Jaguar’s E-Pace may be compact for an SUV, but it’s no kitten

The Jaguar F-Pace SUV is the brand’s fastest selling model ever, and more than 80,000 have made their way out into the world. It should come as no surprise, after hearing this, to find Jaguar has introduced another SUV, the Jaguar E-Pace.  It’s actually the third Pace model from Jaguar, after the F-Pace and the concept electric I-Pace, which will become reality in 2018. The E-Pace is a compact performance SUV that sits below the F-Pace in the range, and rather than being aimed at Jaguar brand stalwarts, the company expects 80 percent of buyers to be Jaguar newbies. Perhaps for this reason, the E-Pace is fun, filled with high-tech cool — it even has it’s own wearable wrist band that wirelessly unlocks the doors — and great to look at.

We’ll come back to that wearable shortly. Let’s look at the new E-Pace itself first. The first thing you notice from the front is the frowning headlights that characterise other Jaguar cars like the XF are missing, giving the E-Pace a friendlier, less purposeful stare. The familiar Jaguar grill has been retained and re-proportioned for the face, while a degree of what Jaguar calls, “visual assertiveness” comes from the oversize air intakes. Around the back, the car’s body is pulled in — a unique styling trend seen on almost all modern Jaguars — making the car look lighter, and more nimble. Pay attention to the LED blade-like taillights to see a chicane-style motif, which continues elsewhere on the vehicle, from the side strakes, to on top of the dashboard.

The E-Pace will come in 11 different colors, including metallics and premium metallics, with the option of a body-color roof, a black roof, or a panoramic sunroof. We loved the Firenze red R-Dynamic model we saw. Wheel-size varies from 17-inches up to 21-inches. Open the driver’s door, and it’s immediately obvious Jaguar has given the E-Pace a sporting theme. A grab bar running down the passenger side of the centre console separates the driver in their own cockpit space, with a 10-inch super-wide touchscreen above the gearstick and rotary heating controls. It runs Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, and there’s an option to spec a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel to go along with it, plus a heads-up display too.

Inside the E-Pace

We sat inside an E-Pace R-Dynamic decked out in red leather, and instantly felt at home in the comfortable sports seats are. Providing just the right amount of grip from the bolsters, they still cosset enough that a long journey would be a pleasure. Comfort continued in the back, but there wasn’t masses of rear legroom. With the driver’s seat in an acceptable position for me at just under 6ft tall, I still fitted happily in the back, but wasn’t in a position to stretch my legs very far. It wasn’t a problem, but if your friends or family are tall, get them to come along on a test drive. The chunky steering wheel is glorious, the controls all fall very neatly to hand or finger, and you really do feel cocooned in the cockpit. The elevated driving position is just about right: Not quite so commanding as the F-Pace or a Range Rover, but comparable with something like a Nissan X-Trail.

In the U.S., Jaguar will offer the E-Pace with a turbocharged, 2.0 liter, four cylinder Ingenium motor with either 246 horsepower, or tuned to 296 horsepower. Elsewhere, Jaguar will sell the E-Pace with three other engine options, including diesel models. It’s paired with the latest nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox in the United States, with an option of paddles on the steering wheel. Go for the 296 hp version and you’ll see 60mph arrive in just 5.9-seconds, and on to a top speed of 151 mph. This may be Jaguar’s mini SUV, but it’s definitely no kitten. The 246 hp E-Pace isn’t far behind with 6.6-seconds to 60 and a 143mph top speed, either.

The 246hp E-Pace has permanent all-wheel drive and an intelligent torque control system to manage slip, while the 296 hp model has the more interesting Active Driveline feature. With this, on the highway the E-Pace is front-wheel drive, but can re-engage all-wheel drive in just 300 milliseconds if detects any slip, or a change in conditions. The Active Driveline’s software takes care of understeer and oversteer, to the point where it will allow all-wheel drifts on the right surfaces, and can even imitate how a locking rear differential works for ultimate grip and traction.

Jaguar’s encouraging a little — safe — off-road fun with its All Surface Progress Control system, which effectively takes over the throttle, acceleration, and braking to keep the car at a steady speed between 1mph and 18 mph. All the driver has to do is steer, and it works in most low-grip environments, and even up hills or along icy roads. As standard, all E-Pace vehicles get the JaguarDrive Control system for normal, dynamic, or Eco driving modes, but an option for Configurable Dynamics gives you more control over throttle mapping, steering response, shift speed, and Adaptive Dynamics suspension settings. Three years in the making, Jaguar has tested the E-Pace across four continents, including the Arctic and on the Nurburgring, for 120,000 hours in 150 prototypes to make sure it feels, handles, and drives like it should.

Technology, connectivity, and a wearable

There’s plenty of high-tech convenience inside the E-Pace. There are five USB charging ports, which is one for each passenger and the driver, plus the option to add more. It has its own 4G Wi-Fi hotspot that supports eight different devices, plus the infotainment system will connect to your phone and share apps such as Spotify and Tile. This is an SUV, so Jaguar has put some thought into storage space. The centre storage compartment can be shifted around to hold either various odds-and-ends and a pair of 1-liter water bottles, or to hold and charge phones and even tablets. The door bins hold upright water bottles, and the glovebox has a lockable compartment. The trunk is big, and the rear seats have a 60:40 split.

What about that wearable we talked about? It’s called the Activity Key, and is also an option on the F-Pace. It uses RFID to communicate with the car, so you can lock and unlock the doors without needing the key, or simply open the tailgate with a gesture. It’s water and shock-proof and doesn’t need batteries, so the idea is when you don’t want to take the car key with you — at the beach, for example — you can lock it inside the car and just strap the Activity Key to your wrist.

The list of additional technology inside the E-Pace continues with blind spot assist, park assist, six airbags, a choice of in-car entertainment sound systems, satellite navigation, and rear parking cameras. The front cameras have stereo vision, which can be used for semi-autonomous driving in the future. The E-Pace comes in four different specifications — Standard, S, SE, and HSE — and in an R-Dynamic version. This model has sportier bodywork and different colors on the outside, sports seats, and different interior trim options.

Out in 2018

A base E-Pace with the 246 hp motor starts at $38,600 and continues to $44,300 for the SE model. The E-Pace R-Dynamic S starts at $47,250 and can reach $53,100 for the HSE trim version. Finally, for the first year only Jaguar will sell you the $53,550 E-Pace First Edition. It has the 246hp motor and reaches the R-Dynamic SE spec; but comes in unique First Edition colors, with different interior leather trim, the HUD, more USB charging ports, the Activity Key, and the Configurable Dynamics feature.

Regardless of which one you go and see, make sure to take a close look at the windscreen on the drivers side from the outside when you do. You’ll spot an etched picture of a jaguar with a cub running behind. This is a fun nod to the E-Pace’s codename, Cub, used during its development. It even shows up in the puddle lighting when you open the door.

The Jaguar E-Pace is available to order from July 13, with deliveries expected in six months time around the beginning of 2018.