Jaguar in recent years has shifted its focus more toward SUVs—which makes sense considering the market—but that’s come at a price. Namely, the discontinuation of the athletic XE sports sedan after just four years. That model’s departure leaves the subcompact E-Pace SUV as the entry point to the British luxury brand, but in some ways it’s a less suitable ambassador.
The E-Pace shares a platform and mechanicals with the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Range Rover Evoque rather than riding on a modified version of the larger F-Pace’s chassis. Jaguar is known for sultry exterior styling—unfortunately, the E-Pace’s stubby proportions can look awkward from some angles. Styling updates for 2021 help conceal that somewhat, but the E-Pace is still no knockout. The front bumper has been restyled with larger lower air intakes, a revised grille now wears a mesh inlay, and updated headlamps sport new LED running lights.
The interior sees some changes as well, most notably ditching the 2020 model’s 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system for a new, larger 11.4-inch unit that runs Jaguar-Land Rover’s latest Pivi Pro interface. The E-Pace’s steering wheel, shifter, and climate controls are all modified for 2021 as well, and more premium materials are used throughout the cabin, which helps elevate the SUV’s appeal.
On the Road
Entry-level P250 models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 246 horsepower, but our test example was the more powerful P300 Sport, which uses a 296-hp version of that engine. While the more powerful engine did manage quicker acceleration times than the last P250 we tested, its 6.5-second 60-mph sprint still lags behind other performance-tuned rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 (4.9 seconds) and the BMW X2 M35i (4.5 seconds).
The Jag was even further off the mark in our quarter-mile test, where it needed 15.0 seconds to cover that distance, 1.9 more than the speedier BMW. In the real world, the E-Pace’s acceleration is adequate, and the engine is refined and quiet. The nine-speed automatic is indecisive on downshifts, however, sometimes dropping down one gear, then, after a pause, dropping another. The result is some jerkiness when slowing to a stop. Otherwise, the powertrain goes about its business without disturbing the serenity of the cabin.
The E-Pace’s ride is agreeable, even on our car’s upsized 21-inch wheels, and handling is rather spry. The steering feel is artificially heavy, but turn-in is crisp, and the E-Pace feels playful on curvy stretches of road. It’s not as athletic as the XE was, but it offers enough on-road charm to pass for a modern Jag.
The E-Pace’s cabin is roomy for front-seat passengers, with supportive bucket seats, adequate cubby storage, and a comfortable driving position. We also didn’t notice the same bugginess with the Pivi Pro infotainment system as we have in other recent Jaguar-Land Rover products with the same setup. Save for one instance where the system failed to recognize a paired iPhone, everything worked as intended.
The rear-seat area, however, feels unusually cramped even for this subcompact SUV class. Rear-seat riders with long legs will find limited space to tuck their knees; headroom isn’t particularly generous, either. Cargo space is competitive with the segment, but buyers who need more passenger space will find the Volvo XC40 more accommodating.
Jaguar does its best to capitalize on the E-Pace’s cuteness, and its position as the de facto entry-level model, by incorporating several easter eggs in the SUV’s design. Along the windshield frame near the lower left corner is a silhouette of a mother jaguar and her cub; a puddle lamp projects a similar image onto the ground outside the E-Pace upon the driver’s approach at night. The detail work doesn’t stop there, as our E-Pace’s nicely trimmed cabin featured an optional stitched dashboard cover, supple leather upholstery, 16-way adjustable front seats with heat and ventilation, and a rich-sounding Meridian surround sound system with 14 speakers.
Our Caldera Red P300 Sport carried a lofty $59,805 price tag, which highlights the E-Pace’s biggest drawback: It’s expensive. Although it now serves as the entry-level model, the $42,045 starting price for the base P250 is thousands of dollars dearer than key rivals. Although we did notice that our test car turned the heads of the exact cohort of younger drivers it’s been designed to attract, we suspect its price may exclude it from those buyers’ shopping lists. The E-Pace is priced for perfection, and while its virtues speak to our irrational side, its compromises make it hard to justify to our rational one.
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