E-Pace SHOULD be the cat’s whiskers for Jaguar Cars but has missed the mark
While it has taken some time to obtain a test example, Iain Robertson has now managed to put the current Jaguar E-Pace under his intense scrutiny, from which it emerges shaken, stirred and only lightly bruised but questioned for its poor sales results.
Vaunted as Jaguar’s potential best-seller, when it was unveiled in July 2017, the E-Pace is as British as being built at the Magna-Steyr plant, in Graz, Austria, allows it to be. Ironically, it is also assembled at Jaguar’s Chinese partner factory in Changshu, in a country that has rejected JLR products roundly for their lack of hybrid/EV developments. Despite the customary fanfare launch exercise and the fact that the uptake rate in the UK has not been tragically bad, E-Pace has not enjoyed an easy ride around the world, which is sad.
Typical of the compact SUV breed, the majority of E-Paces are transverse engined and front wheel driven, although the example I have experienced is all-wheel drive. Based on the achingly popular Evoque platform, albeit in abbreviated form, its underpinnings are tried and trusted. Possessing looks that more closely related to the F-Type sportscar than the F-Pace full-size SUV, removing the badges and front grille highlights a chunky hatchback of pleasing proportions that could have originated with any one of a dozen, or more, compact SUV manufacturers, a neutralising factor that could be part of its relative lack of success.
Intriguingly, despite the use of some lightweight materials in its construction and its markedly smaller footprint, the E-Pace weighs more than the light-alloy bodied F-Pace and, regardless of a structurally stiffer front subframe that is intended to provide the car with crisper steering responses (which are dynamically sound, by the way), what results is a car made to fit the market but which is strangely not fit for the market. While not intending to dash Jaguar’s hopes on similar rocks that caused it immense pain just over a year ago, when its products were rebuked mercilessly by the Chinese new car scene, it does seem as though the West Midlands firm has asked for it.
Powered by the 177bhp version of JLR’s excellent Ingenium turbo-diesel power unit, which drives all four wheels through a ZF 9-speed fully-automatic gearbox, it is worth bearing in mind that, as long as you are not vehemently anti-diesel, Jaguar is one of the decreased number of carmakers retaining oil-burning motors. Emitting a modest 158g/km CO2, this unit benefits from a tranche of low-revs torque (317lbs ft) that helps to overcome its unfortunate 2.4-tonnes ‘porkiness’. In fact, it provides a surprisingly good account of itself against the timing clock, boasting a 0-60mph of 9.3s and a top whack of around 127mph, although its key rivals (Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and BMW X1, among others) notably also in diesel form can give it a bit of a thrashing, even with 55.4mpg highlighting its overall efficiency.
As a poor relation to the F-Pace, the test car’s interior lacks the double-stitched leather and classier trim of its Teutonic competitors, occupants being confronted by acres of matt finished plastic mouldings, so it is important to use the firm’s personalisation programme to up its game. The test example’s tan hide-covered seats and door cards, plus the occasional splash of colour and chrome, help to relieve the tortured soul.
The instrument layout is conventional and legible, supported by the standard (across the model line-up) 10.0-inch touchscreen integrated tidily into the centre console, which also has a triangular grab-handle on its left side for the front passenger (a la F-Type). As some words of advice, it is best to establish what you need to display on the screen prior to moving off, because its little graphic icons are difficult to locate when on the move. It is worth noting that connectivity is not intuitive, although a mobile-phone can be linked to its hardware with moderate ease. There are plenty of power/USB sockets to choose from. Yet, the dashboard layout is free of excess switchgear, which is just as well, as what remains is not of the highest quality, which is disappointing in what should be a higher-end model.
There is plenty of adjustability to the front seats, although rear seat occupants will suffer in cramped quarters, both in terms of head and legroom behind taller front seat occupants. The boot is of modest proportions, with the space expanding usefully, when the rear seatbacks are flopped forwards. The steering column also adjusts through a wide range to provide a good driving position, the excellent hip-height access being aided by the car’s tall stance.
Refinement levels are excellent, the diesel engine emitting a distant but not unpleasant grumble, while the gear ratios slush gently up the ’box, until reaching the exceptionally relaxed 45mph/1,000rpm ninth gear. Even a 70mph motorway cruise demands less than 1,800rpm, although you should not expect rip-snorting mid-range acceleration from this version of the E-Pace.
Remember that E-Pace prices start at a moderate £31k give or take a few quid and that Jaguar dealers are exceptionally willing to talk ‘discounts’ without menaces, even this version is a ‘mere’ £33,735, prior to factoring-in the various options, which can soon tip the balance towards £40k. However, something about which I have railed endlessly for more than the past decade is the relative lack of ‘Jaguarness’ inherent to the current brand. In the pursuit of greater popularity, the company has elected to reduce those qualities that Jaguar buyers once expected, which is another pressing issue in the antipathy that is felt around the sales arena but to which Jaguar Cars appears to be blind.
Having anticipated even a hint of the aforementioned overriding brand value at the helm, I found the E-Pace to be discombobulatingly ordinary and significantly more front-wheel biased than it should be. Chucking it around Lincolnshire’s back doubles was not as rewarding as it might have been (maybe the optional Sports suspension would help?), an aspect not aided by the slow-witted auto-box and weight-amplified performance envelope. While the car’s low-speed ride quality can be a little nuggety, it levels out at higher speeds, when it rides sublimely, aided by the really superb steering responses. Grip levels were average.
To be frank, I wanted to like the E-Pace. It looks pretty. However, I could not envisage living with one, as far too much of the car simply does not meet the Jaguar brief and that is the final crushing blow to a model that should have whisked Jaguar into mainstream brilliance but has not done so. ‘Caveat emptor’ applies.