JAGUAR ESTIMATES that 80% of buyers for its winsome compact crossover, the 2018 E-Pace, will be new to the brand. For the benefit of these fresh faces, a quick recap: In 1922 Sir William Lyons founded what eventually became as known as Jaguar Cars.
The original name, Swallow Sidecar—or S.S.—polled badly in postwar Britain, unsurprisingly.
For the next 60 years Jaguar Cars set out to build just that: cars. That roster includes flying phalluses like the C-Type, D-Type and the immortal beloved E-Type (1962-1974). Then in 2008 mega-industrialist
acquired Jaguar along with its sister company, Land Rover. Tata recapitalized JLR, filled the coffee cups and paid all the P.O.s. Suddenly Jaguar was back. Its current XJ sedan is exquisite, still the most successful exterior in its class.
The game plan called for Jaguar to handle automobiles while Land Rover handled SUVs. For a while all seemed well. Since Tata took over, the Land Rover side of the business has been pooping coin like an enchanted garden gnome.
But then things got untidy. Sales of sedans and coupes have declined against SUVs and crossovers for most of the past decade. Jaguar dealers were in hell watching customers walk out the door. It wasn’t until 2016 that Jaguar delivered its first crossover model, the F-Pace, which promptly became the brand’s top-selling model worldwide, helping blow up sales 77% in its first calendar year.
I reckon there was a lot less soul-searching with the E-Pace.
Interestingly, the lineage of Jag’s second crossover descends not from F-Pace but from the older Range Rover Evoque: a majority-steel unit-body, five seats, four doors, with front-biased all-wheel drive. The E-Pace also inherits those cars’ mass. Our R-Dynamic S P300 weighs an official 4,175 pounds, about 295 pounds heavier than the foot-longer, aluminum-bodied F-Pace 25t Prestige.
In the effort to make it look like a Jaguar, the E-Pace’s transverse front-engine layout posed the biggest challenge. Jaguars’ felinity is the product of silhouette, of a long hood and minimal front overhang. On the F-Pace project, Jaguar’s design chief
begged management for a few more millimeters of axle-to-dash, with each millimeter straining the model, adding cost. Management yielded and the result was the best-looking crossover on the market.
A Cat in Jeep’s Clothing
Jaguar’s E-Pace is loaded with a mix of luxury features and off-road capabilities
The E-Pace’s hard points were apparently harder to move. The ample front overhang and a high hoodline (partly the consequence of pedestrian safety standards) swells the front end like a nose that’s been punched.
The E-Pace’s price spread—$38,600 to $53,550—casts a net over the usual suspects, including Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Volvo XC40. Jaguar expects its volume seller to be the R-Dynamic S, including: navigation, Wi-Fi, parking assist, “grained” leather seats, 18-inch wheels. A mere $47,250.
I know, right? Fifty grand for that wee buttercup? But look around. As a class, compact luxury crossovers are pricy.
Under-hood is JLR’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection four cylinder gas engine, available in two states of tune. In the base car the output is 246 hp/269 lb-ft. In the R-Dynamic models, the same engine produces 296 hp and 295 lb-ft. There are also two versions of the on-demand AWD. The upgrade includes an unusual positive-torque vectoring system on the rear axle. Using lateral clutches, its drivetrain can actually overdrive the outside rear wheel in corners, helping to turn the car under power, right at the fuzzy limits of the stability algorithms.
‘ As sales of rivals’ SUVs and crossovers grew, Jaguar dealers were in hell watching customers walk out the door.’
Just to piss me off, Jaguar held its press event on the island of Corsica, a land of gut-twisting mountain roads with Neverland drop-offs. In these tight twisties the E-Pace sometimes handled like two cars. Cornering under braking or with its lagging throttle, the E-Pace tended to sink at the nose, grip strongly then scrub benignly and push wide—no surprise, considering. But when I squeezed the throttle mid-corner the car suddenly freed up and went neutral, raising its nose and tightening its line with a gust of asymmetrically applied torque to the rear outside. Interesting. More of that, please.
The E-Pace, assembled in Graz, Austria, draws heavily on its sister company’s off-road traction tech. If you like Land Rover’s multi-modal AWD running gear, you will be set right. In this application you have a rain/ice/snow mode and a low-traction takeoff assist function; off-road speed control; and hill descent control.
The test route took in a boulder-strewn trail and a water crossing that demonstrated, rather alarmingly, the E-Pace’s wading depth of more than 10 inches. All effortlessly negotiated. But, seriously, fording streams in your leased luxury crossover is never a good idea.
The signal difference between F-Pace and E-Pace? I wag my finger and say, authenticity. The F-Pace was nearly a clean-sheet design, wrought in lightweight costly aluminum, consistent with Jag’s technical legacy. As the brand’s first step into the unknown, the designers lavished love and looks on it. They made the crossover formula work for the brand.
The E-Pace shows another side of the burgeoning JLR empire: ruthless, expedient, shamelessly pursuing global volume, baldly grubbing for profits.
Sir William wouldn’t recognize the place.
2018 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic S P300
- Base Price:$47,250
- Price, as Tested: $58,210
- Powertrain: transverse-mounted, turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter inline four cylinder; nine-speed automatic transmission; front-biased, on-demand all-wheel drive, torque vectoring on the rear axle.
- Power/Torque: 296 hp at 5,500 rpm/295 lb-ft at 1,500-4,500 rpm
- Length/Height/Width/Wheelbase: 173/64.9/78.1/105.6 inches
- Curb Weight:4,175 pounds
- 0-60 mph: 5.9 seconds
- EPA fuel economy: 21/27/23 mpg, city/highway/combined
Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com
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