Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 6, 2019
You want a small SUV with a manageable footprint, raised seating position, premium materials, and a storied badge? Well you’re in luck. In Canada, there are no shortages of them with the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X2, Audi Q3, and Range Rover Evoque all fighting to steal your hard earned cash. Noticing the lucrative playing field, Jaguar has decided to join the fray with the E-Pace, the smallest SUV in their lineup that uses the same platform, powertrain, and layout as the Range Rover Evoque.
Dripping with style, the E-Pace takes the mature appearance of the larger F-Pace and puts on a baby face. Not only is it refreshing on the eyes compared to the German examples, but the sheetmetal is sleek and positively stands out amongst the sea of urban SUVs. If its soft shoulder lines and striking rear end are not enough to steal the traffic spotlight, then the interior will surely dazzle the skeptics.
Rich leather, a sloping dashboard layout, and integrated touchscreen seal the debate that Jaguar designs some of the best looking interiors. Under the microscope, however, there is an abundance of hard black plastics hogging up center real estate, and while the solo screen does not dazzle like the Evoque’s dual screen layout, the E-Pace draws inspiration from the F-Type sports car and plays on its core strengths with driver-centric controls and a friendly media interface that is a far cry from previous software plagued with glitches.
The rear cabin is equally as spacious as the Evoque with a surprising amount of headroom for an SUV with such compact dimensions. Legroom is still tight for my six-foot figure, and my knees nudge into the soft padding on the front seatback. Be that as it may, it does not feel claustrophobic back there, unlike the relatively cramped Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40. Heated rear seats are a treat, as is the extensive panoramic sunroof flooding the cabin with natural light. Unlike the Evoque, only a fixed glass roof is available in the E-Pace without an option for a smaller, retractable one.
Two engine tunes are available, codenamed P250 and P300 just like the Evoque. Both utilize the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder but whereas the P250 produces only 246 hp, the P300 raises the bar with 296 hp and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.4 seconds, more than enough for this compact urban SUV. Despite the impressive power figures, do not expect the E-Pace to handle like a hot hatch. The all-wheel drive system is clever in that it can shuffle nearly 100% of torque from the front to rear axle, and from the left to right rear wheels, but it’s still not as willing to play as its rear-driven Jaguar compatriots.
Adding to the list of similarities, the E-Pace sits on the same platform as the Evoque and uses the same engine and gearbox, yet the Jaguar doesn’t feel as cohesive or as polished. In fact, that goes for the majority of the driving experience. Power delivery is too sensitive to every millimetre of gas pedal input, there is a significant deal of turbo lag from that petite four-pot engine, and the 9-speed automatic is lethargic when left to its own devices. The shifts are coarse and even when selecting Dynamic mode with the transmission set to S, the gear shifts are hastier but just as clumsy. Further, the steering is overboosted and overly reactive, making it difficult to become in-sync and modulate its floaty body motions. Even the slightest bit of steering rotation gets the car zigging and zagging, like a cub always on its tippy toes ready to go for a sprint. Don’t expect X2 or GLA levels of verve and vigour here.
The larger F-Pace exhibits none of these downsides, with more faithful steering, gradual engine response, and tighter body control that makes it hard to believe they are from the same phylogenetic tree. It only takes a little bit of digging to discover one reason why the E-Pace feels nothing like its big brother. Despite being skinnier and shorter, the smaller E-Pace actually weighs around 120 kg more than the equivalent F-Pace, most notably due to Jaguar’s decision to use a heavier all-steel platform (from the era of Ford ownership) for the E-Pace instead of the new lightweight aluminum architecture underpinning the F-Pace. Tipping the scales at 1,894 kg, it’s considered a heavyweight in this field. The engine has to work more strenuously and as a result, E-Pace does not feel as buttoned-down or as light on its feet. Turns out it was handicapped right from the beginning.
Still, the E-Pace handles sensibly enough that it’s in no way intimidating to the novice driver. The raised seating position and excellent outward visibility should prove enough to satisfy most, with a rear view camera, blind spot monitoring, and a host of safety driver assistance features to keep the bumpers scratch-free. The ride quality takes a dip with the optional 21-inch wheels constantly thudding over road imperfections, and while it’s not as stiff as the BMW X2 M35i that we just tested, I would definitely recommend sticking to 19s or 20s instead which should pay dividends to road comfort.
By far, my biggest nitpick with the E-Pace is why it's priced so close to the Evoque, especially when the Range commands more road presence, is equipped with softer and better leather materials, and is available with more customizable options. They both sit on the same platform, use the same powertrain, and drive quite similarly, but I’d go so far as to say the Evoque’s tuning and powertrain are more harmoniously connected. The E-Pace constantly felt overwhelmed by its stiff ride, large tires, and frazzled gearbox.
The lack of polish and refinement make it hard to justify the staggering price of Jaguar’s entry level SUV. The base model E-Pace SE starts at $49,500 but our specific test vehicle in HSE R-Dynamic trim rang up just under $70,000 with all the bells and whistles, significantly more than the BMW X2, Volvo XC40, and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Even if you must have a Jaguar, why not the XE sedan instead that heartily impressed us with its sharp front nose and enthusiastic supercharged V6 engine? And if you have the means, hop up a class into the more refined and larger F-Pace, Jaguar’s best selling vehicle. Don’t get us wrong, the E-Pace is an impressive SUV in isolation but far from class-leading, and looking past its stunning sheetmetal and upscale interior, it’s hard not to gravitate towards the Evoque looming behind the shadow instead.
Model: 2019 Jaguar E-Pace P300 HSE R-Dynamic
Paint Type: Fuji White
Base Price: $58,500
Price as Tested: $69,640
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,395 / 1,984 / 1,649
Curb weight (kg): 1,894
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 296 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.4