(Pocket-lint) - "E-Pace? Is that the electric one then?," asks a man inspecting our Jaguar SUV as we're taking photos of it for this very review.
Despite Jaguar launching its all-new electric i-Pace SUV at the Geneva Motor Show – because, you know, in the car world everything techy, modern and cool needs to be an i-something in these post Steve Jobs times – the E-Pace is something altogether different; it's simply Jag's smallest SUV.
Irrelevant of naming conventions, however, is the small Jag actually any good in among the world of seemingly non-stop SUV launches? We've been driving one over a number of days to bring you the lowdown...
Where does the E-Pace sit in Jag's range?
The E-Pace slots into the Jaguar range underneath the larger F-Pace SUV. At just under 4.4m long, it's one of the smallest Jags ever. But knowing this is a car primarily aimed at young families, Jag's not let compact exterior dimensions dictate an overly snug interior.
The E-Pace's boot is the largest in the class (at a huge 577 litres), and Jag also says the interior storage is class-leading – a fact illustrated to us on the launch by our car being stuffed full of picnicking goods. We're not quite sure why you'd ever want to cart around four 1.5l bottles of elderflower cordial in the centre console bin, but it's nice to know that you can, should the need arise.
Externally, the E-Pace is an unusual looking thing, for a Jaguar at least. A small SUV with that SUV high-riding stance, it has muscular haunches and big wheels (21-inch rims are available) that are pushed to the corners of the car.
Jaguar has applied its sports car theme to the E-Pace, too, which means you get a bit of an F-Type look on a small SUV. Sounds odd? Well, yes, the rear windscreen is extremely raked, and the car eschews the "utility" component of many of its competitors with little in the way of cladding or estate-car-on-stilts vibe.
Still, the E-Pace looks sharp. Despite the potential for the sporty details to be a little incongruous on this type of car, they've been handled with sensitivity and style here. Only the slightly surprised-looking front expression spoils things a little.
What are the engine options?
Underneath, the E-Pace is loosely based on the Range Rover Evoque / Land Rover Discovery Sport running gear. That's good news for space, or if you fancy doing some off-roading (more on this later), as such fundamentals are tried and tested. But it is heavy, missing out on the aluminium construction Jaguar employs on XE, XF and F-Pace. Bizarrely, that means the E-Pace weighs more, model-for-model, than the bigger F-Pace.
The constraints of this platform also mean that you've a choice of four-cylinder engines only – although that's the norm in this class. You can choose from 150, 180 or 240 horsepower turbodiesel, and 250 or 300hp turbo petrol. All come with four-wheel drive, but in the 150hp diesel you can also go for a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. The 180hp is also available in a manual. The rest are 9-speed autos.
There's no hybrid planned as yet, and if you're ready to go electric, save up and buy the i-Pace (which isn't much bigger in dimensions, but does have more interior room and a much more techy interior).
Take SUV, add sport, et voila…
If the "I'm really sporty, honest" vibe of the outside hasn't sold you on the idea that Jag wants to make a sports car out of an SUV, the interior continues to try and sign those cheques.
The dashboard slopes away from driver in quite a dramatic fashion, emphasised by the wrap-around centre stack design with its floating grab handle – which is right out of the F-Type's cockpit design. You might need that grab handle too, as bizarrely Jag hasn't fitted headliner grab handles for any seat (good luck rear seat passengers). The gear-shifter is also of the pull-trigger type Jag employs on the F-Type, rather than the rise-up rotary selector it uses on the saloon cars.
The seats are comfortable and supporting, while some models offer 16-way electrically adjustable controls, too. The switchgear is standard Jaguar-Land Rover fair, though, which means chunky switches and controllers. These suit an SUV and are nice to hold – you can use them even if you have gloves on.
There's plenty of space up front, even with the optional panoramic roof fitted, and in the back we think Jag's got the compromise right. Which means that six-footers will be starting to struggle for headroom if you go with that panoramic roof, and leg room isn't as generous as in key rival, the Volvo XC40. However, for those with small kids and car seats, it really works. We think foot and legroom is better than an i-Pace, too, having sat in the back of the new electric car.
