Pretoria - Jaguar’s new compact E-Pace SUV, sometimes playfully referred to even by the maker as its ‘cub’, has arrived in South Africa with a bewildering line-up of no less than 38 variants.

But before you reach for the headache powders, it’s all quite logical - so let’s unpack the E-Pace line-up, or should that be ‘litter’ - after all, what else can you call three dozen little Jaguars?

It starts with engines - a choice of two-litre turbopetrol or turbodiesel Ingenium fours, in two or three different states of tune. The oil-burner comes in 110kW, 132kW and 177kW formats, while the sparker is set up for either 184kW or 221kW - the latter good for 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 243km/h; this kitten has claws.

Each drives all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission, and the top models are also available with Active Driveline - an intelligent torque-biasing system that, according to Jaguar, combines rear-wheel drive dynamics with the traction of all-wheel drive.

Then you have to choose between the standard and sportier R-Dynamic body styles, and four levels of interior trim - Base, S, SE, or HSE.

But even the Base spec includes a 25cm Touch Pro customisable infotainment display with voice control, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, LED headlights, up to four 12-volt charging points, five USB ports and a 4G  and 4G Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices.

Optional extras include a 30cm digital instrument panel, head up display, a choice of two Meridian premium sound systems and a wearable ‘activity key’ - a waterproof wrist strap that lets you lock the main key in the car while you go riding or running.

So, what’s it like to drive?

Jesse Adams drove the top 177kW diesel and 221kW petrol models on a variety of terrain, including some rocky trails and slithering tarmac roads, at the international media launch on the French island of Corsica.

“The E-Pace works surprisingly well off-road,” he wrote, “maybe even better than the Evoque on which it’s based. Dirt busting abilities will be limited by wheel size and tyre profile, but even with big 20 inchers (sizes range from 17 to 21) on our test cars the SUV managed to clamber up some fairly tough obstacles without scraping undercarriage or shiny bodywork.”

“Out on the road it cruised along in much the same way as its semi-sporting SUV competition; the two engines were both up to the task of pulling around the heavy body (almost two tons in the diesel), and both made tasty grumbles under acceleration, even if most of it was produced electronically through the speakers.”

“Some of the tarred portions of the test route involved actual World Rally Championship special stages, but here the E-Pace faltered somewhat under pressure. There’s plenty of grip, and it flick-flacks hairpin bends with impressive agility, but there’s zero feel and feedback from the steering. The nine-speed gearbox also battled with the huge speed variances, and was often flustered with the spread of ratios it has to juggle.

“The E-Pace is better suited,” he concluded, “to family-friendly urban life, with occasional jaunts in the bush. Either way it’s a worthy contender in a seriously tough category.”

PRICES

Jaguar E-Pace

2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) Base R601 578
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) S R662 978
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) SE R701 378
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) HSE R737 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) Base R622 578
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) S R683 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) SE R722 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) HSE R758 978
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) S R739 888
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) SE R778 888
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) HSE R814 888
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) Base R673 956
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) S R735 356
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) SE R774 356
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) HSE R810 356
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) S R790 354
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) SE R829 354
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) HSE R865 354

Jaguar E-Pace R Dynamic

2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) Base R635 578
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) S R696 978
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) SE R735 978
2.0 diesel D150 (110kW) HSE R771 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) Base R656 578
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) S R717 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) SE R756 978
2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) HSE R792 978
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) S R773 888
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) SE R812 888
2.0 diesel D240 (177kW) HSE R848 888
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) Base R707 956
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) S R769 356
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) SE R808 356
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) HSE R844 356
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) S R824 354
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) SE R852 354
2.0 petrol P300 (221kW) HSE R899 354

Jaguar E-Pace First Edition

2.0 diesel D180 (132kW) R-Dynamic SE First Edition   R854 678
2.0 petrol P250 (184kW) R-Dynamic SE First Edition R901 856

These include emissions tax, a five year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.

IOL Motoring