and performance. It handles sharply and smartly, feels appropriately cushy and comfortable and has that hint of presence that is easy to lose with a crossover — in spite of its literally elevated stature. A well-designed sedan has a way of commanding authority better than a crossover or SUV, which has to do with proportions; particularly, an abundance of rear legroom. But the E-Pace is a Jag as much in spirit as it is in name, which speaks exceedingly well of the effort.
I only drove the 296-hp R-Dynamic variant which goes like stink. The car is brisk off the line and soaks up the turns like any similarly-pedigreed machine should, with minimal body roll and a seemingly endless tolerance for pushing harder and harder with each subsequent turn thanks to several different forces at play. First: the engine, which is smooth and refined. Second: the suspension, which is lightweight in all the right places to minimize unsprung weight, and stiffened to improve precision. Third: the all-wheel-drive transmission.
In this model, Jaguar deploys an option called Active Driveline, which uses a combination of precision power transfer and torque vectoring to transfer nearly all needed power to the front or rear, or even single left or rear wheels. That means you can power-slide your way through the sand in rear-drive mode and then convert to all-wheel-drive or front-drive within 300 milliseconds of hitting new driving conditions — or, rather, the car can. Dual rear clutches can be “locked” or “unlocked” to replicate a locking rear differential when conditions become more complicated or mixed. The torque vectoring effect comes from braking individual wheels rather than accelerating others, as some systems do, which Jaguar argues is better at balancing the distribution of power between all four wheels. This improves grip and steering control when driven at the limit.
Inside, Jaguar provides its InControl Touch Pro infotaintment system, which is among the most easily comprehensible and navigable of the luxury user-interfaces. It offers both a large 12.3-inch full-color TFT display in the instrument cluster and a brighter, crisper head-up display than comparable competitors. There’s also a choice of two premium audio systems sourced from Meridian, the grandeur of the two featuring an 825W, 15-speaker surround system. Convenience features include a gesture-operated tailgate and an “Activity Key,” which allows you to securely lock up the car via a waterproof and shockproof wristband that will give you access when you wave it in front of a sensor above the rear license plate. In addition, the E-Pace features now-common driver aids to prevent lane wandering and collisions.
2018 Jaguar E-Pace
Engine: two different 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinders
Transmission: 9-speed automatic; AWD
Horsepower: 246; 296 (R-Dynamic)
Torque: 269; 295 lb-ft (R-Dynamic)
0-60: 6.6 seconds; 5.9 (R-Dynamic)
Weight: 4,035 lbs; 4,175 (R-Dynamic)
MSRP: $38,600 (base)
Who It’s For:
People who want a pocket rocket without compromising on comfort and design — one that can bail them out if they get into trouble while scampering off-road. Sure, most off-roadable vehicles rarely, if ever, make it off-road. But legit capability when you do want or need it, even if it bails you out once in five years of ownership, is worth the price of admission.
Watch Out For:
I have but two quibbles with the E-Pace. First, the name. In an era when carmakers seem to be going out of their way to confuse consumers with everything from cryptic, unmemorable alphanumerics to trendy iPhone-esque tech handles, naming a vehicle E-anything immediately implies electrification, which is not present in the E-Pace. The forthcoming all-electric I-Pace, will, so the naming scheme is complex. It’s either a deliberate attempt at stolen valor — a cheap psychological trick to seem virtuous — or it’s simply bad judgment. Regardless, I hate the name because it will forever prompt clarification.
My other complaint is with the front end. The vehicle is generally beautiful, with excellent proportions and a notably sporty visual vibe. Its minimized rear-overhang looks modern and ready for off-road action, and the optional 21-inch wheels flesh out the proportions nicely. But the fascia feels like a glum afterthought. The grill-to-headlight ratio — if that isn’t actually a thing, I vote it should be — is off, with just a hair too little headlight relative the grill, while both are too small relative to the lower air intakes. The grill, resplendent in shiny black, doesn’t match those lower intakes, which have more of a matte finish. (Only the center one is fully functional, by the way, the two outer intakes merely direct air into a vertical slot toward the brakes.)
The headlights, while striking in profile, are a bit too minimalist from the front, calling to mind an old Dodge Neon. This isn’t so much in their shaping as it is in their general timidness, which I fear won’t age well. There are many benefits to LED headlights, which the E-Pace of course offers, but downscaling should not be one of them. Headlights are not to be underestimated in their importance visually.
Where to start? The unrestrained overbreeding of crossovers has become epidemic. Every major manufacturer has multiple samples in their lineup, but those that come closest to hitting the proper mix of offroad capability and on-road prowess are the Porsche Macan, which offers comparable performance if a different overall vibe; and the Mazda CX-3, which brings not-insignificant — and wholly underrated — design flair to the crossover, in addition to being at worst a great vehicle. There’s also the newer Volvo XC40, which may be less sporty and capable off-road, but is undeniably innovative.
Use this thing, and have fun doing it. In my tests, I forded 24-inch streams without batting an eyelash and ripped around slippery banks of sand without losing a bit of composure. Vehicles like this can expand your world in ways no sedan or sports car can.
Car and Driver: “Although adjacent alphabetically in lists of major automakers, Jaguar and Jeep are polar opposites, but that isn’t keeping Jaguar from following in Jeep’s footsteps.”
Automobile Magazine “Despite its compact dimensions, the 173.0-inch-long E-Pace weighs in at a portly 4,175 lb in R-Dynamic spec thanks in part to a largely steel construction. That’s a massive 500 lb more than our Four Seasons Mazda CX-5 and the Range Rover Evoque, 200 lb more than the Land Rover Discovery Sport, and even 160 lb more than the larger F-Pace.”
The Wall Street Journal “The E-Pace shows another side of the burgeoning JLR empire: ruthless, expedient, shamelessly pursuing global volume, baldly grubbing for profits.”
The Drive: “Luxury brands love to claim, often dubiously, that their SUV designs are directly related to their sports cars, but the E-Pace really does evoke Jaguar’s sexy F-Type.”