This is the first transverse-engined, front-driven Jaguar since the X-Type. Only quite a lot seems to have happened since that car.

Back then, it was a saloon designed with more than a gentle nod to the past.

Today, the E-Pace arrives looking every bit as fresh as the rest of the Jaguar range and sits squarely in an ever-growing market.

This whole SUV thing doesn’t look like ending, either. Around half a decade ago, Jaguar was selling 60,000 cars a year. Now it reaches that figure with the F-Pace alone.

Welcoming the E-Pace to the SUV party

The E-Pace sits below the F-Pace, then, as the XE sits below the XF, so although ‘E’ implies electric in most other people’s ranges, it ain’t here.

So, here we are: a compact SUV is a departure for Jaguar, but man cannot live on elegant saloons and sports cars alone. And so we get a natural, Callum-lite design touch applied to a 4.4m-long SUV.

Which looks? Well, you decide. I think if you grabbed each wheel and pulled it outwards a bit, you’d have a rather elegant car. Place a hand over the lower half of it in pictures and the roofline is as graceful and flowing as you’d hope. But, down to its compact length and 1.65m height, it looks like a stress-ball version of an F-Pace. F-Pace in caricature.

The architecture is interesting. The E-Pace is based on the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque’s platform, but there are key differences. From a practical consideration, it won’t be built at Halewood, Merseyside, because those plants are at capacity.

This one, then, will be built by Magna in Austria plus, later, by Jaguar Land Rover in China.

But there’s more of significance than that. This mostly steel monocoque, with a transverse front engine, is designed for mostly front-drive cars, rather than rear-drive cars like Jaguars of old. Our test car is four-wheel drive, but front-drivers will be available too.

There are, still, key differences from an Evoque. The front suspension subframe is rigidly mounted – at least, in places – to the chassis, to improve steering precision. At the back, there is Jaguar’s integral link set-up.

But making a car with this kind of ground clearance and body height, and with a mostly steel monocoque, means the resulting car is heavy, despite the use of some light materials. At 1894kg in HSE trim, the E-Pace is more than 100kg heavier than an equivalently engined, 1770kg F-Pace.

Engineers will work to accomplish remarkable feats, though. But by gum, we’re asking them to here, aren’t we? 

Create a tall Jaguar but make it behave like an XE, please. The constant goals are to make cars faster, more efficient and more comfortable, and then we throw at car makers the challenges of making them taller and having a larger frontal area, too.

Getting comfortable in the E-Pace

On the inside, then, what do you get? A car that feels like a Jaguar, no question. The E-Pace’s interior follows a theme first set out by the F-Type, where the driver and passenger areas have a clear demarcation.

On the left is an open, swooping dashboard section, shaped like the kind of cascading waterfall feature you’d find in the lobby of a posh office, while the section on the right is more driver-focused and there’s a big grab handle between the two.

You can imagine seeing this design on a piece of paper and thinking ‘wow, that looks terrific’, and it looks pretty good in reality, too.

Some of the plastics don’t necessarily look as solid as in something out of Germany, and you get some glare out of the big metallic plastic gearlever surround. But if you’re asking whether it feels premium, it does. Absolutely.

As well it’ll have to, given that the minimum price is £28,000 and this HSE version is £48,410. If you wanted R-Dynamic design highlights, that would become £50,710. Which leads us nicely on to trim levels. As seems to be the way with Jaguar Land Rover’s range these day the E-Pace is split into two model levels – E-Pace and R-Dynamic - and three specification packs – S, SE and HSE.

Those opting for the entry-level trim will find 17in alloy wheels, LED head and rear lights, keyless ignition, cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors and Jaguar’s All Surface Progress Control traction control system fitted as standard. Inside, owners will find dual-zone climate control, a rear view camera and Jaguar’s Touch Pro infotainment system complete with 10in touchscreen display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and DAB radio. Choose an R-Dynamic trimmed version and you will find a sportier-looking E-Pace, with lots of chrome and gloss black exterior trim.

As for the specification packs, choose S and you’ll find the small SUV adorned with 18in alloys, auto-dimming, heated and folding door mirrors, electrically adjustable front seats, a leather upholstery, sat nav, a Wi-fi hotspot, smartphone integration, a 360-degree camera and parking assistance.

Upgrade to SE and the E-Pace gains 19in alloys, high beam assist, a powered tailgate, adaptive cruise control, and a 380W Meridian sound system, while the range-topping HSE model gets 20in alloys, keyless entry, a Windsor leather upholstery and Jaguar’s 12.3in digital instrument cluster.

Under the bonet of the E-Pace

We are trying the 296bhp Ingenium petrol engine here, which is the top mechanical spec. It, like all E-Pace engines, is a 2.0-litre four-pot. There are diesels of 148bhp, 178bhp and 237bhp, and petrols of 246bhp and 296bhp, all variously mated to six-speed manual, or automatic transmissions. Some are front drive, others four-wheel drive.