In addition to that massive boot, there are voluminous door bins to stash extras items into. Jag wants to sell you on the sporty image, but it has ticked nearly all the boxes you'll be looking for if you're a sensible, practical, family buyer.
However, the cabin does lacks the premium feels of the new Volvo XC40, or even an Audi Q3. Hard plastics abound, there's no liner in the Jag's huge door bins and, overall, if you compare it to its in-house sister, the Range Rover Evoque, you feel like you're gaining space at the expense of materials and appointment quality.
Just as in its other recent models, and most of its rivals, Jaguar is making a big play of the technology on offer in the E-Pace.
In contrast to the Volvo XC40, the Jag has the option of a head-up display (HUD), showing your speed and navigation turns. Using a new-generation TFT technology, the projection is notably clearer and more vivid than in other Jaguar products we've driven recently. The HUD complements an optional 12-inch digital driver display and a standard 10-inch touchscreen in the centre stack. In most of its other models, Jag makes you pay extra to upgrade to the larger centre screen. On the E-Pace, it's standard on all models.
Adding to the tally, there are five USB ports, 4G LTE Technology so you can create your own Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices, and a raft of safety kit. This includes blind spot warning, lane keep assist, and forward assist - the last of which can brake the car if it senses a collision is imminent, and can detect pedestrians and help you avoid them. Which is nice.
Befitting of the active, SUV lifestyle shtick, you can optionally select the Jaguar activity key – a £310 waterproof wristband which allows you to leave the keys in the car – so you can then head mountain biking, canoeing and all those other lifestyle activities, without risking losing your keys. Jag mentions, in passing, that it's been quite surprised by the uptake of this optional equipment on other models (up to 30 per cent of customers go for it), so maybe people really do use SUVs as intended.
You can also get: an electric tailgate which can be activated by kicking under the rear bumper (rather than using a key or touch); a 15-speaker Meridian sound system; the "remote premium app" to remotely start, heat and cool the car; and park assist, which will steer the car into parallel and perpendicular spaces for you.
Still, specs are only half the story. Usability is increasingly an issue in tech-loaded cars. And the E-Pace is a mixed bag. Its USB ports are well-located and the instrument display is clear – although we'd really like to be able to do more via the steering wheel/computer (a la Volkswagen and Audi) such as change the radio station easily. The Touch Pro system isn't the slickest or fastest reacting – we just can't get used to the row of icons at the bottom of the screen, they feel like they require too long with your eyes off the road to work out which icon you need to press and change the menu. But it is colourful and (like the rest of the car) full of features.
Can a sporty SUV live up to expectations?
The Jag's exterior gives a strong impression of its sporty desires. And it's a Jag, of course, so driving expectations are high. But the E-Pace is a tall car, which weighs close to two tones in some trim levels. So does it stand up to expectations?
Good news first: as with other Jaguars, the E-Pace feels planted on the road, the steering is very well judged and its keen to turn in. Stick to the more reasonably sized wheels (think 19s) and the ride is okay, too (if not the class-leading magic ride you might expect).
While we think a BMW X1 or X2 feels a little keener, and a Volvo XC40 feels a little bit more refined and sophisticated, the Jag splits the difference between those two competitor brands – which is exactly the right place for it to be.
The issues with the drive mainly concern some of the engines and the gearbox. Meaning you can largely circumvent them by picking the right model. We drove the 300hp petrol and the 180hp diesel. If this review had been of the petrol car only, we'd be awarding half a star less. Like the Volvo XC40 T5 we reviewed recently, the petrol engine doesn't really suit the car. It never feels like it's got 300hp, makes a lot of din when accelerating hard, and managed to return just 19mpg. On big wheels, it just feels all at sea. The 9-speed auto swaps gears endlessly in an attempt to balance the yin and yang of serving up the power needed, while delivering the economy people want. Curiously, steering wheel paddles – which let you control the gearbox manually – only activate when you flick the gear selector over into sport.
