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2018 Jaguar E-PACE: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Jaguar E-Pace, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Jaguar E-Pace Review

"How fast may I drive through the river?" My inquiry is a bit unusual, but as I peer through the front windshield at the flowing water rippling just yards beyond the nose of my vehicle, with no other path around the obstacle, I’m genuinely concerned. Will the all-new 2018 Jaguar E-PACE effortlessly traverse the precarious crossing, or falter and sink like a rock?

Hot on the heels of its successful midsize F-PACE luxury crossover arrives Jaguar’s latest entrant into another very popular segment — but in a more pocket-size version. The E-PACE (the letter "E" designates Jaguar’s smaller models, such as the automaker’s XE sedan) is a compact crossover with seating for five that mirrors its larger sibling’s recipe for showroom success: blend luxury, sport and off-road prowess into one concise package.

Distinctive Styling Built on Steel Architecture

Physically speaking, the E-PACE is larger than an Audi Q3 yet smaller than the Q5 — by dimension, it’s about the same size as a BMW X2. Nevertheless, nobody will mistake the E-PACE for anything but a baby Jaguar. The nose features the iconic Jaguar grille offset by a pair of sleek cat-eye-shaped headlamps. The sides are artfully sculpted, with strong shoulders over each wheel, there are oversize mirrors mounted to the base of the A-pillars, and the greenhouse is tastefully outlined with bright trim that tapers to a point at the rear. From the back, the compact Jaguar boasts a pair of prominent round exhaust ports and thin tail lamps beneath its small rear window. The overall look is cohesive, sleek and sporty — very Jaguar.

The E-PACE shares platforms with the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque. While that gives it plenty of off-road DNA, it also means it differs from its traditional aluminum-intensive Jaguar siblings. To keep the price down, the chassis is primarily steel, but lightweight aluminum has been used for the roof, hood, front fenders and tailgate. That does cut the mass, but the 4,175-lb E-PACE still arrives in showrooms 150-plus pounds heavier than its big brother, the F-PACE. See the 2018 Jaguar E-Pace models for sale near you

A Premium Yet Compact Passenger Compartment

The interior of the E-PACE is pleasantly styled and distinctly fashionable — premium materials on all the touch-points, such as the steering wheel and gear-shift lever, drive the point home. Front passengers face high-resolution configurable digital displays for the instruments and infotainment, while round knobs control cabin temperature, fan speed and audio volume. Ergonomically, the Jaguar works well, although the learning curve for the company’s Touch Pro multimedia system is steep (there are often far too many commands to do simple tasks).

Driver and front passenger sit in supportive bucket seats, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for those who are more than 6 feet tall — I was perfectly comfortable. The second row is definitely compact, meaning adults up front will have to scoot their seats forward a couple inches to accommodate adult passengers in the rear seats (two children should be fine). Three in the second row will be snug. With the second row of seats up, the rear cargo area will hold several 22-inch roller bags and a few backpacks, but not much more.

4-cylinder Power With a Choice of Drivelines

The 2018 Jaguar E-PACE is offered with just one turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but it has been tuned to deliver two levels of horsepower. Most trims (standard, S and SE) are fitted with a 247-hp variant, but with the R-Dynamic option, the premium trims (S, SE and HSE) develop 296 hp — Jaguar says the 0-to-60 mph sprint drops from 6.6 seconds to 5.9 seconds with the higher output. All models are fitted with a 9-speed automatic transmission mated to a standard intelligent all-wheel-drive powertrain.

Satisfying Driving Dynamics and Off-road Capability

The E-PACE sits on the sporty side of the driving dynamics spectrum, with a ride that’s on the firm side of things and handling that makes effortless work of on-ramps and twisty canyons. While the steering is light, and not particularly communicative to the fingertips, its accuracy is unquestioned (I was accustomed to it within a half-hour behind the wheel). Toggle the 4-mode (Normal, Dynamic, Eco and Snow) JaguarDrive Control selector to ‘Dynamic,’ and stability control, throttle response and transmission settings become more aggressive — driving enthusiasts will find the E-PACE most entertaining in this configuration.

Jaguar led us on a route that included a long off-road portion. With minimal suspension travel, the crossover prefers to lift a wheel when things get really rough. However, its electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive system appeared nearly unflappable regardless of the task — most impressive was its ability to charge across a river as murky water flowed all the way up to the base of the windshield. (Note: In a possibly related event, my Europe-market vehicle had its exterior pedestrian airbag deploy inadvertently two hours after the water crossing — Jaguar is looking into the cause.) My money says that if the road has been crudely bulldozed, the E-PACE will get you to your destination.

Selling Jaguar Cachet to a Compact Segment Shopper

With a base price just below $40,000, Jaguar is expecting shoppers to step up to its newest offering by asking them to pay a few thousand more for its E-PACE verses the competition. While that may seem like a challenge, especially considering its tight rear quarters, there’s more than enough substance in terms of technology, amenity and innovation to justify the expense. If your eyes are focused on premium European luxury and you’ve got an adventurous lifestyle and a craving for attractive styling, this new little Brit just may have your name on it.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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