Crossover SUVs are the pop music of the car world: scorned by purists, liked by the masses, and disproportionately successful in terms of sales. Jaguar’s F-Pace is the perfect example of this trend, selling more than 80,000 sport utility vehicles after launching in 2016 and accounting for almost half of the company’s 172,848 cars sold in the last financial year. With such a runaway commercial success, it was inevitable that Jaguar would return for another bite at the cherry, and today it does so with the unveiling of the new E-Pace compact performance SUV. It’s a scaled-down F-Pace — in price, power, and size — but it’s still the same formula of giving the people what they really want.
I was in attendance at Jaguar’s London launch of the E-Pace, and one of the intriguing peripheral things about it was the press group assembled. The number of Chinese and Russian journalists was nearly equal to the English-speaking ones, signaling Jaguar’s emphasis on capturing the growing opportunity in those Eastern regions. The new E-Pace will initially be built in Graz, Austria, but starting next year it’ll also be manufactured in China specifically for the local Chinese market. Orders for the E-Pace open tonight with starting prices of $38,600, £28,500, or €34,950, and deliveries will be within six months.
Jaguar joins other luxe automakers like Mercedes-Benz in making a smaller, more affordable crossover
So who might be interested in buying a Jaguar E-Pace? Jaguar thinks this will be the ideal car for a young couple, people who probably have no other vehicle and who want to maximize the return on their spending in terms of stowage space, modern connectivity, and attractive design. Though I’m not a couple, I count myself among those intrigued by the E-Pace proposition. I find myself more comfortable riding in an Audi Q7 than an A8, and I see many advantages to these crossover vehicles in my urban environment. Living in London, the times when I need a car are often the ones when I need to move a lot of stuff around — so if I’m going to buy anything on wheels, it’s going to have to be practical. But I also value good and efficient design, and this E-Pace is certainly compact for its class and has an attractively chunky look to it.
Jaguar design director Ian Callum explained today that “the thing with Jaguars is that they should always be exaggerated in some way to give that excitement.” He waxed poetic about the oversized paws of big cats and how they were evoked by the large air intakes at the front of the E-Pace. The front grille is the same as you’ll find on the Jaguar XF, and the headlights are, in Callum’s words, unashamedly derived from the F-Type. During its development, the E-Pace was codenamed “the cub” inside Jaguar, and many of its aesthetic cues are thus inherited from the elder, pricier siblings.
Jaguar defines the look of the E-Pace as “confident and assertive, but not aggressive.” Callum believes “Jags should never be aggressive.” That makes me wince a little, because I’ve only ever heard the term “Jag” in the context of tabloid journalism about spendthrift sports stars or perfidious politicians. This car brand’s reputation is thus a little uneven, but the approach with the E-Pace seems a good one: Jaguar’s offering a high standard of practicality wrapped up in a high standard of design and engineering.
Some stowage numbers: in total, the E-Pace offers 1,234L of space, of which 577L are at the luggage area at the back. You get 970mm of headroom and 892mm of legroom at the rear, plus a generous 10L glovebox and a “mega bin” in the center column that can accommodate two wine bottles. If Jaguar is serious about appealing to millennials, it would probably do better to tell us how many bottles of Soylent one can tote around, but the point is well made regardless.
Designed like a larger car shrunken down in size, and it feels that way, too
Unfortunately, I didn’t really find the extravagant generosity of space that Jaguar wants us to believe is on offer inside the E-Pace. The front seats are quite wonderful, offering endless adjustability and comfort. However, I discovered that to be comfortable sitting at the front, I had to move the seat into a position that made me feel cramped while sitting at the back. I’m only 5 foot 10, but I don’t think that two of me sitting at the front and back of this car would both experience great comfort. Additionally, the foot room at the back is quite restricted. I definitely think the E-Pace has the width to accommodate five people and a reasonably large pile of their things at the back, but the car just feels like it needs to be a bit longer to accommodate everyone properly. For context, the F-Pace has two inches more legroom at the back, which makes a big difference.
Returning to Jaguar’s idealized millennial family, I don’t suppose they’ll mind those restrictions too much while their offspring are growing up — and there’s always the F-Pace and Jaguar’s luxury limos to upsell them to later on in life.
In terms of tech niceties, the E-Pace includes five USB charging ports, a smartphone and tablet holder, an HDMI/MHL port, and a SIM card slot for the provision of a 4G hot spot on demand. The infotainment system on board is Jaguar’s flagship InControl Touch Pro, offered up on a tablet-like interface on the 10-inch screen in the middle. The instrument readout is also digital and will be familiar to drivers of other recent Jaguar or (sister brand) Land Rover cars. It can be augmented with an optional, laser-based heads-up display.
“We ought to hold on to tactile switches in our cars. It can't all go to touchscreens.”
Before leaving the stage, chief designer Callum advised everyone to try the “lovely” rotary dials inside the E-Pace, stressing his belief that “we ought to hold on to tactile switches in our cars. It can't all go to touchscreens.” Those dials, inspired by the ridged design of camera lenses, do indeed feel nice, though like much of the rest of the E-Pace’s interior, they’re made out of plastic. It’s good and solid plastic, but it doesn’t scream luxury at you. The leather seats are also not of a particularly luxurious class, similarly to what you’ll find on the F-Pace. These material choices are among the very few ways in which Jaguar’s SUVs betray their lower price point relative to the rest of the brand’s lineup.
Alan Volkaerts, Jaguar’s director for this vehicle line, claims that the E-Pace “drives every single bit as good as it looks.” Given the award-winning and best-selling quality of the larger F-Pace, I’m willing to believe Jaguar’s boasts of superior driving performance. The E-Pace is available with a choice of five 4-cylinder Ingenium engines (three diesel and two petrol options), which are all made out of aluminum and designed and manufactured in-house in the UK. The transverse engine layout helps trim down the length of the car, which was evidently a design priority inside Jaguar. The company even designed the nine-speed automatic transmission specifically for transverse engine applications.
The R-Dynamic variant of the E-Pace (which I have photographed for this article; starting price of $47,250) has a few extra design touches and the more powerful 296-horsepower engine. It can go from 0–100 kmh in 6.4 seconds, whereas the regular 246-horsepower E-Pace does it in seven seconds. Jaguar also touts a sophisticated suspension system, though you’d need to purchase the extra Adaptive Dynamics package to get a continuously variable damper system that “monitors vehicle movements every 2 milliseconds (0.002 seconds) and calculates the required damping force every 10 milliseconds (0.01 seconds).”
The Jaguar E-Pace represents one of those “you can have it all” propositions that I rarely see working out in practice. Yes, it would be quite terrific to have a car that’s beautiful and spacious enough to fit both people and plunder, and so delightful to drive as to make me forget about its rivals. But in trying to check so many boxes, the E-Pace risks falling into the forgettable category of being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.