By MARK RICHARDSON
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, February 9, 2018
PORTO-VECCHIO, CORSICA -- 2018 JAGUAR E-PACE $42,700 (BASE); $51,000 (AS TESTED)
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder Transmission/drive: 9-speed automatic/AWD Fuel economy (estimated): P250: 11.2 city / 8.4 hwy P300: 11.2 city/8.7 hwy Alternatives: Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X2 or X3, Porsche Macan
The speed limit on this French Mediterranean island, 90 kilometres an hour, is highly optimistic. It doesn't change between the multilane coastal highway and almost all the narrow roads in the interior, which twist and squirm through the high mountains like a nest of vipers.
When the World Rally Championship comes here each year, it's known as the Race of 10,000 Turns; residents say the longest straight is the airport runway.
At one point, while lightly squealing the tires of the new Jaguar E-Pace around yet another tight hairpin, a police car emerged suddenly from the curve and I thought I was busted. But no - a glance at the speedometer showed there was another 30 km/h to go before hitting the limit.
Make no mistake: The E-Pace enjoys lightly squealing its tires.
There are seven different variations of trim level, based on two different engine outputs, and I was driving the more powerful, "R-Dynamic" 296 horsepower version. All E-Paces have the same twin-turbo, four-cylinder engines and nine-speed automatic transmissions; the less expensive editions are in a lesser state of tune, and their 246 hp output is slightly better with fuel consumption.
The E-Pace is an all-new addition for Jaguar - a smaller SUV to complement the larger F-Pace SUV that was introduced two years ago. The F-Pace was Jaguar's first SUV and it also has sporty aspirations. "For any Jaguar, we always have a sports car in mind," says Adam Hatton, who headed the design team for the E-Pace. "And we aim to be best in class - that's our main philosophy."
This compact premium SUV class is highly competitive, perhaps more than any other segment at the moment, and Jaguar's a little late to join the party. All the German premium manufacturers have been selling small SUVs for several years, with great success, locking down loyal customers who want a more practical but prestigious vehicle. Better late than never, though: When Jaguar introduced the larger F-Pace SUV a year ago, it almost doubled the maker's entire sales overnight.
Now, the smaller E-Pace wants to add to that. (The strange name comes from a comment made years ago by the company's founder, William Lyons, who stated famously that, "All Jaguars must have grace, pace and space.") It's a little larger than the new BMW X2, Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, but a little smaller than the BMW X3.
With a starting price of $42,700, rising up to $59,000, it's more expensive than a Land Rover Discovery Sport, but less costly than a Range Rover Evoque, with which it shares its platform.
None of those alternatives is quite as sporty, though. The E-Pace R-Dynamic S (phew!) that took me through a full day of Corsican curves never put a wheel wrong, even through a very slippery and steep off-road section that should have set the 20-inch Pirelli Scorpion tires skittering in the mud. The R-Dynamic comes equipped with an "Active Driveline allwheel-drive" system that pushes torque between the front and rear axles as needed, and between the left and right rear wheels, taking just a 10th of a second to make the shift.
Climbing slowly and steeply out of a river crossing, I never felt a wheel spin; drifting through a tight, sandy curve in some dunes, the slide was totally predictable. None of this was my own skill as a driver - it was all the car's computer.
There's a limit to everything, though, and my stomach surrendered to the high jinks later in the afternoon, forcing me to trim back the pace and switch the Drive mode from Dynamic to Comfort. Driven more gently, with more of my attention on the interior, this is clearly a premium vehicle and its small size belies its space, like the TARDIS from Doctor Who.
"It's difficult with this compact size of car," Hatton says, "but believe me, we work every millimetre to get the optimum space inside." In the back seats, a 6-foot-2 passenger can sit without touching the roof (actually, in this test car, a wonderful but optional panoramic moonroof that fills almost all the ceiling), and without banging knees against the front seat.
Clearly, the E-Pace has a bright future in Jaguar's lineup.
The maker needs it, because the demand for a small premium SUV is so strong around the world and shows no sign of abating. Last year, the larger F-Pace was named World Car of the Year, and who knows, maybe next year the E-Pace might take the same award. It's certainly deserving enough.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
There's nothing wrong with the looks of the E-Pace - it's one of the most attractive SUVs on the road. "We wanted this car to look very chiselled, very tight, with loads of tension in the surfaces," says Adam Hatton, the creative director of Jaguar's exterior design. "We love having pure surfaces. Every line on every Jaguar we design has a sense of purpose. We don't put anything on there that isn't necessary." The base model is fitted with 17-inch wheels, but all other trims are available with wheels up to 21 inches.
Well thought out and pleasing to the eye, the rear seats are as comfortable as the front. More than half the design team was brought in from outside the automotive world, including a hotel-room designer and a watch designer, and between their mid-20s and mid-30s. "This car will create a younger customer set for Jaguar," Hatton says.
Inspiring when you want it to be, though I didn't drive the 246 hp version that is not equipped with Active Driveline AWD and cannot vouch for it. The lesspowerful "P250" engine claims zero-to-100 km acceleration in less than seven seconds, while the more powerful "P300" claims 6.1 seconds. But it's how the E-Pace uses this power that's important, and probably the only compact SUV that's more agile is the Porsche Macan.
There are four drive modes in all models, for eco, rain and snow, comfort and dynamic, as well as a separate off-road assistance mode. Later this year, there will be an optional "adaptive dynamics" suspension, though it's not yet available for early models.
This should be excellent, and the E-Pace is fitted with cutting-edge technology and connectivity, but there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Jaguar's been saying it's working on this pretty much since the cellphone connection systems became available, but there's still nothing to show for it.
As well, another E-Pace on the testing day set off its outside pedestrian protection airbags by mistake, perhaps confusing the driver's hard U-turn braking and a six-foot-tall pole to the side of the SUV for an imminent collision. Jaguar could offer no explanation for the airbags being deployed.
Leave the rear seats in place and there's 685 litres of space in the trunk, with more than a metre of width between the wheel arches. Fold down the 60/40 rear seats and that expands to 1,493 litres of room. That's impressive for so compact a vehicle.
9 A gorgeous SUV that's sporty and capable when you want it to be, and comfortable and practical when you just need to get somewhere.
Top: The Jaguar E-Pace winds through the mountains of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. Above: The E-Pace is an all-new addition for Jaguar - an entry in the highly competitive compact premium SUV class to complement the company's larger F-Pace, introduced two years ago.
PHOTOS BY DAVID SHEPHERD/JLR GLOBAL PR
The E-Pace doesn't make any bold steps in technology, but its visually pleasing design could beckon a young new customer set for the brand.
PHOTOS BY DAVID SHEPHERD/JLR GLOBAL PR
The E-Pace is easily one of the most agile compact SUVs on the market - and one of the most attractive. The base model is fitted with 17-inch wheels; all other trims are available with wheels up to 21 inches.