The E-Pace is Jaguar's second all-new SUV in as many model years. Built off a platform that underpins the Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport from Jaguar's Land Rover affiliate, the E-Pace slots below the F-Pace in Jaguar's nascent SUV lineup. All-wheel drive and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine are standard; a higher-output turbo four-cylinder is optional. Seven trim levels range from a base model that starts at just less than $40,000 to R-Dynamic variants priced well into the $50,000s. We drove one of the latter, a well-equipped E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE.

Peachy-Keen Styling

Bearing a hodgepodge of cues from other Jaguars ranging from the F-Type to the F-Pace, the E-Pace looks affably stubby, and that's no easy task for what it is. Small-footprint SUVs are often awkward by design, with truncated profiles that end up as jacked-up hatchbacks or too-tall gumdrops. The E-Pace is in the latter camp, with F-Pace height but a wheelbase and overall length clipped by 7.5 inches and more than a foot, respectively. That footprint is closer in size to subcompact luxury SUVs like the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40 even though Jaguar prices the E-Pace to compete against rival brands' larger compact offerings (think Q5, X3 and XC60).

It comes together without looking ungainly, and Jaguar's restraint on character lines and bumper openings keeps visual clutter to a minimum. Alas, it also kept the rear window to a visibility-hurting minimum. Bulky backseat head restraints make matters worse — and they don't flip down or nest into the seat.

Quick ... Eventually

The E-Pace is quick from a standstill and revs energetically, but a lethargic transmission hampers performance once you're in motion. Standard with all variants, the nine-speed automatic can hunt for gears or delay kickdown altogether when you prod the gas to pass slower traffic or accelerate out of a turn, and little improvement comes from sportier settings on the drive mode selector. At least the high-output four-cylinder in the R-Dynamic we tested (296 horsepower, 295 pounds-feet of torque) packs acceptable oomph from as low as 2,300 rpm or so, but on part-throttle acceleration, the drivetrain often tries to add speed with such power rather than downshifting.

Jaguar says the R-Dynamic hits 60 mph in a handy 5.9 seconds. We haven't driven the base engine (a turbo four-cylinder with 246 hp and 269 pounds-feet of torque), which figures to power the vast majority of E-Paces sold, but Jaguar says it hits the mark in 6.6 seconds. That's among the more leisurely SUVs in this crowd, though it's hardly slow.

The E-Pace's handling shines, but the trade-off comes in a firm ride. With quick-ratio steering and good overall feedback, the SUV is fun to throw into corners and curves. Push the car hard coming out, and you can sneak the rear wheels a tad sideways to correct some mild understeer going in — likely a credit to Jaguar's torque-vectoring AWD system, which pairs with high-output engines (a simpler AWD system goes with the standard engine). It's impressive enough to forget the E-Pace has front-drive roots, a setup that often diminishes balance.

Shock absorption is crisp and controlled, but our editors agreed that the E-Pace rides too firmly overall even with our test car's optional adaptive shocks. With a wheelbase more akin to subcompact luxury SUVs — a group known for firm, unsorted ride quality — the E-Pace exhibits poor body control over rapid elevation changes and marginal high-speed isolation. Uneven sections of pavement induce jarring body motions, and highways drum up ceaseless, if subtle, turbulence. Smaller wheels with higher-profile tires than the 20-inchers on our test car might help some of this (lesser models go as small as 17 inches), but no matter the options, the wheelbase isn't changing. Some of the E-Pace's issues are fundamental.

The Inside

The wraparound interior sports straightforward controls and a handsome design reminiscent of the F-Type's cockpit, but its confining space drew complaints from editors and front passengers alike. Hemmed in by an outcropping for the center controls, the driver's knee clearance is limited, and the protruding upper dashboard robs front-passenger space. The backseat, by contrast, is more generous than the E-Pace's exterior size might suggest, with acceptable knee clearance, good headroom and a comfortably high seating position.

Hemmed in by an outcropping for the center controls, driver’s knee clearance is limited, and the protruding upper dashboard robs front-passenger space.

Cabin materials are mostly good. Generous padding covers areas where your arms and elbows rest, and Jaguar wraps much of the dashboard in double-stitched leather, with metal accents around the air vents and gearshift. A few areas are less impressive, however: Cheap-looking, flat-black plastics adorn much of the center console and gauge surroundings. The drive-mode toggle selector feels equally cheap, and our test car's door panels creaked under pressure. Speaking of low rent, base trims have cloth seats instead of vinyl, which is more typical of this class. Higher trims have leather.

The standard 10-inch touchscreen boasts intuitive menus and sharp graphics; a backup camera and two USB ports are also standard. Most trim levels integrate apps like Spotify and Tile courtesy of Jaguar's InControl multimedia interface, but must-have features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless smartphone charging are unavailable. A 12.3-inch virtual gauge display is optional, as are two Meridian premium stereos, in-car Wi-Fi and three more USB ports (for five total). 

You have plenty of room to store mobile devices, too. From the deep tray ahead of the gearshift to the storage nooks around the backseat, the E-Pace impresses in a storage-deprived class. There's even a trick partition underneath the center armrest that opens up a hidden tunnel under the cupholders. That's for all your completely legal paraphernalia, of course.

Given the inconsistent methodology behind manufacturer-reported cargo specs, it's best to bring your own measuring tape when you cross-shop. Behind the backseat, we measured competitive width but just 32 inches of depth — shallower by some 4 to 8 inches than seven other cargo areas we measured in Cars.com's 2018 Luxury Compact SUV Challenge. If the other shoe had to drop somewhere for such a short car with an admirably roomy backseat, it's here.

Safety

The E-Pace has not yet been crash-tested. Standard equipment includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking at speeds up to 50 mph (37 mph for its pedestrian-detection function). Optional high-speed automatic emergency braking works at speeds up to 99 mph. Other options include a blind spot warning system with steering intervention, 360-degree camera systems, self-park steering, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control and lane departure steering intervention — albeit not true lane-centering steering, a feature many competitors now offer.

Setting the Pace? 

The E-Pace boasts driving fun and more practicality than its size suggests. Those factors, combined with Jaguar's value-laden warranty and free maintenance provisions, should draw plenty of interest. Given consumer preference for SUVs these days, it's no surprise the F-Pace now accounts for nearly half of all U.S. Jaguar sales, per Automotive News. The E-Pace should ride the same wave, though its size seems likely to limit broad appeal — especially since it's priced against a larger crowd. Shop away on this fun SUV, but note the trade-offs to get there.

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