The entry-level version of the Jaguar E-Pace compact SUV – almost. You can actually go one trim level lower on the car’s equipment roster and, in theory, depart from your local dealer with a car costing less than £29,000 at list price – but Jaguar didn’t have one of those for us to test.
The car uses an ‘Ingenium’ 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine closely related to those of Jaguar’s more powerful oil-burners, that produces 148bhp and 280lb ft of torque, and drives the car through a six-speed manual gearbox and also exclusively through the front wheels.
Stick with entry-level trim in your E-Pace and you might imagine you’ll get a pretty pared down equipment level, but you’d be surprised. The bottom-rung car does get manually adjusted fabric seats without heaters, but it has 17in alloys, LED headlights, a 10in touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio, cruise control, a reversing camera and a fairly full tally of active safety systems.
Moving up to an ‘S’ is a £4100 stretch, but gets you upgraded headlights, 18in alloys, electric leather seats, heated mirrors and an infotainment upgrade including a better navigation setup, an in-car wifi hotspot and Jaguar’s ‘InControl’ smartphone apps. It may seem like a large premium for that little lot, but there should be plenty of demand for it considering the enhanced connectivity features.
Reckoning without the car’s nine-speed automatic gearbox is certainly no great loss for the E-Pace. As long as you don’t object to changing ratios yourself, the car’s six-speed manual ‘box is pleasant and easy enough to use, with a fairly substantial weight about it and enough notchiness in the action to make you shift deliberately, but also to tell you loud and clear as each ratio hits home. The ratios themselves seem usefully well-spaced and the car’s clutch is easily manageable. Settling for the relatively modest performance level of the ‘D150’, meanwhile, may bother you more in principal than it will from the driver’s seat.
There is certainly a touch of low-range hesitancy about this engine, which you probably fall victim to more often than you might in its more powerful states of tune simply by dint of changing gears yourself. But once it’s revving beyond 2000rpm it has a useful wad of torque, and whisks the E-Pace along with perfectly respectable strength. Motorway driving doesn’t oblige you to do an unreasonable amount of shifting unless you’re in a desperate hurry.
The E-Pace’s cabin sealing is good at high speeds, and its mechanical refinement is appreciably better than in Jaguar’s more highly-stressed diesels. There are several different suspension configurations to choose from across the E-Pace range, with stiffened sports springs featuring on higher-grade cars along with adaptive dampers. The ‘D150’ gets passive ‘comfort’ suspension as standard, though, and rides and handles well enough to be a good advert for keeping the car’s rolling chassis specification dialled down.
Weighty steering will likely be the first thing you notice about the car’s motive character, which is quite unlike what you find on most luxury- tuned SUVs. The E-Pace’s low-speed ride is firmer and marginally less isolating than the SUV norm, though less fussy on 18in wheels than we’ve found it with 19- and 20in rims.
Though the car can be a bit restless on bad urban surfaces, by and large it’s comfortable enough – and the level, settled composure of the car also improves with your prevailing speed.
This particular E-Pace’s handling, meanwhile, in combination with its ride, gets closer than that of any other we’ve driven to nailing that elusive dynamic compromise that so many SUV makers are currently groping for. There’s good, upright body control here, quickish feelsome steering and smart handling response, but nothing excessive in any dimension; enough, in each case, to lift this car just above the dynamic standards of the average compact SUV, but not to make it uncomfortable or tiresome to drive.
The car’s well-judged balance of comfort and poise may have a lot to do with its relative mass, of course. There is the occasional hint of tractive corruption to the steering, evident mostly as you tip into the accelerator with steering angle dialled in or on an uneven surface – and, to be fair, you don’t feel it in four-wheel drive E-Paces. It’s nothing strong enough to be confused with true torque steer, though, and mostly it just reminds you of how nice it is to get the odd bit of feedback through an SUV’s steering rim.
We’ve written before about the E-Pace’s interior, but if this is the first time you’ve read about it, the highlights are that this is a fairly pleasant and typically practical car by the standards of direct rivals such as the Volvo XC40, Audi Q3 and BMW X1. The pity is, as with most of these ‘compact premium SUVs’, that it doesn’t provide a clearer improvement on occupant space compared with the compact saloon or five-door hatchback which buyers are likely to be trading out of; the E-Pace’s boot is decent size and its back seats are usable, if not hugely comfy, for full-sized adults.
Perceived quality is a bit mixed, with parts of the dashboard looking and feeling quite expensive, but others – the imitation-leather slush-moulded rolltop pad, the plain, slightly wobbly mouldings around the steering column, and some of the ‘plasticised’ matt black switchgear – letting the standard down. The car’s touchscreen infotainment system is a good size and is better laid-out and easier-to- use than Jaguar systems have been in the past, but there’s no auxiliary ‘iDrive’-style input device – and there’s no proper smartphone mirroring or wireless charging pad either.
Should I buy one?
If you’re mind’s already made up, this is certainly the level to buy at. In this tester’s experience, the Jaguar E-Pace’s ride and handling definitely get more compromised and less broadly creditable as you progress upwards through the model hierarchy. And while the car’s pricier engines may make for greater pace, they don’t tend to add smoothness, richness or refinement.
But, by delivering its characteristic Jaguar-brand style and handling dynamism as part of a more rounded and reasonably-priced package than its rangemates, this is one E-Pace that will merit the attention it’s sure to attract.
Jaguar E-Pace 2.0 D150 S Specifications
Location: Maidenhead, UK Price: £32,600; On Sale Now; Engine 4cyls inline, 1999cc, turbodiesel; Power 148bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6- spd manual; Kerbweight 1700kg (DIN); 0-62mph 10.1sec; Top speed 124mph; Economy 60.1mpg (NEDC combined); CO2/tax band 124g/km; RivalsVolvo XC40 D3, Mazda CX5 2.2d