2018 Jaguar E-Pace D180 HSE
(3.5 / 5)
Jaguar’s push into the SUV realm continues with its new small crossover, the new E-Pace. But does it live up to that leaper which adorns the steering wheel, or is it simply a cash grab to fill a niche?
Years ago you could predict exactly what kind of car a manufacturer would produce. Some produced only four wheel drives. Others were good at hatchbacks. Other carmakers produced large cars.
Today, things are vastly different. Everyone is trying to muscle in on tiny niches and gaps in the market. And even where there isn’t a gap, there’s a push to grab every category they can. Which is why the black small SUV you see here – the Jaguar E-Pace – has been produced.
Jaguar’s move into this category isn’t surprising, but the speed at which it has started to produce SUVs is quite staggering. It wasn’t that long ago that we were introduced to the F-Pace, a gorgeous looking midsize crossover that handles like a proper Jaguar and is styled to outshine the pioneer of the luxury SUV world, the Porsche Cayenne.
The E-Pace’s styling certainly isn’t quite as well resolved as the F-Pace, but that’s because it has been limited by its platform. Jaguar wanted a small SUV, and the quickest way to put it into production was to use a platform that was already tried and tested.
So, the E-Pace uses the platform from the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque; certainly this seems like a smart business decision. After all, it’s versatile, allowing for different engines and driveline configurations, and it’s scalable. That’s why the E-Pace has a slightly different wheelbase to its cousins.
In addition, the platform is mostly made from steel as it’s cheaper than the aluminium platform of the larger models, and this end of the market is still very price sensitive. The shaping of the aluminium structure also only makes it suitable for the larger vehicles in the company’s stable.
The issue, though, is the platform is getting on in years. While most of the E-Pace’s competitors have quite new underpinnings, the E-Pace has what’s effectively a seven-year-old platform sitting underneath. Sure, it’s had a nip and a tuck here and there, but that’s not exactly the best starting point.
You might think it doesn’t matter. And certainly for building it, it doesn’t. Jaguar has made it easy enough to produce, because Jaguar isn’t building it at all. The E-Pace comes out of the MagnaSteyr factory in Graz, Austria thanks to production capacity constraints at Jaguar’s factories.
Where it does matter is on the road. While every other small SUV zips about, threading through traffic with ease, the E-Pace just feels a bit ponderous, and a lot of that comes down to its weight. Jaguar has tried to save mass where is can, by using aluminium for the bonnet, front fenders, tailgate and the roof (when you don’t option the panoramic glass). These areas save around 30kg. Further weight saving is found in the suspension, which is mostly fashioned from aluminium.
But there’s a lot of high strength steel used throughout to make the body nice and stiff. Which means it all adds up, and at 1843kg, the Jaguar isn’t a featherweight. Add a couple of passengers and it gets even more obvious. Not because the engine struggles (turbodiesels normally have enough torque to cope) but because it doesn’t turn-in or handle as crisply as a Jaguar should.
Jaguar has a solution, and it’s called the R-Dynamic option, which stiffens the springs and adds blue stitching and other sportier items, but a Jaguar should feel a bit more lively than this in standard trim.
It appears to be a balance issue. Try to carry a bit of speed in the corners and instead of resting on both outer wheels, it just scrubs and washes off a whole heap of speed. As a result, it feels a bit too understeery. This comes as a surprise, given its tighter suspension tune which doesn’t give a soft ride, so you’d expect the tradeoff to be handling akin to the F-Pace’s setup. Not the case, it seems.
On more open, long winding roads the E-Pace feels at home, and its all wheel drive system works effectively enough with this engine. The petrol version is a different story (which you’ll see in a later review). Thankfully the steering has a nice, natural weighting and decent feedback. The brakes are okay, but could be a little less spongy underfoot. Dynamically, then, the E-Pace is a mixed bag.
Under the bonnet lies the 2.0-litre Ingenium turbodiesel from the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) stable. On test is the middle-spec D180 which offers 177hp (132kW) and 317 lb-ft (430Nm) of torque. Jaguar says it’ll get to 62mph (100kmh) in 9.3 seconds, which feels about right.
JLR continues to persist with the nine-speed auto and while it has made a huge improvement in drivability, it’s still not a patch on the ZF eight-speed auto used in other JLR products. There’s still the occasional hesitation away from rest in stop-start scenarios (compounded by the engine’s fuel-saving shut-off feature), plus it likes to hang onto gears when it should change up, or it refuses to change down, even when prodded to do so. But like we said, these niggles are less common than they used to be.
Open the doors and things are very Jaguar-like. In fact, the interior of the E-Pace has more in common with the gorgeous F-Type than just about any other Jaguar. Witness the sloping grab handle for passengers, the cockpit-shaped presentation of the driver’s side and the shapely seats.
While the F-Pace clearly resembles the XE inside, the E-Pace has tried to be more sporting, and in terms of presentation, it largely succeeds.
Up front is a a high-defition central touchscreen, and in the HSE version test was the digital instrument setup, which is also configurable so you can get a look more suited to you.
The optional 825-watt Meridian sound system sounds great, but it does dampen the music somewhat when the bass kicks in – we’re hoping there’s an option somewhere to switch that off, but we couldn’t find one. There are a suite of apps available, as well as a 4G hotspot if you decide to option it.
The seats are electrically adjustable (but heating and cooling is extra) and have excellent support and padding. The steering wheel could probably sit a little higher, but finding a driving position that’s comfortable is quite easy.
The HVAC controls are easy to work out, it all feels nice and solid and the plastics used are high end. Of course, there are some harder surfaces a bit lower down, but overall it looks nice.
It isn’t very big inside, however. Because of the segmented nature up front, drivers and passengers feel quite enclosed. The rear seat is shaped nicely, but the seat squab is angled to lift your kneeds and make you feel like there’s more room than there is.
The luggage space is good on paper – 484 litres – however in practise it’s a little small due to the shape and the angle of the back seats. Thankfully, the rear seat is a split-fold 60-40 arrangement, so it’s capable of transporting an Ikea flatpack or two when needed.
If you can live without a few luxuries, such as the digital instruments and a little less leather on the dashboard, the SE would be the model to go for. It still drives the same, but is far better value than the HSE we had on test this week.
As a small luxury SUV, the E-Pace isn’t quite as convincing as, say, an Audi Q3 or even a BMW X1, both of which are cheaper, and in the case of the X1, a bit more roomy, too.
We’ve no doubt Jag will find plenty of homes for the E-Pace, but it will need to be careful that as it goes for each SUV category it doesn’t spread itself too thin.