The Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc E-Pace sports utility vehicle (SUV) is displayed during AutoMobility LA ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, U.S. (Photographer: Troy Harvey/Bloomberg)

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

(Bloomberg) -- Last week on Broadway in Manhattan, I saw a double-decker city bus wrapped in red tartan with a cut-out glass belly showcasing a Jaguar E-Pace. Jonah in his whale couldn’t have been more cozy than that little red SUV looked cruising down the avenue.

It was the perfect seasonal sighting, an update on the now-cliché big-red bow on car in the driveway scene that has dominated car commercials for years.

It was also telling that Jaguar chose the holidays to trot out its midsize SUV, which is 13 inches shorter than the $44,600 F-Pace and 3 inches taller than the $69,500 I-Pace. The E-Pace hits Jag’s sweet spot, and it’s the brand’s best tool for winning more space in the ever-lucrative premium crossover market. While midsize and compact car sales were down by double-digits in December, sales of SUVs and crossovers were up by almost 3 percent year over year, according to Cox Automotive. Their market share rose 17 percent last month year over year.

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

The summary of Cox Automotive’s yearend report said it best: “Most car segments should see double-digit declines from last year as consumers continue to shift towards SUVs and crossovers.”

That tells me that someone you know is likely to be looking for an SUV in the coming months.

Despite the confusing nomenclature—Jaguar’s E-Pace is not electric, even though it starts with “E”; its F-Pace is not a small coupe, even though it’s similarly named to the F-Type; the I-Pace is electric, randomly—the E-Pace deserves strong consideration in the search. Plot it against the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, and Porsche Macan: With a value-conscious price of $38,600 and available performance upgrades (called R-Dynamic), it’ll fit in quite well.

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

I’ve resisted writing about the E-Pace because it’s so straightforward a vehicle that it just seems unexciting. But that’s no fault of the automaker. A car that is solid, safe, semi-stylish, affordable, and reliable may not be sexy, but it’s better than plenty out there, and it’s more than worth our time.

The Look

What we have with the E-Pace is a five-seat compact SUV—the first from Jag—with rounded corners, a more chiseled alternative to Audi but softer than offerings from Volvo, BMW, and Land Rover. The front headlights stretch almost laterally back across the front of the vehicle, visually connecting the tall, flat lattice grille and the standard 20-inch wheels.

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

The roofline is more rounded than flat, ending with a small ledge before coming to a point that meets the hipline of the rear of the car. The design detail is a little bland, much less interesting to look at than, say, the Lamborghini Urus or even the Range Rover Evoque, but they cost a lot more, so the comparison really isn’t fair. 

The dashboard of the E-Pace is spare, divided into two distinct portions. The driver’s side has an automatic shifter and nine-speed transmission, three knobs to control climate and audio, a crisp heads-up display, a 10-inch touch screen, and two round gauges behind the steering wheel jutting out like ships. The passenger’s side has nothing but a small vent on the far right. It’s blank space. This setup is what we call a drivercentric cockpit. I support it.

The Feel

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

As for driving the E-Pace, it’s like getting into a warm pool: plenty comfortable enough to stay in for as long as you like but nothing to get your blood going. I wish it could have a little more bite to the brakes or edge to the body. I wish it jumped to attention a little quicker on the gas.

The engine does have 246 horsepower, just about equal to the 248-hp Macan. Top speed is 143 mph; to get from zero to 60 takes 6.7 seconds. (Others in this category can do it slightly faster, though for the $10,000 or $12,000 more it’d cost, it’s hardly worth the difference.)

The independent suspension system works so well it’s imperceptible; the AWD system controls torque between the front and rear axles to help even the feel of the E-Pace as you drive windy roads. There are four drive modes (Comfort, Eco, Dynamic or Rain / Ice / Snow) that change the resistance as you steer and the throttle as you accelerate. It all makes for a ride that is agile but controlled. Again, it does the job well, covers the distance admirably. Don’t come here if you’re looking for a passionate love, but the Jaguar E-Type will at least be true. 

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

In fact, from the well-done trimming on the steering wheel and seats to the clear, concise controls and the way it brakes and handles, the SUV feels safe and solid both in stop-and-go traffic and driving on the open road.

So was my initial hesitation borne out?  Well, yeah. The E-Pace is indeed ho-hum, all things considered. Nothing to see here. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also a trustworthy choice in a market dominated by the usual German faces (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche). There’s nothing wrong with those, but this nice Brit offers a valid counterpoint.

And one car critic’s yawn is another soccer mom’s Saturday night rowdy—I realize I’m speaking from an odd reality here. According to Jaguar, 90 percent of its early orders on the E-Pace have been from people new to the brand altogether. Value counts for a lot, even in the premium segment, and the Jaguar E-Pace packs plenty. That recognition is because of a lot more than just that red tartan bus. 

The Jaguar E-Pace Is a Solid Contender, If You Can Remember It

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