Jaguar E Pace on the road
The brief was for a small, family-friendly SUV. The reality is a posh Golf R, and we’re sold
CAST YOUR MIND way back to 2016; you’ll remember the controversy. We voted Brexit, they voted Trump, and, shockingly, the first ever Jaguar SUV hit the road with a name that, on first acquaintance, sounded completely absurd. To some it still does. But here in 2017, F-Pace not only rolls off the tongue with far greater fluency, it’s also rolling off the production line so quickly that already it’s Jaguar’s best-selling model.
Now imagine you’re Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralf Speth. You have before you a graph of compact SUV sales making like a Mars mission’s trajectory, and you happen to have a Range Rover Evoque platform at your disposal. Wouldn’t you build an E-Pace? A down-sized, more affordable Jaguar SUV with transverse four-cylinder engines (i-Pace is the electric one) and either front- or all-wheel drive, perhaps the only surprising thing about the new E-Pace is that it’s taken so long.
Or is it? We have two days with Jaguar’s compact crossover to find out: a day in the studio, poring over design details inside and out with Ian Callum and his team. Day two will see us chewing the drivetrain, bodyshell and chassis spec with key engineers, and riding in the passenger seat as vehicle integrity boss Mike Cross introduces us to the challenging roads that’ve helped define how E-Pace drives.
E-Pace is based on the Evoque’s existing D8 platform but substantially updated – updates that’ll flow into the second Evoque too – as chief engineer Graham Wilkins explains: ‘The architecture is steel like Evoque and Discovery Sport but with a number of key changes – we’ve drawn on our expertise in aluminium for the bonnet, the tailgate, wings and the roof. It’s a massively stiff structure; our second stiffest behind F-type coupe. There’s an ultra-stiff boron steel plate just ahead of the fuel tank that really stiffens the bodyshell, benefitting refinement, crash strength and also dynamics.’
To the bodyshell updates, Jaguar has added its own twist on the suspension, with a rear set-up that draws heavily on F-Pace’s Integral Link axle, and front suspension with bespoke E-Pace elements. ‘We’ve re-tuned the steering fundamentals and changed the front knuckles, for additional camber, and introduced hollow-cast aluminium suspension parts – similar technology to the suspension on XE,’ continues Wilkins. The front subframe now also incorporates solid rear mounts, with the aim of improving steering definition. ‘We wanted an engaging, rewarding driving experience. It’s something we feel our competitors lack. They’re competent and safe but a car that looks like ours should be fun.’
Given how enthusiastically Cross is pedalling over deserted Welsh twists and turns as we cling on grinning in the passenger seat, early signs suggest the E-Pace might just have the driver appeal to justify that confidence.
‘We wanted to capture the same kind of driver engagement that we achieved with the XE,’ says Cross. ‘That meant direct, intuitive steering, a comfortable, controlled ride, and the Jaguar character that really allows us to prioritise dynamics without it feeling nervous. There are similarities with F-Pace, but because E-Pace is smaller, it’s even more agile.’
It might be the dynamics team’s job to seal the deal on the test drive, but it falls to design to get punters through the showroom door in the first place. With Ian Callum in charge, it’s little surprise that E-Pace is lovingly proportioned – he’s a like-minded petrolhead after all; a man to whom hot rods are as important as rear-seat headroom.4
Despite E-Pace’s cast-iron common sense as a concept, Callum maintains the car is the result not of customer clinics and the extensive stress-testing of business cases but of a clay model, which took shape in his studio four years ago. ‘It wasn’t in the cycle plan,’ he smiles mischievously. ‘It was instigated by a model we created. That model was chunkier than the finished car – exaggerated to make a point – but E-Pace evolved from there and we got it into the plan.’
As you might expect, that early model was a caricature of a shrunken F-Pace. But as the project took shape, Jaguar’s director of design became convinced a mini-me approach wasn’t appropriate. ‘We didn’t just want a clone of F-Pace, which of course is something we’d done before with XE and XF. I wouldn’t say I’ve got regrets over XE and XF but I wouldn’t go that far again. We’d always liked the idea of the F-type headlamp on other cars but we’d never made it work. On E-Pace it works. It’s a strong face.’
