2018 Jaguar E-PaceThe Jaguar F-Pace is the reigning World Car of the Year and Jaguar can’t build enough of them. Its first SUV, the success of the model has shown the sports car brand can build a convincing SUV, so now it’s here with another one – the smaller E-Pace.

Deliveries of it begin in early 2018 and prices start from £28,500. Which isn’t too far apart from the model whose underpinnings it shares, the Range Rover Evoque. That’s been another smash hit for JLR, a model that’s had the Liverpool plant where it’s built operating 24-7 pretty much since it was introduced in 2011. Jaguar’s now hoping for the same with the E-Pace.

Design chief Ian Callum seems even more pleased with the E-Pace than he was with the F-Pace. It quickly became nicknamed the cub – a cuter, cuddlier version of the traditional Jaguar big cat. There’s even a little cartoon graphic on the windscreen, of a Jaguar and her cub; some will fall for the E-Pace for this reason alone.

It’s a squat, chunky design, with pronounced, muscular rear haunches, a nicely curving roofline and, up front, a set of decidedly F-Type sports car headlights. Indeed, Callum says there’s more inspiration from the F-Type than the F-Pace here. It certainly looks racier than the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 it’ll be going up against.

Visual quality is suitably premium. Panel gaps look tight, paint quality deep, detailing tight. It appears cohesive and modern, and is almost certainly bound to become one of the head-turning new cars of 2018.

Video: the new Jaguar E-Pace

Beneath, it’s an all-four-cylinder line of 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol and diesel engines, all but the cheapest with all-wheel drive. 150hp and 180hp diesels will sell best, you can get a punchy 240hp 2.0D and Jaguar reckons 1 in 10, maybe more, will go for either a 250hp or 300hp petrol turbo. The latter, some in Jaguar mused, could make it an alternative to a Volkswagen Golf R (albeit, from £45,660, a hugely expensive one). This thought, we’ll come back to.

Not that it will bother most buyers, but the well-proven platform (versions of it appeared a decade ago) it’s based upon is steel, not aluminium intensive, like the F-Pace. This means it’s on the heavy side. As in, a 2.0-litre AWD auto E-Pace weighs more than a similarly-configured F-Pace, despite being over 300mm shorter. What might the on-road effects of this be, we mused?

First seat

2018 Jaguar E-Pace

With the E-Pace, Jaguar interiors have, at long last, caught up with the strides made by their exteriors. The XE is disappointing, the XF a bit better, the F-Pace more so, but they’re still not where they should be. The E-Pace looks superb, has a nicely F-Type-like shapeliness and boasts much greater attention to detail.

Take stowage. There’s loads of it, from thoughtfully-designed slots in the door pockets made for taking 500ml bottles of pop, to a capacious centre cubby with dual cupholders, to a stowage areas at the base of the centre console that’s made for smartphones. A rubber mat means won’t slide about either: ingeniously, Jaguar’s given it a ‘Jaguar fur’ print. The designers really taken care when crafting this car.

It’s driver-orientated, with an F-Type grab handle for the passenger (oddly, there’s not one on the roof) and soft-touch stitched fabric covering the main surfaces that looks infinitely smarter than the XE. Familiar latest-gen round F-Type dials look super, maybe even nicer than the optional fully-electronic configurable display alternative.

There’s also a proper gearshifter lever, again from the F-Type. No Jaguar rotary here and, dare we say, it’s better for it?

Seats are higher than the sit-on-the-floor chairs of the F-Type, but don’t tower. They’re firm, sporty-feeling. The view out is semi-commanding, but a high shoulderline makes you feel cocooned – and you clock the cool kick in the side windowline with every over-shoulder glance, which is cool. Also cool is the rounded, rainbow-shaped pattern of the heated rear window wires. Again, lots of thoughtful care from the designers.

JLR’s latest touchscreen infotainment systems have come on leaps and bounds. They look good and are nice to use. Callum told us that, below, there are rotary heater dials and a row of buttons because Jaguar doesn’t believe touchscreens should replace everything: so, Jaguar won’t be getting the dual screens as seen in the Range Rover Velar?

And rear seat space? So-so. Behind a tall driver, legroom is tight. With a little balancing, it’s comfier, and the higher SUV body design makes it feel airier than the XE, but it’s not as spacious as, say, a BMW X1. The boot is good though, 484 litres according to the stats, which is 100 litres better than a VW Golf. The load lip is flat and high, and it’s all well shaped and practical. No excuses needed here.

