CORSICA, France – If the idea of yet another non-sports car Jaguar on the road leaves you cold, try to keep an open mind about the E-Pace.
That’s because if you care about things like spirited engine performance and sprightly chassis dynamics, the E-Pace will change your opinion of whether a CUV can keep up with the sports coupes and sedans of the world.
Two words: It can.
Our test car, the ’18 E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic model, featured Jaguar’s Ingenium 2.0L turbocharged inline 4-cyl., producing 296 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque, sending power to all four wheels via a ZF 9-speed automatic transmission. A 246 hp and 269 lb.-ft. (365 Nm) version of the same engine, a 2018 Wards 10 Best Engines winner, is available in the base P250 in North America.
The P300 engine is stellar, pulling and revving much more like a mid-displacement V-6 as it leaps from launch and doesn’t seem to lose its quick response regardless of speed or rpm, especially in the crucial 45-70-mph (72-113-km/h) range. The exhaust note and induction even sound V-6-like.
Punching up Dynamic mode, one of four options along with Eco, Normal and Rain/Ice/Snow, amps up throttle response, increases steering effort and tightens transmission shift points, while adding red highlights to the gauges.
In Dynamic mode, transmission response via the steering-wheel paddle shifters is immediate while the improved steering action is exceptional when spirited driving calls for quicker reflexes from driver and vehicle.
The E-Pace’s powertrain is its strong suit, offering lots of good, usable power on demand without a lot of theatrics. The car’s fuel-saving stop/start action is noticeable, but not unpleasant. Overall, this is a superb setup that gives the E-Pace a sportier-than-expected feel and excellent road manners.
The E-Pace shares the same unibody, transverse-engine layout and Active Driveline technology with the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque. But for the E-Pace, engineers opted for the rear integral-link suspension array from the Jaguar XE, XF and F-Pace, a decision that puts the E-Pace on a different course when it comes to driving dynamics.
At the heart of the action is JLR’s Active Driveline, introduced on the Evoque and sharing the same GKN Twinster differential employed by Ford in its hot AWD Focus RS hatchback. Standard on the P300, the system is capable of transferring power front to rear in 300 milliseconds, while the GKN torque-vectoring rear differential uses two electronically controlled wet clutches to transfer power from side to side in 100 milliseconds.
The system draws on a range of inputs – yaw rate, throttle position, steering angle and lateral acceleration – to send power to the outer rear wheel to effectively “push” the E-Pace into line while allowing for predictable and controlled oversteer.
The real-world effect is dramatic. We hammered the E-Pace through a tangle of twisty routes here on this mountainous Mediterranean isle, much of it in damp, spring-like conditions that might’ve concerned us if not for the E-Pace’s tenacious grip and stunning handling.
The lithe E-Pace feels like a perfect combination of the XE sedan’s controlled suspension and the Evoque CUV’s responsive drivetrain as it digs for traction and powers through corners, rather than draining momentum with corrective braking actions typical of most systems designed to keep a car safely on the desired course.
Inside, the E-Pace is spacious and uncluttered, lacking in complexity. There’s nothing over the top here, just good practical use of space and easy-to-use, functional knobs, switches and touchscreen controls, backed by a bright, multi-color HUD, sharp instrument cluster and a stellar audio system. Unique touches include “paw prints” on the seats, the center-stack cubby liner and on the Jaguar brand tag stitched on the seat edge.
The InControl Touch Pro system still lacks voice-entry navigation, but it does accept touchscreen entries, provides clear map views via a 10-in. (25.4-cm) screen and is relatively easy to manage.
As with other Jaguars we’ve tested, the E-Pace offers predictable and dependable driver-assistance systems, including full-range adaptive cruise control.
Our test cars aren’t production-final quality, so some chrome surfaces are mismatched and plastics aren’t perfect. But the seats are comfortable and the ride is smooth and quiet even when some back-road bumps try to disturb us. Back seat legroom is tight, but the cargo area is ample and features built-in tie-downs and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
If there’s a drawback to trying to create a sports-car-like CUV, it’s in the E-Pace’s swept windshield rake that creates a deep upper dashboard and large A-pillars that combine with large sideview mirrors to create unavoidable blindspots.
With a wide swath of the buying public seeking premium compact CUVs, Jaguar officials say they won’t be surprised if the E-Pace overtakes the brand’s current best-seller, the larger F-Pace CUV, in global sales. For buyers looking for driving dynamics in a CUV – with a splash of Jaguar cachet – the E-Pace could be their e-ticket.
The E-Pace is being manufactured under contract with Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, where the all-electric I-Pace also will begin production this year.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger
'18 Jaguar E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, 5-door CUV|
|Engine||2.0L all-aluminum turbocharged DOHC direct-injected 4-cyl.|
|Power (SAE net)||296 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Torque||295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) @ 1,500-4,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||83.0 x 92.3|
|Wheelbase||105.6 ins. (2,682 mm)|
|Overall length||173 ins. (4,394 mm)|
|Overall width||78.1 ins. (1,984 mm)|
|Overall height||64.9 ins. (1,648 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,175 lbs. (1,894 kg)|
|Base price||$38,600 base/$47,250 as tested (not including $995 destination and handling charge)|
|Fuel economy||21/27/23 mpg (11.2-8.7-10.2 L/100 km) city/highway/combined|
|Competition||Audi Q3, BMW X1/X2, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes-Benz GLA|
|Sports-car handling||Tall CUV styling|
|Fantastic Active Driveline||Only available with higher-output engine|
|Spacious interior feel||Big A-pillars create blindspots|