Design cues from Jaguar’s most overtly sporting car applied to an SUV might sound like folly, but there’s no doubt it’s given E-Pace an identity all its own. From F-type-inspired elements like the headlamps through the bobbed tail to the pistol-style gearlever and driver-centric cockpit, it all hints at agility and driving dynamics a notch or two above the SUV norm.
‘This was only Jaguar’s second SUV, so we’re still having fun with this kind of vehicle,’ explains Wayne Burgess, studio director and linchpin of Callum’s design team. ‘With the E-type just not relevant in this instance we could be influenced by our own F-type. It was a big decision. People were expecting a small F-Pace, and it wouldn’t have been wrong to do that, but we thought E-Pace deserved its own personality.’
Ian Callum also insists this is a Jaguar you can’t disregard on grounds of a sub-par interior. Open the door and you notice that while there are inches of fresh air between the wheels and the bodywork, the driving position is very much of the
‘sports command’ variety. The seats feel low-set as you squish just a little into their bases, and first impressions suggest they’ll offer good comfort on the daily commute while holding you with a firm, reassuring grip when you get over-excited with the steering. The low-slung seating position makes you feel cocooned by the architecture, though not hemmed-in; heavily concave door casings are pivotal to that.
‘The interior had to be right. I didn’t want any excuses, or people saying, “I love the car but I don’t like the interior”, so we focused on it like never before,’ says Callum. ‘It’s an affordable car but there’s quality and technology. The design is simple, which let us focus on the materials, and the F-type really drove that cockpit concept.’
Our studio car features a higher-end trim, but the late-model prototype driven by Mike Cross is more basic. It feels a little austere in black, and some of the plastics in this mule aren’t representative of production, but the drama of the architecture still heightens your expectations.
The steering wheel is purposefully small, its rim nicely slim, and there are echoes of F-type in the exaggerated rake of the dashboard, the passenger grab handle next to the gearlever that invites you to hold on for a wild ride, and that compact little pistol-grip shifter that begs you to punch in the downshifts like a boxer.
There’s practicality, too. ‘Opting for steel over aluminium is linked to the car’s price but it’s also about the package, as is the transverse engine,’ explains Graham Wilkins. ‘That provides the best length-to-package ratio. While the length is analogous with Audi’s Q3, interior space is comparable to the Q5.
Steel is simply more space-efficient, so you can create a roomier package for a given set of exterior dimensions.’
In addition, the E-Pace’s wheelbase stretches by 21mm versus Evoque to 2681mm, unlocking extra interior space, and the rear overhang is a little longer – in total, E-Pace is 25mm longer at 4395mm, and its 577-litre boot 27 litres larger, helped by the compact Integral Link rear axle.
‘Because it’s a Jaguar we wanted to make a great-looking car that drives brilliantly, but this segment is all about everyday life,’ continues Wilkins. ‘E-Pace had to be a “no buts” car. It couldn’t be a case of loving the car but having to put up with it being a pain to get in and out of. We wanted customers to fall in love with the way it looks, but then feel happy because it does everything they could ask of it.’
Callum does admit to pinching some space between the back of rear passengers’ heads and the back of the car but claims it’s space no one but serial new-fridge buyers uses anyway. There is something of a limbo dance to the way taller passengers scoot around the rear wheel arch and duck under the sloping roof line to get into the back seats, but you’ll still get comfortable back there: set the driver’s seat for a 6ft 1in frame and there’s still knee- and headroom for a twin in row two. The door pockets look large enough to stow a child and the ‘mega bin’ between the front seats is hungry to swallow anything; distended handbags, iPads, bottles of wine, sacks of wine gums…
Naturally there’s technology and connectivity, too. Every occupant can have the all-important USB port, and there’s a welcome sense of quality to the tech, from the 12.3-inch TFT configurable driver’s display (a £510 option) through the £920 HUD (slicker than previous Jag efforts), to the neat, fuss-free design and refreshingly high-quality feel to the materials.
