SUVs

2018 Jaguar E-Pace: SUV catnip for the young money crew

This sleekly styled, sharp-handling crossover might just be affordable -- if you go light on the options.

Jaguar

Most people will probably look at this Caesium Blue 2018 Jaguar E-Pace and think that the British automaker couldn't resist building a second SUV after the success of its first. Indeed, the F-Pace that precedes the new model seen on your screen has been nothing short of a runaway hit, quickly becoming Jag's best-selling model by a large margin.

The truth is somewhat different, however. The compact E-Pace seen here was already well along in development before its big brother ever rolled into showrooms. And indeed, Jag's first-ever battery-electric model -- the quizzically named i-Pace -- is nearly here, and its EV guts are housed in a crossover body, too.

Jaguar isn't just betting on SUVs, it's going all-in.

No, this isn't the electric one, it's the smaller gas one.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Youthful appearance

In the case of this new E-Pace, that means it shares a lot of the larger F-Pace's technological arsenal, including its InControl Touch Pro infotainment and suite of advanced safety systems, as well as unusual options like Activity Key. The latter is a Fitbit-like waterproof RFID wristband that lets you leave your fob locked in the vehicle when you're off kiteboarding, shark wrestling, avalanche freerunning or whatever it is that Red Bull says the cool kids are doing these days.

For those with active lifestyles, the new E-Pace should fit right in. It looks athletic and tidy of dimension, with an appearance that borrows some from Jag's raucous F-Type sports car. And yet this model has a less aggressive and altogether friendlier look than its larger F-Pace brethren.

That's largely because of its less-glowering LED headlights. That more accessible face is on purpose -- Jaguar designers candidly admit they're seeking younger buyers and more women shoppers in particular. While the larger F-Pace often plays to 40-to-50 year-old men, the company expects 30-something women and men to line up for the 2018 E-Pace, and apparently it thinks losing the gimlet-eyed look is key to making that happen.

Based on the hundreds of miles I just drove on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, those youthful, more gender-neutral buyers should find a lot to like. So much so, in fact, that I'm betting that this little softroader will become Jaguar's best-seller in short order.

Starting at a nice hotel stay under $40,000 -- $38,600 plus $995 delivery -- the E-Pace has a lot to recommend it. I've already touched on its good-looking candy-coated shell, and at 173 inches long, the E-Pace is actually relatively lengthy compared to rivals like the BMW X2 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. It's the same span as new XC40 from Volvo, but it bests all of them in cargo capacity, offering up to 52.5 cubic-feet of space with the second-row seats folded (or 24.2 cu-ft with them up). It also features above-average rear seat room -- I had plenty of space in back, including headroom on my test vehicle, which featured a gigantic fixed-panel moonroof.

The E-Pace sits fairly low, thanks to extremities that are devoid of faux skid plates and ruggedized trim. It offers 6.4 inches of ground clearance, a far cry from its Land Rover Evoque cousin (8.5 inches) and some of its key competitors. However, thanks to short front and rear overhangs, the E-Pace is actually surprisingly adept at light off-roading, a capability that would be underscored more than once throughout my drive. 

Note the lack of wood and trim. If this were all black, it'd be pretty dour.

Jaguar

More tall car than SUV, but still capable

My very-full day's drive included a rocky and muddy two-track ascent, as well as a dedicated sand course and even a stream crossing with water that had to be around 12-14 inches deep. As it shares many of its unseen bits with the aforementioned Evoque and Discovery Sport, suffice it to say that like most of today's crossover SUVs, the E-Pace is still more capable than 99-percent of owners will ever require.

Yes, that lineage also means that the E-Pace sits on a front-wheel-drive-based steel chassis, making it something of a red-headed stepchild in Jag's rear-drive, aluminum-intensive chassis'd family. But fear not, the North American E-Pace is all-wheel drive only, and R-Dynamic models boast sophisticated Active Driveline traction management system with torque-vectoring. The latter can essentially funnel 100-percent of the engine's available power to any of its four wheels when needed. As I learned while pounding around a purpose-built roadcourse made out of sand, the system can be coaxed into glorious RWD-like behavior in Dynamic mode, though you won't necessarily feel it in day-to-day driving.

Usually, this is Land Rover country, but occasionally, a Jaguar slips out into the wild.

Jaguar

Four for fighting Audi, BMW and Benz

Interestingly, the E-Pace will be the first four-cylinder-only model in Jaguar's history. That's alright, though, as it'll be offered with Jaguar Land Rover's well-regarded Ingenium 2.0-liter turbocharged gas four-cylinder in two states of tune. A base 'P250' spec offers 246 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque from as little as 1,200 rpm. The model runs to 60 mph in a Jaguar-estimated 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 143 mph.

Splurge on the 'P300' spec like the model I drove, and horsepower ramps to 296 and torque swells to 295, cutting the 0-60-mph time to a quick 5.9 seconds and boosting top speed to a you'll-never-use-it 151 mph. Interestingly, that's two-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph than what Jag claims for the 2018 F-Pace, a model that's over a foot longer, yet shares the same engine with identical output specs. However, that SUV uses a different gearbox and can actually be lighter owing to greater use of aluminum in its chassis and body panels.

