FROM ITS name, you may assume the Jaguar E-Pace has something to do with electric locomotion, since the prefix “E” generally has something to do with voltages. In fact the E-Pace is the company’s new small SUV, the one that comes alphabetically before the larger F-Pace in the range. Jaguar’s all-electric SUV — due out later this year — is called the I-Pace. The E-Pace is a more traditional thing, built to take advantage of the global appetite for anything SUV-shaped.
It is, to put it bluntly, pretty much as you’d expect. A smallish, tallish five-seater that comes with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive and a choice of various turbocharged 2-litre Ingenium four-cylinder engines in either diesel (148bhp, 177bhp or 237bhp) or petrol (246bhp or 296bhp) flavours.
There are several models that vary in price, depending on how much showing off you need to do and to whom. At the bottom is a D150 base model with that 148bhp diesel engine, front-wheel drive, a manual gearbox and bare-naked everything — a thrifty £28,500 specification aimed at fleet buyers.
At the top is the P300 AWD R-Dynamic HSE, which gets a nine-speed automatic gearbox and the same 296bhp engine as the 2-litre Jaguar F-type sports car. It costs £50,710. At that price, the Porsche Macan looks more attractive.
Driving the E-Pace in general is an entirely pleasant experience. Even throwing it around Corsica’s intestinal roads showed up a distinct lack of bad habits, the four-wheel-drive system shuffling power between the wheels without fuss, even when things got particularly slippery.
OK, so it felt a little heavy in places, based as it is on the Range Rover Evoque rather than a bespoke Jaguar aluminium skeleton, making it as weighty as the larger F-Pace. Yet the steering is accurate, the handling and suspension are pretty good and the engine performance is acceptable. And you’ll never mistake it for anything other than a Jag: inside and out, it has all the right cues to reassure you that you’re driving a car from a respectable brand.
If there’s a problem, it’s that after driving it for two days in all sorts of conditions, the E-Pace is just a bit … emotionally frictionless. Where Jags should have a bit of attitude and gumption, the E-Pace feels as if it is a model designed to fill a gap in a marketing plan. It’s not that the car is bad per se. It handles neatly enough and rides with a certain amount of ability, even on massive wheels. But you’ll never drive it for actual fun.
“It’s fine — in the same way bread is fine or a white wine spritzer is fine”
On the other hand, once you accept that you didn’t buy a small SUV for driving thrills, the E-Pace makes sense: the cabin is clean and neatly arranged, there are some nice details and it’s all quite happily logical. It looks very much part of the Jaguar line-up, a slightly tubby younger brother to the F-Pace, with a kind of passive handsomeness. There’s a lovely swoop to the top half. Driving through Corsican villages, it got plenty of admiring glances.
Some extra ride height and a decent all-wheel-drive system mean it’s quite capable of going off-road, but equally this is largely pointless because people who buy Jaguar SUVs are unlikely to be lamenting the lack of winch options. Rather, they tend to think “the wild” is anywhere more than 15 miles from the nearest Waitrose.
Once you put your foot down on a real road, however, the four-cylinder petrol engine grumbles and huffs without providing any real sense of speed and the nine-speed unit seems to have about three speeds too many to choose from. The best engine is the 2-litre top-spec D240 diesel and that’s only because it’s more suited to lope rather than lunge. With 237bhp, it’s only a second slower to 62mph at 7.4 seconds than the 296bhp petrol unit. If you drive reasonably, you may see more than 40mpg. It looks exactly the same, too, so nobody will notice any difference.
The R-Dynamic body styling makes the E-Pace look just that little bit better, even if you do want to avoid the optional 21in wheels. They may look good, but the car rides firmly enough on the standard set. With bigger wheels and low-profile tyres, the ride is so unyielding you’d be paying twice: once for the optional extras and again for the osteopath appointments.
If all this sounds like damning with faint praise, then I can think of many worse options than the E-Pace. The phrase I’m avoiding is something like “predictably competent”. Which, according to recently made-up but plausible-sounding statistics, is what 90% of small-SUV buyers really want.
The flipside is “surprisingly incompetent” and that only tends to apply to certain kinds of 1970s sports cars and Alfa Romeos. It’s fine — in the same way bread is fine or a white wine spritzer is fine. I’ve tried to get passionate about it, but that would be like trying to get excited by water, or the colour peach.
The truth here is that the SUV bandwagon is rolling on and you can’t blame Jaguar for hopping aboard. But bandwagons generally are things you jump on when you’ve already let someone else do the hard thinking and innovation, the risk-taking and groundbreaking, and all that messy stuff that comes without guarantees.
They are the last redoubt of the accountant, designed for one purpose: to make money. Now that’s not a bad thing in the motoring world, because car making is a business and if you don’t generate cash, you’ll eventually produce something like the Austin Metro and have to sack all your employees.
Even marques that have decried SUVs are now manufacturing them: Lamborghini has produced the Urus, a kind of bastardisation of the Audi Q7, and Ferrari has confirmed that it will be marketing an SUV next year.
The reality is the E-Pace is a Jaguar that will sell by the bucketload to people who like the brand and are lightly unbothered by the actual car. It’s practical and stylish and does everything it needs to do to make money. It will soon be produced in China and that’s where the brand is likely to make a killing.
A Jaguar of note? Probably not. But the company shouldn’t have to apologise for being a business. If you buy an E-Pace you’ll have a perfectly good car, but not an emotional one.
Head to head: Jaguar E-Pace vs Range Rover Evoque
|Jaguar E-Pace 2.0 D240 S AWD Auto
|Range Rover Evoque Td4 180 HSE Dynamic
Jeremy Clarkson is away
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