The central touchscreen runs Jaguar’s familiar Touch Pro infotainment, now a nicely responsive and intuitive set-up. If you opt for Configurable Dynamics (£225), the screen’s your portal to drive-mode heaven, allowing you to personalise settings for steering heft, gearbox shift map, throttle response and damper stiffness, the latter only if you tick the adaptive dampers upgrade. Even if you don’t, you can still choose from pre-determined Normal, Dynamic, Eco and Rain/Ice/Snow modes via a switch near the gearlever.
Our prototype gets the fixed-damper set-up, along with 20-inch alloys chosen from a range that spans malnourished 17s to full-donk 21s. At low speeds there’s certainly an agitation to the damping, but it’s more sporty focus than thumpy annoyance; I’d live with it. At speed, as Cross carves through downhill esses and accelerates into compressions, you notice a controlled elasticity to the way E-Pace conducts itself – we’re covering ground quickly, but there’s always the sense of having something in reserve; a layer of compliance if we hit a pothole or awkward crest.
‘There’s more low-speed comfort with the adaptive dampers, and you also get even more controlled body movements because the dampers are more proactive, but there’s still a lot to be said for the passive set-up,’ reckons Cross. The Evoque has to hit Land Rover’s off-road targets, and that means slightly softer springs to allow for the necessary axle articulation, and all-season tyres too. Unburdened by this, Jaguar is freed to acknowledge that most E-Paces will only off-road for the few brief seconds after punching a hole in the hedge. ‘We’ve used stiffer springs to reduce bodyroll, and regular road tyres,’ says Cross. ‘E-Pace does go through a less heavy-duty off-road test cycle than, say, a Land Rover Discovery, but you’d be surprised how capable it is off-road.’
The E-Pace powertrain menu consists entirely of turbocharged four-cylinder units from JLR’s new Ingenium line-up. Unlike production of the car itself (outsourced to Magna Steyr, because the Halewood plant on Merseyside is at capacity), all engines are manufactured in the UK. The range runs from the fleet-spec 148bhp diesel that’s available with either all-wheel drive and Jaguar’s nine-speed auto if you’ve hit your bonus, or a manual ’box and front-wheel drive if you haven’t. Two pokier diesel motors with either 178bhp or 237bhp are also available.
Petrol power comes in 247bhp or 296bhp flavours, both paired with all-wheel drive and the nine-speed auto. Later, we’ll get mild hybrid set-ups to boost the internal combustion engines.
Cross describes the mid-level diesel as a favourite. ‘It exceeds your expectations. There’s plenty of torque for good driveability, it’s economical, and we benchmarked Audi for NVH, so it’s very refined, he says. We also sample the 296bhp petrol. Compared with the entry-level petrol, the range-topper gets a new design of piston for a unique compression ratio, and a similar twin-scroll turbo, albeit with a larger4
Most E Paces will only off-road for the few brief seconds after punching a hole in the hedge
turbine and compressor wheel, and ball bearings to help those larger wheels spin up faster.
The 2.0-litre can’t exude the overt character we recently enjoyed in the new entry-level F-type, and the E-Pace’s extra heft does knock a little wind out of its sails, but it still feels punchy from where I’m sitting, and growls much more tunefully than any diesel ever could.
‘When I first joined Jaguar, we had an engine that made similar power to this,’ smiles Cross. ‘It was the 5.3-litre V12 in the XJS. Pretty amazing progress, really!’
Cross accelerates from low speed, demonstrating the eager response available from little over idle speed. At around 2000rpm the push in your back tells you the turbocharger’s ignited, and an extra wave of energy floods in as the revs climb in one smooth, linear sweep towards the 5500rpm power peak. With the gearbox knocked over to the Sport setting – no paddles on this lower-spec car – the changes seem equally smooth and responsive, making for rapid, strikingly unruffled progress.
