Jaguar’s smallest AWD cat carries the weight of more than just expectations…
There were glances of mild astonishment between our road testers when the E-Pace D240 HSE AWD rolled onto our electric scales and 1 943 kg flashed up on the display. Similarly, a price tag in excess of R800 000 for this range-topping diesel model is also a hefty number to associate with a boutique midsize SUV.
Add the weight of expectation heaped upon this eagerly awaited rival to the likes of the BMW X2 and the shapely Volvo XC40 to this already sizeable equation, and you have to ask whether the E-Pace will prove a porcine disappointment or a lithe urban jungle cat.
Jaguar’s designers may have essentially micronised and lightly retouched the formula set out by the F-Pace, yet the E-Pace still has an aesthetic character that’s suitably distinct. The E-Pace is more rounded and less ornate in its use of sheetmetal creases than the F-Pace; a design that cleverly lends additional visual weight to the rear haunches, offsetting the profile’s slight upward cinching.
Underpinned by a modified version of the D8 platform that does service in the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport, the E-Pace’s 2 681 mm wheelbase plays host to a cabin that, although not cavernous, doesn’t feel too cramped, with rear passengers afforded a commendable 700 mm of legroom.
Those passengers will have to contend with a narrow rear-door opening that, due to significant wheelarch intrusion, makes access to the back awkward. It’s something that we’ve noticed in a couple of contemporary Jaguars, most notably the XE, but is pretty much the only black mark against an otherwise well-proportioned package that accommodates a useful 312-litre boot and 968 litres of utility space.
The cabin is characterful, with the F-Type-inspired dash lending it a sporty air, while the fairly perched driving position sees you ensconced in seats that are comfortable and sympathetically bolstered. The quality of materials in the cabin is hit and miss, however, with lovely stitched leather and tasteful accents vying with a sizeable, unappealing swathe of plastic trim round the steering column.
Back to that mass. While lightweight materials are often a feature in the construction of Jaguar Land Rover products, many of its vehicles still somehow manage to set scales creaking. The E-Pace is an especially noteworthy point in case. To put this midsize SUV’s kerb weight into perspective, the E-Pace is 278 kg heavier than the BMW X2 xDrive20d and just 44 kg lighter than the Mercedes-Benz X250d 4Matic double-cab bakkie.
You’d imagine that such heft would render the E-Pace a cumbersome pudding in the handling stakes, but Jaguar has an uncanny knack of imbuing its vehicles with a satisfying degree of dynamic fluidity. In something as high-riding and possessed of a short wheelbase as the E-Pace, keeping that mass in check under spirited driving is no mean feat, and with steering that’s neither as precise nor as alert as the X2’s, there’s the initial impression this car feels every bit its near two-tonne mass.
Yet, once you settle into the palpable pitch and yaw that this car’s weight brings forth, the body control and directional stability are pleasingly composed. It’s a similar story with a ride quality that, despite being at the caprices of the standard-fitment 20-inch footwear on low-profile tyres, is supple, well damped and very much in keeping with Jaguar cars.
Our testing did, however, compound just how much weight impacts performance. In an equivalent midsize SUV occupying the more conventional 1 600-1 700 kg mass bracket, the 2,0-litre Ingenium turbodiesel’s hearty 177 kW would generally make for brisk progress. But contending with the E-Pace’s mass means that performance is merely sufficient, with the 0-100 km/h sprint taking 8,15 seconds; only a shade quicker than the lighter, less powerful X2.
With 500 N.m available at 1 500 r/min, the Ingenium unit does feel punchy but it’s also decidedly agricultural sounding, especially under hard acceleration. Fuel consumption is a little on the heavy side for a vehicle of its ilk, with our fuel run returning 8,3 L/100 km against the 6,2 Jaguar claims.
This E-Pace’s steep asking price brings with it generous HSE specification that includes – take a deep breath – LED headlamps with high-beam assist, touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and smartphone functionality, leather upholstery, keyless entry with power tailgate and a driver-assistance pack that features a 360-degree camera-assisted PDC system and adaptive cruise control with blind-spot assist and emergency braking.
With a kerb weight as hefty as its price tag, the E-Pace is somewhat compromised. But it does present itself as a genuinely characterful and well-equipped package that’s surprisingly satisfying, if not scintillating, to pilot. Unlike BMW between its X2 and X3, Jaguar has at least been reasonably strategic in its pricing, keeping a gap between comparably engined/equipped E-Pace and F-Pace models.
However, larger luxury SUVs can be had for similar money and better value resides further down the range, with the slightly less powerful but nonetheless well-equipped D180 S undercutting this model by around R130 000.
*From the June 2018 issue of CAR magazine