Here the P300-designated motor is mated to a nine-speed ZF auto gearbox, which was designed specifically for transverse engine applications, and it drives all four wheels in this instance.

There are two types of four-wheel-drive system in the E-Pace. One is the Haldex system that’s all but the same as you’ll find in an Evoque. It drives the fronts in normal conditions but can put up to 100 percent to the rear if there’s loads of slip.

The other – reserved for the highest-powered petrol and diesel models – is a GKN system that you’ll also find on, of all things, a Ford Focus RS.

It’s much cleverer, much more able to push torque where it wants to at the rear, because it has a clutch either side of the rear differential that can distribute power left and right. The intention is to make the E-Pace feel more rear-driven.

In the RS, up to 70 percent of torque can go to the rear axle, but in the Jaguar, for reasons as yet unknown (we’ve asked), only a maximum of 50 percent shuffles to the rear. Adaptive dampers will come later, complete with 21in wheels.

Meantime, although I’d like to know what an E-Pace is like with a £15k-£20k-lower price, we’ll have to make do with this all-singing, all-dancing 20in-alloy-wheeled version that, until adaptive dampers arrive, is the most dynamic an E-Pace will likely feel. 

Unleashing the Jaguar E-Pace on the road

You get in, try to get comfortable, and succeed rather easily.

There’s decent storage space, acceptable space in the back and a 577-litre boot, incidentally. The steering wheel adjusts in sizeable fashion and, at around 2.5 turns lock to lock, it moves with trademark Jaguar smoothness.

On step-off, the smoothness you get from ZF’s eight-speed rear-drive auto isn’t quite matched by this nine-speeder.

It feels more like, although isn’t, a dual-clutch auto. There’s less of the natural creep as you lift off the brake. Throw in a ride that is a little bit brittle on 20in alloy wheels – because these are big wheels on a car this size – and on the 50-metre test, that first crucial drive where impressions flood to you, and where a Jaguar is usually soothing and makes you think ‘hello, old friend’, here it’s a bit more ‘who are you?’.

Then you get rolling and the ride improves, but what you’re facing is, I think, the constant compromise that a tall car like this asks. Do what you will, and Jaguar does it better than most, but you’re always fighting the difficulties of making a tall, dynamic car.

You increase the height, which means you increase the roll centre and centre of gravity, and the car’s propensity to lean in corners. So you stiffen the anti-roll bars, and that’s fine because it reduces the lean, but it also affects the ride.

Which you could relieve in two ways – fit adaptive dampers, which, as mentioned, are coming later to the E-Pace range, or an active anti-roll bar, which isn’t – but anything you do fit adds weight to a car you’ve intrinsically made heavier in the first place by making it tall.

But a Jaguar has to be nice to drive because that’s one of two main reasons you’d buy one: because they’re the best-looking cars in their class and the most pleasing to drive. Yet this is a class not noted for its dynamic capability.

As far as the compromise goes, then, I think Jaguar has got it about as good as it realistically can. I don’t want to sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, here, but this is a 1.65m-tall, 4.4m-long car and they wanted it to drive like an XE. That’s asking a lot.

Too much, actually, although driving it is pleasing enough. It does have a character of its own, with trademark Jaguar steering feel and, if not a traditional Jaguar ride quality, given the nature of the control it has over its body movements – and that is impressive – a ride that’s as good as you can expect.

In cornering, the E-Pace more than hangs on gamely, too. It pushes into understeer eventually, but it resists it well, and the rear becomes involved in hard cornering, as well it might with that Focus RS-ish torque shuffle, although here it manifests itself in a kind of diagonal pitch.

Is it enjoyable in a way that even a bog-standard rear-drive XE saloon is? Not a bit of it. As much fun as, say, a front-drive Ford Fiesta? Not especially. But is it good, and capable? Absolutely. In fact, in terms of capability – given the height, the visibility, the body control, the grip, the traction and the shove – this is probably a very quick car between two places.

The engine is restrained enough most of the time, with some not unpleasant blare at higher revs.

But as with all cars of this type, it is for looking at, rather than listening to. And people do look at it: they point, they stare, they photograph, they talk to you about it, and there is obviously tremendous goodwill towards it and the brand.

That is the appeal of a compact, sometimes-affordable SUV. This car is making a style statement in a way that the Volkswagen Group’s equivalent cars simply do not, even when – as with, say, the VW T-Roc – they have a go. Slice an E-Pace along its flank and its top half is unmistakably a modern Jaguar design. Do the same with a VW Group SUV and it could be an ‘any one from the VW Group’ SUV. 

Is the E-Pace a true Jag?

After a day’s driving the E-PaceI climbed back into a Skoda Superb estate, which had four-wheel drive, a 276bhp petrol engine and a terrific auto gearbox. It rode better, steered nicely, was vast and felt pretty much as nice inside yet cost less than £36,000.

The E-Pace is a good car, though not necessarily with the petrol engine tested here, and it’s not one you’d pick if you prioritised dynamics either. But then you probably knew that anyway.

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