- WHAT’S BEST: Handsome Jaguar-esque styling; classy well-finished interior; advanced drive line technology.
- WHAT’S WORST: Sleek styling compromises rear-seat headroom; automatic transmission sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.
- WHAT’S INTERESTING: I guess if SUVs can be Porsche’s bestsellers, why not Jaguar’s?
Porto-Vecchio, Corsica-Grace, space, pace.
In the good ol’ days, that was Jaguar’s slogan.
With the launch of the F-PACE mid-size SUV a bit over a year ago, Jaguar upped the ‘space’ criterion, and it more or less instantly became the bestselling model in the Coventry Cat lineup.
No F-GRACE or F-SPACE models appear to be on the horizon, although all Jags are graceful and reasonably spacious.
Now comes the compact E-PACE SUV, and it might just eclipse its bigger brother. It is on sale now, and they’ve already started to roll them out the door.
Prices start at $42,700, and stretch to $59,000 for the so-called “launch edition.”
This slots the E-PACE between sister brand Land Rover’s Discovery Sport and Evoque in the Jaguar Land Rover lineup. Size-wise, it’s a bit larger than BMW’s X1 or Audi’s Q3, a bit smaller than the BMW X3.
E-PACE does break new ground for Jaguar in a very significant way — it is the first Jaguar not to be assembled in England. That task has been farmed out to the Austrian Magna Steyr outfit, part of the Canadian-owned Magna International group. So, if you buy one, fly your Maple Leaf flag with pride.
It will also be assembled by Jaguar Land Rover’s Chinese partner Chery Automobile Company, which gives you a hint as to where they expect a big chunk of their sales to come from.
The understructure has a somewhat convoluted history, being based loosely on a platform also seen under Evoque and Discovery Sport, but which actually dates back to 2006, having been used in various Ford and Volvo vehicles — they were once all one big, happy family …
The mechanical bits are more Jaguar-ized, though, using Jaguar engines and a largely aluminum suspension shared in varying degrees with the larger F-PACE.
The exterior is pure Jaguar, with stylish curves everywhere. The lovely sloping rear roofline limits rear-seat headroom, but that rear cabin will most likely be occupied by kids, anyway.
My Big, Fat MINI Cooper Countryman
There are several little styling details you might not notice immediately, like the little cat decals on the windshield showing a “Mama Cat” with her baby following behind. Tres cute.
Using aluminum in the hood (saves 10 kilograms), front fenders (-3 kg), roof (-6 kg) and tailgate (-15 kg) saves fuel and also helps reduce the centre of gravity for improved handling.
The inside is equally lovely, with high-quality materials everywhere, all beautifully finished. Details like contrasting stitching on the upholstery of uplevel models give a ‘bespoke’ British Savile Row-tailored look to the cabin.
It is fully equipped with all the latest techno-gimmickery, so you can touch-screen away to your heart’s content.
Two powertrains will be offered in Canada, both transverse-mounted 2.0-litre turbo, four-cylinder “Ingenium” gasoline units, developing 246 and 296 horsepower, respectively. Both are mated to the ZF nine-speed automatic.
A Diesel is offered in other markets, but not in Canada, at least not at launch. Virtually equal performance, quiet running, and 20 per cent better fuel economy? We can only hope …
All Canadian E-PACE models will have full-time four-wheel drive; some markets will get a front-drive variant as well.
Our mounts in Corsica were mostly “R-Dynamic” models, which not only brings the more powerful engine, but also more supportive sports seats, upgraded trim, and a very trick four-wheel drive system which uses the same electronically activated multi-plate clutches in the rear drive shafts as Ford’s brilliant Focus RS.
Made by the British company GKN, these can lock up progressively, independently and automatically to direct engine torque to whichever wheel or wheels can best use it.
The system is tuned somewhat differently than in the hot-hatch Ford; that car is designed for ultra-fast sporty driving, whereas the E-PACE is aimed at families.
So, initially in the Jag, you get a hint of stabilizing non-threatening understeer or mild front-end plowing; then, if you keep pushing a bit harder, the diffs do their magic and help steer the car into and through the corner.
Combined with torque vectoring, whereby brake pressure can be applied to individual wheels should the computer decide that’s how to get you around the corner in the quickest and safest way possible, it makes E-PACE a nimble handler, indeed.
It all feels quite seamless and makes you feel like a better driver than you probably are.
Corsican roads are generally decently paved, so it is difficult to be definitive about ride quality. The vehicle seems to ride firmly, but to me, not unduly so.
The engine provides decent performance, with a proffered 0-100 km/h time of a shade over 6 seconds, and is not unduly noisy for a four-banger.
The ZF nine-speed autobox, much maligned in other cars that use it, works OK in this one, provided you don’t try to trick it. It is ‘adaptive,’ so it adjusts its shift points to your driving style.
But if you change your driving style — say, you’re just tootling along, then decide to boot it to get past that slowpoke towing a horse trailer — it can get a bit confused, and shift points seem to wander all over the place.
As usual with modern Jaguars, you can select from a variety of driving programs, which adjust throttle response, shift points, exhaust sound, and suspension to suit your mood. Frankly, the differences, while noticeable, weren’t huge, so I just left it in Dynamic most of the time. After all, our route took us along parts of the famed Tour de Corse (the French word for “Corsica,” dontcha know …) car rally.
No, les gendarmes did not close the road off for us, worse luck, so we took it fairly easy, not wishing to become part of the lovely scenery. The fact that it was raining pretty much all the time, and foggy for a good chunk of it, didn’t encourage overcooking things.
It’s still hard to imagine those rally drivers attacking these roads at impossible speeds, one hairpin after another, one 3,000-metre drop to the Mediterranean after another …
Jaguar also set up a fairly mild off-road course, not that most Jaguar owners will ever go rock-crawling, but just to show it can handle some pretty rough cottage lanes or ski slope access roads.
In sum, Jaguar is doing what it has to do to stay relevant in today’s market. The customers want SUVs; Jaguar, like Porsche, Audi and other performance-oriented brands, have to bend to their will.
At least with the E-PACE, they’re doing it with Jaguar style and ambience.
2018 Jaguar E-PACE
BODY STYLE: four doors, five passengers, compact SUV.
DRIVE METHOD: Full-time, four-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.0-litre, four cylinder, double-overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb-ft: base — 246 @ 5,500 r.p.m. / 269 @ 1,200 — 4,500 r.p.m.; R-Dynamic: 296 @ 5,500 r.p.m. / 295 @ 1,500 — 4,500 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION, Transport Canada City/Highway, L/100 km: TBA.
COMPETITION: Audi Q5, BMW X1 / X3; Mercedes-Benz GLC.
PRICE: base (246 hp) — $42,700; R-Dynamic (296 hp) — $51,000; ‘Launch Edition’ (246 hp) — $59,000.
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