Jaguar’s smallest SUV has its claws fully extended in search of a solid segment foothold. We test the E-Pace P300 HSE R-Dynamic AWD...

Amid the flurry of excitement and, ahem, buzz surrounding Jaguar Land Rover’s plans to introduce its first-ever all-electric vehicle to the South African market in 2019, the Jaguar brand especially will be hoping the arrival of the I-Pace will raise the profile of an already established family of leaping-feline-branded SUVs. The success of these plans seems inescapably hinged on the rand-pound exchange rate. As impressive as the F-Type coupé and F-Pace SUV are, for example, the pricing structures associated with these ranges continue to place them at the mercy of some serious competition.

Another example of this unfortunate fiscal trend is the E-Pace midsize range launched early in 2018. Boasting the kind of fresh, distinct lines and clever packaging demanded in this fast-growing, notably image-conscious segment, the summary of our maiden E-Pace road test (of the D240 HSE AWD) concluded with a concern about where the asking price of that particular model placed it relative to its opponents.

Of course, the cost of the D240 wasn’t the only somewhat disappointing element of the package, and it afflicts this P300 test vehicle, too. The CAR team was once again aghast when confronted with the digital readout on our scales showing a figure edging towards two tonnes. Loaded with both an R-Dynamic kit and full-house HSE specification, the elephant in the Jaguar playroom remains the fact its “baby” SUV is built on the brand’s dated, steel-based – and therefore heavy – D8 platform (unlike the F-Pace, which sits on lighter, newer aluminium underpinnings). D8 harks back to the days of the Freelander 2 and is shared with the Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport.

From a comfortable, raised driving position, ensconced behind a thick-rimmed steering wheel in our test unit’s dark-coloured interior, it’s impossible to ignore just how lead-footed the E-Pace feels on the road. While some buyers may appreciate the corresponding sense of sturdiness – furthered by the comparatively heavy steering – a short drive in any one of the Jaguar’s direct rivals, including the svelte Volvo XC40 and racy BMW X2, shows the Brit to be ponderous by comparison, especially in the confines of an urban environment.

It’s not all bad news, however, as both E-Pace models we’ve tested offer near class-leading levels of ride finesse (ironically, likely aided by the weight resting on each damper), as well as a refined ability to soak up open-road kilometres. Coupled with sufficient luggage space, commendable rear-passenger comfort and an interior that’s well equipped in HSE spec and nicely finished, too, the E-Pace makes a great tourer.

Boasting 221 kW and 400 N.m of torque, the transversely mounted 2,0-litre Ingenium engine fitted to the P300 model may not be particularly characterful in its workings (including the exhaust note). However, it offers admirable performance despite the 1 924 kg mass and the relatively slow reactions of a standard ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic transmission. The downside to relatively brisk overtaking acceleration times – and, again, affected by the weight – is a corresponding fuel consumption penalty; on our average-speed fuel route, the P300 returned a decidedly average 9,6 L/100 km.

As with all E-Pace derivatives sold locally, there’s a welcome level of surefootedness afforded by a Haldex-sourced all-wheel-drive system. On performance-oriented models such as the P300 (and D240), an electronically controlled Active Driveline setup can send 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels for both improved levels of grip in all conditions, as well as – Jaguar claims – a hint of rear-wheel-drive precision.



TEST SUMMARY

Setting aside the nearly R115 000 worth of options fitted to our test unit — and ignoring for a moment its relatively spritely straight-line performance — a base price of R909 317 positions the E-Pace P300 HSE R-Dynamic uncomfortably close to established German rivals in segments some way beyond the average midsize-SUV mandate (i.e. Audi Q5, BMW X3/X4 and Mercedes-Benz GLC).

 

Were it priced lower, however, it would still be vulnerable to the Q3, X2 and XC40, all vehicles making more of their powertrains and newer underpinnings. Lovely to look at and suitably covetable the E-Pace P300 may be but, as before, our advice is to either seek a lower-priced derivative — in this case, the P250 S — or to stop at a Volvo dealership to sample an XC40.

 

*From the November 2018 issue of CAR magazine