First, a disclaimer. Whatever criticism I make, or just about anybody makes, about Jaguar’s new E-Pace, it is going to be a smash hit, limited only by the number the factory can produce. Even an online slap by the woman who apparently crashed Snapchat stock would bounce harmlessly into the fragile world of social influencers.
This mid-size shorty SUV with fab looks has been going the rounds for a while, with Jaguar drip-feeding the car to media commentators. Some of what was written was lukewarm, with unfavourable comparisons of fit and finish, ride quality, economy and luggage capacity vis-a-vis stuff from the familiar German trio.
There was one report from a two-day jaunt on Corsica, at odds with the adverse trend. Everything was so wonderful that a rat was sniffed. Those two days on Corsica must have worked magic.
And so, finally, our turn, and the Malmaison hotel in Cheltenham for a run the next day into south Wales, the Wye valley, a tepee picnic at Eastnor Castle, long-time proving ground for Land Rover off-roaders.
The E-Pace trundled up the woodland track without any effort. All bar the cheapest has 4x4 traction but you’ll not be doing too much tumbling in the rough if you value your expensive rims and rubber.
This was near the end of a 190-mile day and as many of us had a four-hour drive home we dodged some 4x4 demonstrations devised by Jaguar on a Land Rover course. There’s a dedication at Jaguar Land Rover that its land cars and land limos must perform off-road, just so we all know they can, even though most of them never do, if you follow. I recently had a ride with an owner who seemed to have no idea about the permutations these cars can achieve in differing terrain. All that mattered was that it was roomy enough for his shooting/golfing life, and that once in drive or reverse the vehicle was imperious.
The E-Pace is one of those vehicles which in theory will get you to the killing grounds but is more likely to spend its life scaring other traffic (commuters, shoppers) with its massive face. Jaguar’s forerunner to SUV Land was the F-Pace, larger and, curiously, lighter because it is aluminium and based on Jaguar’s XE/XF modular platform. It is its fastest selling Jag to date. Last year’s global sales of 76,350 were one-third higher than all Jaguar sales in 2011. The E-Pace is based on the smaller, steel-bodied Range Rover Evoque, which means it is essentially a front-wheel-drive chassis. The 150ps entry model is thus the first Jaguar since the Mondeo-based X-Type to have front wheel drive. Its chassis is mostly aluminium alloy and there are various alloy panels on the steel body – as with the Evoque.
It had been a day of two flavours. The drive in the morning in the 177.5bhp (180ps) 2-litre diesel automatic in SE-R Dynamic trim with 4x4 drive was brilliant. Despite its 20-inch wheels and 245/45 section Pirelli Scorpion all-season tyres, it rode lumps and potholes in wonderful comfort. True, not likely to win a Cheltenham sprint but once the 1.8 tons were off the start line it was a happy drive.
A look at the interior revealed no nasty surprises – though the omission of grab handles may annoy the less limber and at these prices one doesn’t expect to pay extra for a speed limit roundel on the dashboard. I’d also like remote control for the navigation scale, rather than having to pinch the screen – not par for the class and too distracting for the driver to do. Finally, the paddle gear shifters only changed gear when the selector was in Sport. In Drive they had no effect.
Inside, it is not a wide car. The door to door measurement of 55 inches is three inches shy of the XE and no wider than sundry family hatchbacks. In the rear, there is plenty of room for big men and women. Those seats fold flat leaving just a sight ramp in the floor. I could live a life with this car.
There are USB ports for all – two in the front, three in the back. “Cars like this make people’s lives so easy,” enthused Graham Wilkins, the chief programme engineer. Price for the model tested: from £41,650. Economy on the 95-mile drive 39 to 42mpg. Quoted by Jaguar: 50.4mpg and 147g C02. Zero to 60mph takes 8.7 seconds. This engine will be the biggest seller.
In the afternoon we were switched to another E-Pace, the 246.5 bhp (249ps) 2-litre petrol turbo automatic First Edition: £50,160. If we’d driven this car first, we’d have been less impressed. The ride was harder and harsher and louder even though it was on the same size wheels and tyres. The only variation was that these were Pirelli P Zero summer tyres. Jaguar said the difference was probably due to the heavier weight of the 249ps First Edition and its tyre compounds. Further checks were being made to see if the 249ps car suspension was as it should be. The other difference was economy: we got 27 to 32mpg. Jaguar quotes 36.7mpg and 174g.
Verdict: Not perfect but who is? Jaguar expects eight of ten buyers to be newcomers.