Jaguar is continuing with its ambitions in the premium SUV establishment. The F-Pace that launched locally in 2016 has become the outfit’s bestselling range, making it an important cog in the firm’s overall sales growth trajectory.

Earlier in 2018, the company added another feather to its SUV cap in the form of the E-Pace, which is significantly smaller than the F-Pace and is said to take the fight directly to the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX and Mercedes-Benz GLC, so it has its work cut out for it.

Unlike its bigger sibling, the F-Pace, which is mostly constructed of aluminium, the E-Pace uses steel for the most part and in spite of its relatively compact proportions, it still weighs a rather portly 1,926kg.

Styling wise, the model cuts a relatively good if a tad softer pose than its F-Pace sibling, but it is a striking looking thing with F-Type sports car design cues such as the swept-back headlights and rear light clusters. Our R-Dynamic test unit also featured 20-inch alloy wheels and R motifs on the grille, door sills and leather-bound multifunction steering wheel.

The cabin continues that F-Type theme with a similar grab handle to the left of the gear lever, while electric leather seats featured heated and cooled functionality. Overall space is relatively good, although the rear quarters seem to lose out to German rivals on the headroom front, while the boot at 480l is above average in the segment.

The interior features F-Type styling cues as well as reasonable levels of space and equipment. Picture: JAGUAR SA
The interior features F-Type styling cues as well as reasonable levels of space and equipment. Picture: JAGUAR SA

Matrix headlights worked a treat in lighting up the road ahead without dazzling oncoming cars. The infotainment screen, though, leaves much to be desired as it is angled in a way that makes it impossible to read in direct sunlight, while the actual user interface is a tad slow to respond to inputs.

Our test unit, the D240 HSE, is the flagship diesel variant, powered by the company’s 2.0l twin-turbo diesel engine that makes 177kW and 500Nm via an eight-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive. Much like our experience from the Velar we drove earlier in the year, this is an engine that is more charming on paper than it is in application, certainly in an urban environment.

Turbo lag seems to be an inherent Achilles heel of the engine, with almost nothing happening below 2,500r/min, with power always delivered in a peaky and jolting manner that requires you to stomp on the throttle more than you should.

Urban speed bumps also seem to trip up the engine, where the transmission has to think what should be the optimal gear to use, momentarily stifling any forward progress. Ditto when taking a gap in traffic, which could find you feeling the wrath of the driver behind you.

I have a suspicion that the stringent carbon emissions rules that are about to come into effect in Europe have a bearing on the engines, where manufacturers are trying to comply without compromising on performance, but as evidenced in this engine, it is somewhat of a struggle to strike a working balance.

Open road driving, however, is where this engine truly comes into its own with superb flexibility and mounds of overtaking torque on tap.

Fuel consumption hovered around the 9.4l/100km, which considering the weight of the vehicle and its all-wheel drive traction, was more than acceptable. Damping is fairly good, while handling is neutral for the most part although the vehicle felt more than eager to be chucked into corners, displaying relatively little body roll while steering feedback was quite good.

In isolation, the E-pace looks like a great attempt at the compact SUV segment, however, it is pitched against some fairly accomplished models with the BMW X3 xDrive20d decidedly the model to beat.

For those who are intent on owning a Jaguar, then the E-pace is great, but it is a pity about that infotainment screen and the turbo lag of the engine. Also, go easy on the options as things can quickly get rather expensive as evidenced in our test car that came in at R950k, almost R100k over the list price.