Good: style and ambience of First Edition, excellent road-holding
Not so good: not powerful enough, too expensive in this guise
Let's try to put the €76,270 price (yes, really) of our rather alluring Jaguar E-Pace test car to one side for the moment, as it seems ludicrous to have a model costing €32,000 more than another powered by the same engine, never mind the massive €40,000 chasm between this First Edition version of the E-Pace and the cheapest in the line-up. Ok, virtually nobody will pay €36,000 for an E-Pace, and that bottom-of-the-rung variant has a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, plus a none-too-speedy 150hp variant of the company's 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine under the bonnet. We'd highly recommend going for the excellent nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive (AWD), along with, at a minimum, the 180hp diesel option, as it feels adequately powerful rather than sparkling. Yes, it costs a little more to tax, but not so much that it should come into the decision-making process. For what it's worth, the engine is smooth enough, but not as quiet as we'd like, though the automatic is really good.
But the E-Pace, if you believe the marketing people, is about a lot more than engineering and driving, as with the rest of the sector. Hence the focus on style and giving the E-Pace a personality of its own. This is certainly not just a junior F-Pace. In fact, fitted with the 20-inch First Edition rims, and painted in the Yulong White Metallic Paint (an extra €1,155), it takes a better stab of being an F-Type on stilts than its big brother ever managed. What's more, the E-Pace looks better on the smallest wheels it is offered in than the F-Pace ever did.
I know this is all superficial stuff, but the unstoppable progress of compact SUVs, especially premium ones, is due to buyers' desires, and we all know they're not prioritising efficiency and running costs here: this is all about the image. The E-Pace, for example, has to line up next to the BMW X1 and X2, Audi Q2 (and forthcoming new Q3), the Mercedes GLA, Volvo XC40 and its cousin the Range Rover Evoque and lure buyers away with its wiles. Hence the 'cub' motifs dotted around the car, etched into the base of the windscreen and featuring in the projected puddle lights, for example.
Despite all that, the cabin design has less gimmicks than we're used to from Jaguar and it's all the better for it. Up front, it's comfortable and well put together with easy to see and use controls and dials. The touchscreen is quick to respond and the menu system seems well thought out. The centre console is cleverly designed, too, and can be rearranged as a massive storage area without cupholders, or a still large bin with two solid holders or, finally, with a shallow 'dish' instead of the cupholders. The USB and power ports are found within and if you look closely you'll see that the base of the bin has a cub paw print pattern on it. Cute.
The shape of the dashboard is quite sporting and features an asymmetric 'grab handle' on the passenger's side, just like the Jaguar F-Type sports car. The tactile 'pistol grip' gear selector is used, too, as is a perfectly proportioned three-spoke steering wheel. As with a lot of Jaguar and Land Rover products, unfortunately, the gearchange paddles behind the wheel are a let down because they have a sharp plastic edge due to the way they're made, and your hands regularly find this. Elsewhere, the air conditioning dials are of high quality and allow simple access to the controls for the heated seats, too.
Naturally, some of the equipment you're looking at here won't be on all versions of the E-Pace, but given that, below the limited First Edition, there are standard, S, SE and HSE trim levels (and an R-Dynamic package that can be added to all), it's not badly equipped at all. The minimum specification includes niceties such as one-touch electric windows all-round, automatic wipers and headlights, dual-zone climate control and rear vents, the 10-inch Touch Pro touchscreen infotainment system, five power sockets, heated door mirrors, LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, rear view camera, cruise control with speed limiter and parking sensors front and rear.
That seems auspiciously generous when you consider that entry-level price, doesn't it? Given the target market, I'd expect more buyers to upgrade the equipment count rather than shell out on a better powertrain. Those that enjoy driving will really appreciate the E-Pace's chassis, though, as it's rather good, making this one of the better SUVs to drive for the fun of it. That should be no surprise given the platform is shared with the Evoque, established as an SUV with keen driving dynamics and driver engagement. The E-Pace is very similar on the road, mixing exceptional body control with perfectly acceptable levels of comfort and bump absorption, even on 20-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli tyres.
What's more, the E-Pace is cheaper than the equivalent five-door Evoque. Just perhaps not in First Edition guise...