I was only able to sample the burlier P300 model at the launch event, and while I enjoyed its flexible power delivery, I did wish that it had a more assertive engine note to go with it. I've taken it for granted that modern Jaguars arrive with thunderous -- and loud -- soundtracks, but as tuned here, the Ingenium simply won't play ball. Sotto voce is probably a safer bet for most buyers in this class, most of the time, but it'd be nice if Dynamic mode loosened the four-cylinder's collar a little.

A twin-scroll turbo helps the P300 push 296 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Jaguar

Regardless of which engine output you choose, E-Pace comes standard with a ZF 9-speed automatic, a gearbox that's come in for substantial criticism for its lack of refinement in other automaker's offerings, especially a number of recent Jeep products. Fortunately, I noticed nothing unpleasant on my drive, and never once was I aware of when the driveline uncoupled the rear wheels for improved efficiency.

Speaking of efficiency, with great power comes reasonable (if middling) thriftiness. The Jag's higher-output engine returns an EPA-estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg highway, or 23 combined -- that's the same urban rating as the P250 powertrain, and a single-mpg dip in highway and combined efficiency.

Unlike other newer Jaguars, no diesel model will be offered in the States.

English cars and water have historically been a tragic combination, but the E-Pace waded right in.

Jaguar

Insert mandatory 'cat-like reflexes' comment here

As is befitting something wearing a Jaguar badge, the E-Pace's handling is on the sporty side and the ride is a bit firm -- particularly on my test model's 20-inch low-profile tires (21s are available). As it turns out, Corsica has plenty of the sort of winding and climbing coastal roads gets driving enthusiasts' synapses firing.

Surface quality varies wildly, with many stretches of pavement marked by the sorts of cracks and fissures that can be the undoing of an substandard chassis. The 4,000-plus-pound E-Pace handled it all like a champ, delivering pleasingly above-average levels of engagement without resorting to a jiggly or spine-crushing ride (or even the sometimes over-firm nature of the F-Pace). 

Thanks in part to that rigid chassis, steering is likewise nicely done and properly weighted, and the brakes are smartly progressive and confidence inspiring, even on spirited mountain descents when you'll want to toggle the console switch to Dynamic mode to make sure the throttle, transmission and steering are all at their most alert. (Other settings include Normal; Eco; and Rain, Ice and Snow).

In Control Touch Pro has a nice, wide display, but it's not the quickest or best-organized system.

Jaguar

If you haven't been in a recent Jaguar, you may be surprised to know that they're not empaneled in glossy and dark burl-wood trim like Ye Olde English Pub. In fact, they're actually modern to the point that they can feel austere. That's somewhat less the case in E-Pace, which seems to have enhanced the quality of some materials versus models like Jag's XE sedan, but the E-Pace's interior is still a very color-sensitive environment. If you don't opt for one of the bolder contrasting leather and trim colors, the aesthetic can seem both spare and downright funereal -- there's not much brightwork and no wood trim to speak of.

Oddly, despite being part of the same company and using much of the same hardware, Land Rover seems to be having significantly better luck than Jag when it comes to making their interiors feel both rich and modern.

Tech rich, but not always tech smart

On the cabin tech side, like all of today's Jaguars, the E-Pace offers a full complement of convenience features, including an available TFT gauge cluster, a new color head-up display and 4G LTE WiFi hotspot for as many as eight devices, plus there's up to five USB ports.

The heart of the E-Pace's cabin experience, InControl Touch Pro, offers a competitive feature set, but it's still not the most intuitive or quick-witted infotainment system on the market. And despite repeated "it's coming" promises, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration remain MIA.

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(Land Rover's gorgeous new Range Rover Velar features a new Duo derivative of the E-Pace's InControl architecture, but it's much slicker, thanks to a second TFT screen with trick ring-shaped multi-function dials. Even the Velar doesn't offer AA or ACP, but I still wish its hardware was available in this Jag.)

Naturally, there's a full slate of available safety gear, including features like Park Assist, 360-degree surround camera, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. There's even a drowsy driver monitor.

Checking those boxes

Of course, much of that tech is optional, and indeed, the E-Pace order sheet offers a dizzying array of comfort, safety, appearance and performance upgrades, all of which can routinely turn a $40k SUV into a $50,000+ proposition. Check all the boxes, and you're looking at over $60,000. That's a lot of money for a compact premium SUV, but it's hardly uncharted waters.

The 2018 E-Pace actually doesn't originate from England at all -- it's built under contract in Graz, Austria by manufacturing specialist Magna Steyr (think of them as the Foxconn of the European automaking world). When the E-Pace arrives on lots shortly, expect Jag dealers to breathe a big sigh of relief. After all, their latest offering is a good-looking, fine-driving model in a white-hot segment at a time when the company's new sedans are gathering dust.

It's a small Jag for a great big world.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

E-Pace sales are actually expected to be strong enough that combined with those of the F-Pace, Jaguar will shortly be an SUV company that happens to sell a few cars on the side. As was true with Porsche before it, that new reality may cause longtime fans of the brand to reach for the antacid, but as long as these crossovers help The Leaping Cat pay for new sports cars and sedans, everyone should leave showrooms purring.

Editor's Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. 

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.