Unless you have been living on Mars, SUVs are big business these days. Not a month goes by without a new or shinier model hitting the market to cater for the global shift in demand for the high-riding wagon.
With the mid- and large-SUV segments firmly established, carmakers are now turning their attention on the smaller end of the market where substantial growth is expected.
Described as a five-seat compact SUV packing the design and performance of a Jaguar sports car, the E-Pace is expected to supplant the F-Pace as the British marque’s best seller.
It’s not hard to see why.
The range is comprehensive with no less than 24 variants to meet almost everyone’s needs and then some. Prices start from $47,750 for the D150 featuring all-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic transmission and turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine as standard, and stretches all the way to the $83,733 E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic HSE you see here.
On trend, there are also fully kitted ‘First Edition’ models available for the first full year of sales with unique colours and additional features – if you’re willing to part with another $26,000, at least.
Don’t be confused by its name either, as the E doesn’t stand for electric. For that, the upcoming I-Pace (launching later this year) flies the flag as Jaguar inaugural Tesla fighter.
And unlike the aluminium-intensive, XE-based F-Pace, the cheaper E-Pace swaps aluminium for steel and has more in common with the Evoque than the F-Pace, sharing the Range Rover’s steel platform and running gear.
Jaguar should also be applauded for resisting the temptation to scale down the F-Pace’s design for the new E-Pace, a dismally familiar approach employed by the Germans. Instead, the E-Pace’s design is inspired by the F-Type sports car, from its distinctive Jaguar grille and headlights to the muscular proportions, short overhangs and powerful haunches.
While not as sensuously seductive as the F-Type coupé, the E-Pace’s cutesy looks never fail to draw curious glances while on test, perhaps thanks in part to the optional Black Exterior Pack that blacks out most of the shiny bits on the exterior for a properly sinister look.
But if there’s more than a few F-Type connections on the outside, the E-Pace’s interior could almost be mistaken for a F-Type, only better. From the wraparound cockpit with built-in passenger grab handle, to the beautifully finished satin chrome detailing on the door handles, air vents and gear lever surrounds, the interior oozes craftsmanship and luxury.
The dashboard, centre console and front and rear door cards are all covered in reassuringly soft rubber and/or high quality leather.
Our P300 HSE’s 12.3-inch digital instruments is smooth and crisp and almost as good as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, although not as easily (or as highly) customisable. The 10-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment screen is satisfyingly responsive and easy to use with up to date graphics, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is oddly missing.
Two USB ports and a 12-volt socket lurk in the vast 8.4 litres cubbyhole under the centre armrest with a detent in its lid so the cables leading into them won’t get pinched. Now that’s attention to detail.
Rear seat passengers are similarly well catered for, with three 5V USB ports to top up their devices on the move.
In addition to the 10-litre lockable glove box, there’s an open stowage space at the bottom of the centre console for smartphones, while the door bins are capable of holding 10.5-litre bottles.
It’s not hard to find a comfortable driving position in the E-Pace. In fact, its front sport seats are the most comfortable in a Jag, with good lumbar and thigh support. The optional electric side bolder and thigh extension ensures your torso is fixed in position should you indulge in a bit of spirited driving, which you will, a lot, in the P300 R-Dynamic – we’ll come to that later – while the pedal position is spot on.
The E-Pace feels roomy for its size. There’s plenty of head and legroom up front, and while rear seat legroom is good, loftier passengers might find their heads scrapping the roof lining due to the designers’ swooping pens. Curiously, roof grab handles are conspicuously missing in all seat positions.
With a seat up capacity of 484-litres, the E-Pace’s load carrying facility isn’t the biggest compare to its peers but its boot opening is one of the widest for easy loading. It expands to 1,141-litres when the 60:40 split rear seats are folded, which annoyingly, can only be done from inside the cabin as there are no backrest release buttons in the boot.
Despite the plunging roofline and small rear window, all round visibility is generally good, aided that clear 360o parking aid.
Being an R-Dynamic model, the E-Pace holds itself superbly well despite running on passively damped suspension. Body control is tight with only minor body roll in fast corners. At posted speeds, you might be fooled into thinking you’re in a high-riding hot hatch.
Its 245/45R20 Pirelli P Zero boots are grippy in most conditions and together with sure footed all-paw traction, the P300 feels reassuringly agile despite weighing in excess of 1.9 tonnes, with change of direction is executed quickly and responsively.