Swap into the 180hp diesel, however, and life is very different. It's still not the most refined engine – but four cylinder diesels never are. However, despite a 120hp deficit over the 300hp petrol, it never feels slow, and its progress is far more relaxed because the diesel's low-rev torque abundance suits how most people want to drive, and the gearbox doesn't get in the way – it slickly swaps gears and barely makes itself noticed. Having returned over 40mpg on our test route, we'd choose a diesel model because it suits the car so much better (despite many consumers' concerns about the fuel type right now).
Specification, trim levels and prices
We've mentioned the level of available tech equipment, but if you're after an E-Pace there are a plethora of spec and options to choose from.
Grade-wise, Jaguar now offers three trim levels: S, SE and HSE. That impacts on what standard kit you get.
On top of this you can also choose to tick a box called R-Dynamic. That basically affects looks – adding on the sporty stuff like black gloss lacquer detailing and black-finish wheels. It's Jag's equivalent of an M-Sport look.
All E-Pace models get the Touch Pro infotainment and display system, LED headlights, five USB ports and a rear-view camera along with parking sensors. The driver assistance pack is standard, as is the Jaguar drive controller (which allows you to choose between normal, eco, dynamic and rain/ice/snow mode).
In rain/ice/snow mode the 4-wheel drive model we were driving galloped up and down muddy tracks and across fields on Land Rover's Eastnor Castle Estate and tackled a moderate off-road course. We think an E-Pace is unlikely to be troubled by all but the most ambitious user.
Key additional equipment on SE models includes an upgrade to 19-inch alloys, a powered boot, electric front seats, leather trim, the Wi-Fi hotspot, a 380W Meridian sound system, the parking pack and adaptive cruise control. HSE spec adds things like 20-inch wheels, gesture kick opening functionality for the electric tailgate, keyless entry, and even greater electric-seat adjustability.
Our pick would be the 180hp diesel in SE spec, which is £39,400 on the road. Despite the strong standard spec, and a starting price of £28,500 (that's for the 150hp, front-wheel drive manual in S trim) the E-Pace's strong standard spec, and range of high-powered engines means that it can look expensive compared to the competition.
The model we were driving – which added features like metallic paint, nicer leather, the activity key, panoramic roof, keyless entry and the interactive driver display – tallied up to £47,910. A 300hp HSE R-Dynamic with a few options immediately pushes you north of £50k.
We've driven many SUVs recently, including Jaguar's larger F-Pace, and are often confused by the popularity of the breed given they're worse to drive and often have less space than a cheaper estate car.
The reason people buy them, of course, is image. People want to be seen in vehicles like this – they give you a commanding view out, are easy to get in and out, are practical, and provide a feeling of protection both from the elements and hazards out their on the road. Jag wants a piece of that market and the E-Pace is a worthy contender.
The class of cars that it competes with include the new Volvo XC40, BMW X1 and X2, ageing Audi Q3 and – if you look both upwards and downwards in price terms – Volkswagen's excellent Tiguan, and JLR's in-house cousins, the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
So why buy the Jaguar E-Pace over those? There are a bunch of reasons: it looks fresh, it's very practical, there's a good range of engines and trims levels, and the standard tech spec is really strong.
With all that in mind, we fully expect the E-Pace will probably become Jaguar's best – and fastest selling – car. Watch this space.
Volvo's new small SUV has much in common with the small Jaguar – it's almost as practical, equally as fresh looking, and model-for-model it's cheaper. The Jaguar has more tech, but we found the Volvo's setup easier to use and more intuitive, plus the car feels more rounded, sophisticated and smooth. Just avoid the high-power petrol.
Read the full article: Volvo XC40 review
Range Rover Evoque
The in-house rival. Chances are, if you're a Jag person, then perhaps you're not a Range Rover one. So JLR will be hoping that its newest SUV doesn't cannibalise one of the brand family's other core models. Families will love the E-Pace for its space, which the Evoque lacks. But the Evoque – despite its age – feels like more of a premium product and has a nicer interior.
Read the full article: Range Rover Evoque review
BMW's smallest SUV, like the Jag, lacks a certain amount of premium feel inside; the kind of build you would expect from the brand. It's good to drive though, is practical, and has a vast range of engines and trim specs. If you want a petrol, this is the one to go for.
Read the full article: BMW X1 review