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The compact luxury crossover market is flooded with new entrants, many of which are watered down and forgettable. The E-Pace — Jaguar's compact crossover — bucks the trend, delivering a fun and refined experience that competitors can't match.
It's not cheap. Our E-Pace SE tester came in at $54,190, a hefty premium for less than 15 feet of metal. Jaguar isn't an outlier on price in the segment, with German automakers also offering pint-sized products at and above $50,000. But unlike those options, the E-Pace feels fully formed and worth its sticker price.
Jaguar launched two SUVs this year. One all-electric model and one compact, gas-powered crossover. Despite the "E" in the name, the E-Pace is the latter. Jaguar's all-electric I-Pace is an entirely separate vehicle.
The E-Pace is designed to slot below the F-Pace in the Jaguar lineup, though the cars feel significantly different when rubber meets pavement. The E-Pace is based on front-wheel drive underpinnings, while the F-Pace is a rear-wheel-drive purebred. All American E-Paces come with all-wheel drive standard, but the difference in feel is palpable.
This isn't a bad thing. While the F-Pace drives like a lifted sports sedan, the E-Pace feels like a pumped-up hot hatchback. It claws around corners eagerly, with the all-wheel-drive system working to keep things planted. The steering feel is great for the segment, though not as razor-sharp as the F-Pace.
And while it's definitely designed to betray the E-Pace's sporty intentions, the suspension still manages to quell bumps and undulations. A short wheelbase and good dynamics mean you'll still feel them, but they don't upset the car or drive a spike up your spine.
The torquey four-cylinder engine is well suited to the job, too. It doesn't pack the noise or theatrics of Jaguar's V-6's, but it still brings 246 horsepower to the table along with a whopping 269 pound-feet of torque. One of the best nine-speed automatics on the market ensures that power is always on tap, making the E-Pace feel ready to rock whenever you are. There's more than enough oomph to have fun but it's not so overpowered as to vex the chassis. The E-Pace strikes a fantastic balance.
The E-Pace is the most handsome compact SUV to ever hit the market. Usually, I'd say it's in the eye of the beholder, but the incredible design of the baby Jag is pretty much inarguable.
It's woefully difficult to make a small SUV attractive. Front-wheel drive architectures, short wheelbases and tall roofs are all things that contradict the low-and-long designs that we associate with expensive cars. Yet Jaguar pulled it off, making a car that looks good in photos and utterly gorgeous in person.
Inside, you'll find Jaguar's chic cabin design that's spread throughout the company's lineup. The seats are attractively upholstered in soft leather, while a panoramic roof bathes the interior in light. Even the back seat isn't a bad place to be, with quilted leather and a bright design helping to make the diminutive E-Pace feel larger inside.
The interior still features the same reliance on flat black plastics that I bemoaned in the F-Pace. It's more acceptable here, in the entry-level offering, but for $54,190 you might expect some more metal or wood trim.
Plus, the infotainment system is attractive in its design but frustrating in its operation. The lack of a tuner knob makes flipping through radio stations an exercise in irritation, while the sometimes-slow responses made me question whether my touch had even registered.
Now, it's not exactly surprising that the smallest SUV Jaguar offers isn't cavernous inside. But, you're spending $54,190 on an SUV, you might expect to be able to use it for family duty. Sure, if you have one kid you can probably make it work, but this segment exists more for young professionals who usually drive alone.
Keep that in mind and you'll be quite happy with the E-Pace. If you have grand delusions of four-person road trips and camping excursions, you should probably take your business elsewhere.
I haven't had a chance to drive the 296-horsepower R-Spec, but the P250 E-Pace is probably plenty peppy for most people. It starts at $38,600, but if you don't want cloth seats and a bare-bones crossover, plan to jump to the $40,900 S model.
Jaguar does some of the best paint in the business, so I recommend spending $590 on one of the premium colors. The tester in the pictures was coated in Caesium Blue, in case you want this finish on your car.
Don't spend a dime on wheels. The premium options are 19 or 20 inches, while the standard wheels are 18. Less wheel means more sidewall, softening the ride. Spending $1,225 on the panoramic roof seems worth it, as does the two-tone premium interior. It costs $2,085 and requires that you option the $510 18-way heated seats with memory function.
Add $360 for a surround-view camera system and $565 for passive keyless entry. Finally, the excellent Meridian sound system is a must-have at only $360. The configurable driver display is well worth the $565.
That brings the total price, with destination, to $47,795.00. Not cheap by any standard, but a well-equipped and well-behaved luxury crossover was never supposed to be.
In a burgeoning segment filled with anonymous metal, it's nice to see Jaguar knock one out of the park. The E-Pace is incredibly stylish, devilishly fun and nicely refined. I just wish it had a more premium interior.
Entry-level luxury cars are always a challenge to recommend, as I often steer buyers toward heavily-optioned mainstream models. $50,000 buys you a lot of space, specs and stuff in the world of Ford, Toyota or VW. But with the E-Pace, I have no problem issuing a ringing endorsement of an entry-level product.
Yes, it's considerably more expensive than mainstream options. But — crucially — it never lets you forget that, feeling more expensive and more capable at every turn.
Driving Experience: 4.5
Price as tested: $54,190