The steering is appropriately weighted but not very fast (even in Dynamic mode) – as is fashionable these days. The result is a front end that turns-in crisply into a corner every time.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four plays a big part in that hot hatch feel. It generates a heart thumping 221kW at 5,500rpm and a stout 400Nm from 1,500rpm all the way to 4,500rpm.
Matched with a quick shifting 9-speed automatic transmission, the P300 is capable of blitzing from 0 to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds – not AMG A45 quick but smack bang in the hot hatch territory.
Interestingly, Jag has eschewed the rotary gear knob of its more expensive models for an electronic shifter for the E-Pace. While we have no qualms with it, the shifter requires the press of a button to shift out of all of its positions, not just reverse or park like others.
There are four different drive modes on offer – ECO, Comfort, Dynamic and Rain/Ice/Snow settings, each altering the throttle, engine and transmission mapping, as well as the Torque Vectoring system.
Like most other drive modes, ECO mode could be more responsive as the transmission takes a split second to process kick down. In Dynamic mode, the engine sounds appropriately sporty, although the note is sung from the speakers, not the exhausts.
The E-Pace’s noise suppression is good on the whole with only minor wind noise at freeway speeds, while ride quality around town is firm but not bone jarringly so.
At the end of our weeklong test, the P300 returned a combined fuel consumption of 11.9L/100km, thanks to my lead foot and spending around 70 per cent of its time in stop/start traffic.
Design and Comfort: 7.5/10
Performance and Handling: 8.5/10
Equipment and Features: 8.0/10
It’s not hard to see why the new E-Pace is expected to be Jaguar’s bestseller – well-built, superb interior, marvelous handling and practical.
Those wanting their ride to be on the sportier side will find the E-Pace R-dynamic offering the practicality of a SUV with the dynamics of a hot hatch.
It is fabulously car-like and, dare we say it, even channels some of the F-Type’s playfulness.
2018 Jaguar E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic pricing and specification
|Price (Excluding on-road costs):||From $83,733
As tested: $96,233
· Fixed panoramic roof – $2,160
· Caesium Blue metallic paint – $1,370
· Cold Climate Pack (inc. heated windscreen, heated water jets and heated soft grain leather steering wheel) – $1,220
· Black Exterior Pack (inc. gloss black side window surround and side vents, and gloss black grille w/- gloss black surround) – $890
· Illuminated metal treadplates – $820
· Activity key – $750
· Privacy glass – $690
· Configurable Dynamics – $680
· Configurable Ambient Interior Lighting – $580
· Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB+) Radio – $430
· Smartphone Pack (inc. InControl Apps) – $420
· Cabin air ionization – $380
· Additional power sockets – $260
· Surround camera system – $220
|Warranty Customer Assistance:||3 years/100,000km roadside|
|Country of Origin:||United Kingdom (Made in Austria)|
|Service Intervals:||12 months/26,000km|
|Engine:||2.0-litre turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder, direct-injected petrol with engine stop/start:
221kW @ 5,500rpm, 400Nm @ 1,500-4,500rpm
|Power to Weight Ratio (W/kg):||121.5|
|0-100km/h (seconds):||Claimed: 6.4|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 8.0 / Tested: 11.9|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||68|
|Body:||5-door, 5-seat SUV|
|Safety:||· 5-star ANCAP
· 7-airbags, including bonnet airbag
· ABS, EBD, BA, TC, ESC
· Emergency braking
· Blind spot assist
· Adaptive cruise control with Queue Assist
· Driver Condition Monitor
· High-speed emergency braking
· Lane keep assist
· Park assist
· 360o parking aid
· Rear traffic monitor
· Space saver spare
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4,411/1,984/1,649/2,681|
|Turning Circle Between Kerbs:||11.9|
|Tare Mass (kg):||1,819|
|Boot Space (min/max) (L):||484/1,141|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 1,800/Unbraked: 750|
|Entertainment:||· 10-inch Touch Pro
· Navigation Pro
· 825W, 15-speakers Meridian Sound System
· Pro Services and Wi-Fi hotspot
· Voice control (radio and phone only)
· AM/FM Radio
Competitors: Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo XC40, Range Rover Evoque, Infiniti QX30