First drive

2018 Jaguar E-Pace

We drove two E-Pace, the volume 180hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel (yours, in a decent spec, for around £35k), and the spicy 300hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol. First up, the diesel. One thing immediately pleased: the tickover rumble and vibration felt in the XE and XF is gone. That’s good. It’s now smoother, nicer at in-town speeds. Ingenium diesel engine refinement is certainly improving.

But it’s not fully resolved. It’s still vocal when revved. Audi and BMW still make quieter, more refined 2.0-litre diesels. And because it’s on the heavy side, revving it is something that’s often deemed necessary by the nine-speed auto gearbox.

Ah, the gearbox. It’s supplied by ZF, the same company that makes the brilliant eight-speed auto used in bigger Jags. And this is as flawed as that large car ‘box is sublime. It’s laggy and lethargic to respond. It seems to then panic and scurry through the downshifts. It seems too often to be in the wrong gear, changing up when it shouldn’t, not changing down when it should. It’s hard to ignore what a compromised gearbox this is, and it magnifies any NVH issues the Ingenium motor still has.

So, to how it drives. Compared to a Q3, there’s much to immediately like. Steering is weighty, feels natural as you start to turn; no jagged sponginess just off-centre, which shows that it’s been well tailored. On a snaking British B-road, you’ll even sense a little of the on-centre squirm you get in a Lotus; you don’t get that in a German rival. The chassis also feels stiff and taut, tidy and roll-free, surprisingly sporty by the standards of the sector.

Maybe too sporty. It’s quickly obvious the E-Pace rides firmly. Often, too firmly. In town, on the 20-inch wheels of the test cars, it jiggles, patters, bumbles. There’s a bittiness to it that doesn’t feel very Jaguar. The familiar balance between sportiness and comfort seems too far biased towards stiffness here; it really does seem like a clamped-down hot hatch.

Proviso time: none of the cars we drove were equipped with adaptive dampers. They’re due later in 2018, but won’t be available from launch. The wheels were big. And, when worked harder, the ride did display more Jaguar-ness, using suspension travel to smooth out nasty-looking surfaces with finesse. Adaptive dampers, we’re sure, should ease the slower-speed grittiness. Pity they’re not here yet, because this heavy SUV needs ’em.

Other non-Jaguar elements include brakes that are soft in initial pedal response, and both spongy and hard to modulate in use. The Configurable Dynamics button on the centre console tightens up the accelerator, tries to make the gearbox a bit more intuitive, but adds too much weight to the steering, spoiling its natural feel. But it’s that jiggle and patter you get from road surfaces at 50mph that’s hardest to overlook.

To the 300hp petrol. This one does 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds, makes better use of the Active Driveline tech that can crank more drive rearwards, give it more of a RWD feel in bends. Pity the poor test route didn’t give us much opportunity to feel more of this. The engine is good fun though, with a smooth, mechanical growl when worked like a hot hatch. It doesn’t feel genuinely rapid, like a Golf R, but has decent GTI-like turn of speed. If 35mpg combined and a £46k starter price aren’t an issue, it’s an interesting choice.  

First verdict

2018 Jaguar E-Pace

The new Jaguar E-Pace looks fantastic. It has a breakthrough interior by the firm’s standards, that, save for rear seat legroom, is as practical as SUV buyers in this sector demand. The diesel engine is more refined than ever, it’s sporty in feel and, as an SUV infused with F-Type DNA, holds up well.

People will flock to it because of how it looks and how good the interior is, and shouldn’t be deterred by prices of the volume models, which are on par with rivals and not as eye-opening as some of the more powerful E-Pace price tags. And in terms of convenience and attention to detail, Jaguar’s design team should rightly be chuffed.

But it’s not perfect. ZF has dropped the ball with that automatic gearbox. The ride of the test cars was too stiff over the roads most will be driven on. Handling is neat and the steering is great, but the thorough Jaguar breeding of the nuances isn’t quite there yet. We sense the best E-Pace, the one with adaptive dampers and perhaps not quite so aggressive wheels, is yet to come. As it stands, it’s promising, but not quite the five-star breakthrough the F-Pace was.

Star rating verdict: ★★★★☆

Five rivals

  • Audi Q3
  • BMW X1
  • Range Rover Evoque
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Lexus NX