Last week 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 couldn’t have been more cozy than that little red SUV looked cruising down the avenue.
It was also telling that Jaguar chose the holidays to trot out its midsize SUV, which is 13 inches shorter than the $44,600 F-Pace and 3 inches taller than the $69,500 I-Pace. The E-Pace hits Jag’s sweet spot, and it’s 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 percent year over year, according to Cox Automotive. Their market share rose 17 percent last month year over year.
I’ve resisted writing about the E-Pace because it’s so straightforward a vehicle that it just seems unexciting. But that’s no fault of the automaker. A car that is solid, safe, semi-stylish, affordable, and reliable may not be sexy, but it’s better than plenty out there, and it’s more than worth our time.
What we have with the E-Pace is a five-seat compact SUV—the first from Jag—with rounded corners, a more chiseled 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 isn’t 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’s blank space. This setup is what we call a driver-centric cockpit. I support it.
As for driving the E-Pace, it’s 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, just about equal to the 248-hp Macan. Top speed is 143 mph; to get from zero to 60 takes 6.7 seconds. (Others in this category can do it slightly faster, though for the $10,000 or $12,000 more it’d cost, it’s hardly worth the difference.)
The independent suspension system works so well it’s imperceptible; the AWD system controls torque between the front and rear axles to help even the feel of the E-Pace as you drive windy roads.
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.
The writer is Bloomberg’s editor