Corsica, France - Jaguar, the brand with a very long history in cars and just about none with SUVs. It’s only been two years since its first, the F-Pace, landed on the scene but now Jag is looking to expand its high-rider portfolio with a smaller and cheaper offering, the E-Pace.

For this one Jaguar has turned to the Land Rover half of the family, and used the same basic platform that sits underneath the Range Rover Evoque, rather than develop an in-house lightweight chassis as it did with the F-Pace.

Not such a big deal really, so long as kerb weights don’t rank highly in your decision making process. And they probably won’t in this segment. Just know that even though the E-Pace is smaller than the F, it weighs about the same (sometimes even heavier depending on model) thanks to a construction comprising more steel than aluminium.

No matter. It’s size and price which are more important factors here. At 4.4 metres long and 1.6m high the E-Pace will do battle in the premium compact SUV league where it'll soon pick a fight with the upcoming BMW X2 and Volvo XC40.

Parked next to an F-Pace the E does take on a rather diminutive stance. Like a kid sister looking up in awe at its grown up sibling. 

Make no mistake, its youthful nature is purely intentional as Jaguar playfully refers to the newcomer as its ‘cub’. And to nail the point home it’s included some light-hearted frills - there’s a silhouette of a little kitty trailing a mamma cat in the windscreen surround and in the door mirror light projectors, as well as some Jaguar skin animal print in the centre console pads. Tastefully done, if not a tad juvenile.

Price-wise the E-Pace also falls in line with most aforementioned rivals, and when it launches in South Africa in March the five engine, 38 derivative model lineup will range from R601 578 to R901 856.

The model list is long but fairly simple to decipher. All engines are new generation Ingenium 2-litres, kicking off with a 110kW turbodiesel badged as a D150 (as in horsepower output), moving up to a 132kW D180 and topping off with a 177kW D240. On the petrol side we’ll get 183kW P250 and 221kW P300 models.

Within each engine selection is a choice of S, SE or HSE trim grades, and then the same again built on top of R-Dynamic style packs. Then there are special First Edition versions (available for one year only) of the D180 and P250 which come with unique 20” wheel designs, red stitching on black leather and standalone Caldera red paint finishes.

Overseas there will be some bare bones front-wheel drive options with manual gearboxes, but these have been deleted from our market. Here we’ll get all-wheel drive only, and all will be equipped with the same nine-speed autobox as the Evoque.

There are two separate AWD systems though, with most derivatives specced with a simpler setup that can apportion drive from the front to the rear axle as needed. The higher spec Active Driveline does the same, but can divvy power between the left and right rear wheels independently.

At the international media launch held on the French island of Corsica, I sampled the D240 and P300 models on a variety of terrain, including some rocky trails and slithering tarmac roads.

The E-Pace works surprisingly well offroad, 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 the E cruised along in much the same way as its semi-sporting SUV competition, with decent pep and a relatively firm ride (be sure to opt for smaller wheels if comfort trumps handling in your book). The two engines I was able to test were both up to the task of pulling around the heavy body (almost 2 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 the SUV’s able to flik-flak hairpin bends with impressive agility, but there’s zero feel and feedback from the steering. Again, probably not all that important given the segment and target audience, but noteworthy nonetheless.

The nine-speed gearbox also battled with the huge speed variances, and was often flustered with the spread of ratios it has to juggle. There’s a toggle switch in the console to select various drive modes, but the differences in throttle, gearbox and steering response was near imperceptible. If anything Comfort mode was the best for taking advantage of each engine’s broad torque curve.

Jaguar’s inbuilt performance DNA might have us believe the E-Pace balances more on the sporting side of the premium compact SUV field, but it’s a bit flawed in this category. It’s better suited 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 110kW BaseR598 500
2.0 diesel 110kW SR659 900
2.0 diesel 110kW SER698 900
2.0 diesel 110kW HSER734 900
2.0 diesel 132kW BaseR619 500
2.0 diesel 132kW SR680 900
2.0 diesel 132kW SER719 900
2.0 diesel 132kW HSER755 900
2.0 diesel 177kW SR735 100
2.0 diesel 177kW SER774 100
2.0 diesel 177kW HSER810 100
2.0 petrol 184kW BaseR667 800
2.0 petrol 184kW SR729 200
2.0 petrol 184kW SER768 200
2.0 petrol 184kW HSER804 200
2.0 petrol 221kW SR783 400
2.0 petrol 221kW SER822 400
2.0 petrol 221kW HSER858 400

Jaguar E-Pace R Dynamic

2.0 diesel 110kW BaseR632 500
2.0 diesel 110kW SR693 900
2.0 diesel 110kW SER732 900
2.0 diesel 110kW HSER768 900
2.0 diesel 132kW BaseR653 500
2.0 diesel 132kW SR714 900
2.0 diesel 132kW SER753 900
2.0 diesel 132kW HSER789 900
2.0 diesel 177kW SR769 100
2.0 diesel 177kW SER808 100
2.0 diesel 177kW HSER844 100
2.0 petrol 184kW BaseR701 800
2.0 petrol 184kW SR763 200
2.0 petrol 184kW SER802 200
2.0 petrol 184kW HSER838 200
2.0 petrol 221kW SR817 400
2.0 petrol 221kW SER845 400
2.0 petrol 221kW HSER892 400

Jaguar E-Pace First Edition

2.0 diesel 132kWR851 600
2.0 petrol 184kWR895 700

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