Quite a few car folk were nonplussed to learn in 2015 that Jaguar had leaped into the sport-utility game. The legendary British automaker, after all, is competing with Land Rovers and Range Rovers — rugged, luxurious SUVs. Both brands are owned by Indian automaker Tata Motors. Moreover, Jaguar is known for blindingly fast sports cars and sweet-handling luxury sedans, not mud-crawlers and rock-climbers.
Yet Jaguar has had enough success with the F-Pace, a midsize SUV, to justify offering a smaller, less expensive unit called the E-Pace. The base E-Pace starts at $38,600 — pricier than similar models such as the BMW X1, Lexus NX and Audi Q3. Where SUVs and crossovers are concerned, we lean pretty strongly toward midsize models such as the Mazda CX5 and GMC Terrain, rather than compacts and subcompacts, neither of which seem capable of achieving what the American driver wants in an SUV. Thus, one of the first things we noticed was that when our tallest driver was at the wheel, there was no leg room — and we mean none — in the seat behind him.
Still, the E-Pace has a couple things going for it that most compact SUVs can’t match.
For one thing, the two available engines are quite powerful — 246 and 296 horsepower, respectively. This being a Jaguar, it also corners better than many sedans, so the high power levels are appropriate for the car’s handling capabilities. What’s more, the E-Pace can tow nearly 4,000 pounds. Our family’s 2015 Jeep Renegade, also a compact SUV, is rated to pull a little more than half that much weight.
It goes without saying that this Jaguar, like most of the others dating back many decades, has beautiful lines and proportions. It seems almost sacrilegious to point out the hood doesn’t need to be quite as long as it is to accommodate a modern turbocharged Four. A shorter hood would enable designers to increase passenger and cargo room without materially affecting performance.
Our test car, in high-end R-Dynamic HSE trim, had a sticker price of $54,095. It came with a long list of luxury features, including power tailgate, perforated Windsor leather seats in stunning red, power front sport seats with heating, cooling, memory and lumbar adjustment, heated rear seats, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, InControl Apps, satellite radio, navigation system, WiFi hotspot, blind-spot and lane-keep assist, reverse traffic detection, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and surround camera system.
Fuel economy is good to excellent: 21 mpg city, 27 highway. But premium unleaded gasoline, which costs significantly more than regular unleaded, is required.
The car rides smoothly most of the time, and there’s little road or wind noise. But the suspension transmits some serious jolts on poorly maintained highways. Opting for the smallest available wheels — 17 inches — likely would diminish this problem, but those big 20-inchers on our test car sure gave it an aggressive, feral look.
2018 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 296 horsepower, 295 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 9-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Weight: 4,175 lb.
Suspension: 4-wheel independent
Ground clearance: 8.8 in.
Wheels: 20-in. 5-split-spoke style alloy
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 24.2 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 52.7 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 3,968 lb.
Fuel capacity: 18.1 gal.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.