Cars: The Jaguar E-Pace a solid contender

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 10, 2019.

The 2019 Jaguar E-Pace is available to order now. Photos by Bloomberg

The Jaguar E-Pace is a five-seater compact SUV.

The dashboard is bare on the passenger side; it is made to be oriented towards the driver.

For an added jolt, choose a bright interior like this.

Headroom and legroom in the front seats of the E-Pace are adequate.

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Two weeks ago on Broadway in Manhattan, I saw a double-decker city bus wrapped in red tartan with a cut-out glass belly showcasing a Jaguar E-Pace. Jonah in his whale could not have been more cozy than that little red sport utility vehicle (SUV) looked cruising down the avenue.

It was the perfect seasonal sighting, an update on the now-cliche big-red bow on car in the driveway scene that has dominated car commercials for years.

It was also telling that Jaguar chose the holidays to trot out its midsize SUV, which is 13 inches (33cm) shorter than the US$44,600 [RM183,484] F-Pace and three inches taller than the US$69,500 I-Pace. The E-Pace hits Jag’s sweet spot, and it is the brand’s best tool for winning more space in the ever-lucrative premium crossover market. While midsize and compact car sales were down by double digits in December, sales of SUVs and crossovers were up by almost 3% year-on-year (y-o-y), according to Cox Automotive. Their market share rose 17% last month y-o-y.

The summary of Cox Automotive’s year-end report said it best: “Most car segments should see double-digit declines from last year as consumers continue to shift towards SUVs and crossovers.”

That tells me that someone you know is likely to be looking for an SUV in the coming months.

Despite the confusing nomenclature — Jaguar’s E-Pace is not electric, even though it starts with “E”; its F-Pace is not a small coupe, even though it is similarly named to the F-Type; the I-Pace is electric, randomly — the E-Pace deserves strong consideration in the search. Plot it against the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, and Porsche Macan: With a value-conscious price of US$38,600 and available performance upgrades (called R-Dynamic), it will fit in quite well.

I have resisted writing about the E-Pace because it is so straightforward a vehicle that it just seems unexciting. But that is no fault of the automaker. A car that is solid, safe, semi-stylish, affordable and reliable may not be sexy, but it is better than plenty out there, and it is more than worth our time.

 

The look

What we have with the E-Pace is a five-seat compact SUV — the first from Jag — with rounded corners, a more chiselled alternative to Audi but softer than offerings from Volvo, BMW and Land Rover. The front headlights stretch almost laterally back across the front of the vehicle, visually connecting the tall, flat lattice grille and the standard 20-inch wheels.

The roofline is more rounded than flat, ending with a small ledge before coming to a point that meets the hipline of the rear of the car. The design detail is a little bland, much less interesting to look at than, say, the Lamborghini Urus or even the Range Rover Evoque, but they cost a lot more, so the comparison really is not fair.

The dashboard of the E-Pace is spare, divided into two distinct portions. The driver’s side has an automatic shifter and nine-speed transmission, three knobs to control climate and audio, a crisp heads-up display, a 10-inch touch screen, and two round gauges behind the steering wheel jutting out like ships. The passenger’s side has nothing but a small vent on the far right. It is blank space. This set-up is what we call a drivercentric cockpit. I support it.

 

The feel

As for driving the E-Pace, it is like getting into a warm pool: plenty comfortable enough to stay in for as long as you like but nothing to get your blood going. I wish it could have a little more bite to the brakes or edge to the body. I wish it jumped to attention a little quicker on the gas.

The engine does have 246 horsepower (hp), just about equal to the 248hp Macan. Top speed is 143mph (230kph); to get from zero to 60 takes 6.7 seconds. (Others in this category can do it slightly faster, though for the US$10,000 or US$12,000 more it would cost, it is hardly worth the difference.)

The independent suspension system works so well it is imperceptible; the all-wheel drive vehicle system controls torque between the front and rear axles to help even the feel of the E-Pace as you drive windy roads. There are four drive modes (comfort, eco, dynamic or rain/ice/snow) that change the resistance as you steer and the throttle as you accelerate. It all makes for a ride that is agile but controlled. Again, it does the job well, covers the distance admirably. Do not come here if you are looking for a passionate love, but the Jaguar E-Type will at least be true.

In fact, from the well-done trimming on the steering wheel and seats to the clear, concise controls and the way it brakes and handles, the SUV feels safe and solid both in stop-and-go traffic and driving on the open road.

So was my initial hesitation borne out?  Well, yeah. The E-Pace is indeed ho-hum, all things considered. Nothing to see here. But that does not mean it is not also a trustworthy choice in a market dominated by the usual German faces (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche). There is nothing wrong with those, but this nice Brit offers a valid counterpoint.

And one car critic’s yawn is another soccer mom’s Saturday night rowdy — I realise I am speaking from an odd reality here. According to Jaguar, 90% of its early orders on the E-Pace have been from people new to the brand altogether. Value counts for a lot, even in the premium segment, and the Jaguar E-Pace packs plenty. That recognition is because of a lot more than just that red tartan bus. — Bloomberg