Driven: Jaguar E-PACE

Jaguar builds some very good sports cars and saloons – and the XF Sportbrake,which is Jaguar-speak for an estate, is even lovelier to behold than the saloon upon which it is based.

But offering an estate is no longer enough because everyone thinks they really need an SUV, which means pretty much every car maker is now happy to sell you one. Porsche, that most iconic of sports car manufacturers, could now more accurately be described as an SUV specialist; in 2017, Porsche sold more Macans in Europe than it did the 911 and Boxster/Cayman combined – and that’s excluding the one thousand Cayennes it sold every month…

It was inevitable then that Jaguar would have to enter the fray, despite the obvious risk of cannibalising sales that might otherwise be made by Land Rover, its sister company. But, desperate times call for desperate measures: in 2012, Jaguar sold fewer than 24,000 cars worldwide. It now sells more F-PACEs than that in a single year.

To say that the SUV saved Jaguar might not be much of an exaggeration.

And the temptation to introduce a smaller F-PACE, to steal sales from rival manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Volvo with the X1, Q3 and XC40 respectively, proved irresistible. Hence the E-PACE.

Based on the Land Rover Discovery Sport/Range Rover Evoque platform, the underpinnings have been pimped and preened to give the E-PACE more of a Jaguar feel. This sort of thing is very common in the motor industry, allowing economy of scale to be applied to a wide range of vehicles – and if it’s done well, relatively small tweaks can make a surprisingly big difference to the feel of the finished model.

The trouble is the resulting E-PACE is around 100kgs heavier than the (much larger) F-PACE, which means it struggles to deliver in key areas such as ride and handling. That elevated SUV-stance, for example, means increased body roll and while you can tame the extra lean with stiff anti-roll bars, the pay-off can be a much poorer ride than in the equivalent saloon, hatchback or estate.

Some manufacturers manage to juggle these competing demands better than Jaguar; the E-PACE’s ride is much poorer than many of its rivals.

Having said that, the all-wheel-drive version I drove was very sure-footed and stable, even under the provocation of a 300PS petrol engine and a wet, greasy road. In fact, no matter what engine you choose, the E-PACE’s cross country speed is pretty impressive but you’ll arrive at your destination impressed by its competence rather than inspired by its brilliance.

Five Ingenium engines are available in total. All are four cylinder, with the diesel being offered in 150PS, 180PS and 240PS power outputs.

However, given the UK government’s current obsession with demonising the diesel engine and punishing those who dared to follow its official line to buy one, my choice would be either the 249PS or 300PS petrol engine – and if you can afford to buy and run the latter then you are unlikely to be disappointed by the car’s performance. Its lack of refinement at the upper reaches of the rev range might come as something of an unwelcome surprise though.

The interior, an essential Jaguar touchstone, is tolerably luxurious and feels decently interesting and premium, even if some of the materials used are a bit sub-par. Equipment levels are generous though, and there are some thoughtful touches like the rubber Activity Key, which you wear like a wristwatch. This means you can swim, surf or otherwise indulge in your favourite foul-weather leisure pursuit without having to worry about damaging your key fob’s electronics.

It’s a very 21st century car in other ways, too. You can connect up to eight digital devices to the on-board 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, something the younger members of your family will approve of. They’ll appreciate the four 12-volt charging points and five USB connection points too, even if space in the back is a bit tight.

But otherwise there is, I’m sorry to say, little to recommend the E-PACE. While the 150PS diesel with a manual gearbox and front-wheel-drive can be had for a little under £30,000, the P300 R-Dynamic HSE, complete with a 249PS petrol engine, all-wheel-drive chassis, and a nine-speed automatic gearbox in a nice colour and with a full suite of optional extras will set you back more than £70,000. That’s an enormous amount of money to pay for a car that doesn’t stir the emotions.

If you’re not wedded to the idea of driving a Jaguar, the excellent Volvo XC40 is sharper, cleaner and far nicer to drive. It’s got more room in the back, a nicer, more modern interior, and rides and handles far more sweetly. It also comes with an utterly classless image and was named 2018 European Car of the Year.

It’s far cheaper than the E-PACE too, which helps further sweeten an already very attractive proposition. It’s the logical, sensible choice; that the XC40 feels like a member of the family is a welcome bonus.

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno