Jaguar E-Pace

Absolutely no puns about baby cats here, folks. Ah, just kitten

BEN BARRY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THE Jaguar E-Pace has it easy. Jag’s new ‘compact performance SUV’ comes with none of the heavy baggage that weighed on the larger F-Pace’s haunches the larger F-Pace’s haunches – the idea of a Jaguar SUV back in 2016 seemed like Cayenne-gate all over again.

Now we’re all used to the idea, in strolls E-Pace, safe in the knowledge that F-Pace is comfortably Jaguar’s biggest seller. It’s even been able to dust off existing Range Rover Evoque underpinnings, though the longserving D8 platform does get a significant makeover.

The wheelbase stretches 21mm, the front subframe is solidly mounted at the rear, and there’s the new Integral Link rear axle among many other detail suspension changes. Hanging panels as well as the roof are aluminium, but the bodyshell is steel and the kerbweight heavy at around 1800kg – a like-for-like F-Pace actually weighs less.

Nonetheless, Ian Callum’s design is pert and purposeful and riffs on the F-Type sports car, a theme that’s carried into the interior with its signature features and comparatively low-slung – for an SUV – driving position. The showroom appeal that propelled Evoque to stardom is definitely in evidence here.

Four-cylinder petrol and diesel Ingenium engines are available, but we’re testing the top-spec petrol on UK roads, an early taste before Australian deliveries commence in April.

In this trim, the E-Pace makes 221kW with 400Nm and gets the Active Driveline all-wheel-drive system, the more advanced of two available all-paw set-ups.

Jaguar says E-Pace is its second stiffest structure after the F-Type coupe, and there’s definitely a chunky, flex-free rigidity to the way it drives. The steering feels relatively firm from topdead centre, and carries that weight as you wind it on, adding confidence-inspiring precision and detail without wilting muscles. It’s also quick-witted, the front end responding swiftly to your inputs, aided and abetted by expert-level body control.

Our test car rode on 20-inch rims with fixed dampers, though 21s and adaptive dampers are incoming. The low-speed ride is very firm, so much so that I’d fear for young ’uns tums in a package that’s otherwise family-friendly.

Thankfully the suspension calms with speed, introducing longer, more supple movements for comfort with unruffled control.

Shod with Pirelli P Zero rubber, the E-Pace is sure-footed if far from lacking in humour: whip it at an apex and you’ll feel the front bite hard and the rear adopt a frisky few degrees of angle.

Even lower-spec models have this feel, but it’s Active Driveline that lets you really exploit it, as it can switch between front- and all-wheel drive, and proactively channels torque across the rear axle (see sidebar, right). Mash the throttle during spirited driving and you’ll feel the rear wheels hook up and power you out of a bend with an extremely rear-biased feel.

Having generous performance helps you exploit the E-Pace’s balance too, and the 2.0-litre turbo/9-speed auto combo is impressively punchy – flexible and smooth low-down, responsive when you gun it, eager when you hold out for the high notes. It’s just that for a little more coin, the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 weighs far less and punches much harder.

For some, that could be the decider, but there’s little doubt that the E-Pace drives as sweetly as it looks.

PLUS & MINUS

Design; dynamics; performance; supple at speed; packaging; connectivity Firm low-speed ride; some trim a little flimsy; ain’t no lightweight Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Jaguar E-Pace P300 HSE R-Dynamic 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 221kW @ 5500rpm 400Nm @ 1500-4500rpm 9-speed automatic 1819kg 6.4sec (claimed) 8.0L/100km $83,733 April

PONY UP 01

Starting from $47,750 (before on-roads), the E-Pace undercuts the BMW X1 (from $50,600), though is a little pricier than the Mercedes-Benz GLA ($43,600).

Meanwhile, the related Range Rover Evoque starts at $56,050.

SPECIAL SOURCE 02

Interior design riffs off F-Type; special ‘First Edition’ gets 20-inch wheels, exterior Black Pack, panoramic sunroof, configurable ambient interior lighting, ebony Windsor leather trim and head-up display.

CHOICE BRO 03

Like choice? Great, because Aussies will be offered 38 variants, based around five engines – a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel offered in 110kW/132kW/177kW outputs, and a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol in 183kW and 221kW guises.

Really does torque the torque

Active Driveline all-wheel drive is available on top-spec models and developed by GKN Driveline. The system decouples drive to the rear wheels to save fuel during steady-state driving, but adds clutch packs either side of the rear diff to proactively channel torque to individual rear wheels and ramp up driving engagement when you’re on it. It can direct up to 100 percent of the torque at the rear axle to one rear wheel in 0.1sec. It’s the same kind of hardware you’ll find on the Ford Focus RS, which Jaguar benchmarked during development.

OR TRY THESE...

Mercedes-AMG GLA45 $89,211

More costly than an up-spec E-Pace with the angry engine, and a bit less roomy, but counters by being much lighter, and way more potent: over 1.5sec faster to 100km/h. More focused, less comfy.

Range Rover Evoque Si4 177 HSE Dynamic $82,781

To secure the top-output engine in the baby Rangie takes $93K, so in this spec it’s comprehensively clobbered by the Jaguar. Also has a shorter wheelbase and less sophisticated underpinnings than the E-Pace.