Along with entry-level models’ manual gearboxes, there’s also a choice of all-wheel drive systems: either the Haldex-based Standard Driveline, or the GKN-developed Active Driveline. It’s the latter that’s fitted as standard to our P300-spec test car. It can send 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, and then all of that split can divert to just one rear wheel for more dynamic cornering. That takes just 0.1sec, controlled by a pair
‘This is as close as I’m going to get to designing a hot hatch’ – Ian Callum
of wet clutches either side of the rear differential. In steadystate driving – cruising along a motorway, for instance – Active Driveline can switch entirely to front-wheel drive, reducing the losses inherent in driving the rear driveshafts, just as it does in an Evoque.
Right now, though, it’s evident all four Pirellis are digging hard into the surface. ‘We wanted to give E-Pace a neutral balance, to resist understeer very strongly,’ says Cross from behind the wheel. ‘It’s not an oversteery car, the limits are very high, but it is more rear-biased than an Evoque.’
When we tackle a fast, tightening uphill right-hander, you can clearly feel that rear bias. Cross squeezes the throttle to demonstrate, and the E-Pace almost feels like it’s folding itself into the corner, like the wheelbase is shortening. You sense that there’s more going on beneath the surface than simply the driver pressing pedals and turning the wheel, yet it doesn’t seem to be at all artificial, at least from where I’m sitting.
While the two all-wheel-drive systems promise different driving experiences, chief engineer Graham Wilkins is adamant that the front-driver is no duffer, even though it necessarily goes without any means of tweaking the car’s attitude beyond standard brake-based torque vectoring.
‘It’d be unfair on buyers of the entry-level car to give them the design and package they wanted but have them thinking, “Actually, this is a bit crap to drive”,’ he says. ‘Front-wheel drive is not as capable as all-wheel drive but you can still have fun. We went to great trouble with the fundamentals, the camber and the steering, and they’re there in all the versions, giving you this rear-drive character. We then embellish that with the first level of all-wheel drive and then, ultimately, Active Driveline. It’s sports car technology: power, adaptive dynamics, 21-inch wheels… It’s quite a package.’
Tick all the boxes and it’s perfectly possible to spec your E-Pace to £60k, but there’s no need to spend quite that much. Pricing starts at £28,500, with R-Dynamic trim coming in at £30,750, and the First Edition (exclusive red paint, 20-inch split-spoke wheels, standard black pack and panoramic roof, ebony Windsor leather with contrast stitching, LED headlights, high-beam assistant, powered tailgate) £47,800. If your heart’s set on the range-topping petrol engine, expect to part with around £52k after a few must-haves, including the black pack and Callum-approved 21-inch wheels. Expect to part with a fair bit of petrol money, too. At around 1800kg the E-Pace might be the smallest Jaguar yet but it’s no lightweight. The official combined figure for the fast one is 35.3mpg, though go D150 diesel power, front-drive and DIY gear-changing and that figure soars to a theoretical 60.1mpg.
No doubt many buyers will do just that, and all-wheel drive is undoubtedly surplus to requirements for great swathes of most people’s flying time. But Callum’s undeterred: the true E-Pace experience is petrol power, four-wheel drive and getting a little carried away. ‘It’s my kind of car,’ he smiles. ‘I love sporty cars – I grew up with hot hatches – and that’s kind of where we are with the E-Pace. This is as close as I’m going to get to designing a hot hatch. I love the whole notion of it – 296 horsepower in a car this size is more than sufficient. It makes you want to go and find a mountain road or two…’
Jaguar’s dynamics Gandalf Mike Cross; loves Welsh roads, hates understeer. EPace feels the same
F-type cues extend to the interior, with buttress/grab handle and drive selector
Cheeky cub character has been with the project from day one First Edition cars get LED lights with signature DRLs as standard – they’re a cost option otherwise
An altogether higher grade of layby smalltalk; spring rates, yaw gain and neutralising push
Without the adaptive set-up E Pace is irmly damped – loves to be lung at corners
Rear screen tied with the Ferrari Dino’s for title of world’s smallest