This week, Drive Life went to the launch for the new compact SUV from Jaguar, the 2018 EPACE. Jaguar is hoping that the EPACE will take buyers from models like the BMW X2, which it has firmly in its targets.

Jaguar is calling the EPACE, “The Ultimate Compact Practical Jaguar Sports Car”. It’s hard to say how many would agree that an SUV – even a compact SUV – could be called a sports car, but it gives Jaguar a point of difference over its rivals – if it can pull it off.

Launch Time

First up for the launch was the delivery of info on the car, and on Jaguar’s future here and overseas. Jaguar claims that by 2020, there will be a hybrid and/or electric version of every model they sell. That’s just 2 years’ time.

It was surprising to some then that the EPACE comes with a petrol or diesel option – and no hybrid or electric options. Apparently there just wasn’t enough time to engineer a hybrid model in the timeframe that they wanted to get the car to market.

Jaguar told us that the EPACE “is very much based off the F Type”, and will be their highest selling car (by volume) car here – they expect to sell 250 units in New Zealand in the first year, as long as they can get the cars.

Apparently the EPACE has class leading storage, with lots of cubbies throughout the cabin. There’s also been lots of development in the connected technologies of the car, and this includes remote climate control, remote car status, remote lock/unlock, and finding your EPACE via a smartphone app.

Still in Connected Services, each EPACE has two emergency buttons on the roof; one button is for breakdowns or flat tyres, and will call the AA automatically if you press it. The other button is for an accident type of emergency, and will call an emergency service for you.

The media display is a 10” touchscreen with scrolling, pinching and zooming, and the car has a WiFi hotspot. Just put a SIM card in (from any provider) and your passengers can use the hotspot (charges from your cell provider apply, naturally).

It was interesting that Jaguar are hanging in there with two diesel engine options, while other manufacturers are dumping diesel altogether, or having just one diesel option.

Michael Jones from Jaguar Land Rover New Zealand says, “We still think there’s a market for diesel for our buyers. There’s still a torque element you don’t get with a petrol. We expect a split of 60/40 petrol/diesel in our sales of the car.”

New Zealand will be getting three versions of the EPACE, apparently to keep things simple. You can purchase from a long list of options to spec your own EPACE to your needs, rather than buying a package which may or may not have what features you want – although there are packages available. The three versions are the S, R Dynamic S and R Dynamic SE. The S is seen as the ‘comfort’ model while the two R Dynamic versions are more sporty.

The base EPACE S (diesel) starts at $69,900 while the EPACE S petrol is $74,900. AWD is standard on all EPACE models.

Engines start with the D150 fitted to the base S version – a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel-turbo putting out 110kW of power and 380Nm of torque. There were no D150 diesel models to drive during the launch. The petrol engine in the EPACE S is the P250 – a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol twin-scroll turbo putting out 184kW of power and 365Nm of torque.

The R Dynamic diesel at $79,900 has the D180 motor, still a 2-litre, 4-cylinder, diesel-turbo but this one pushes out 132kW of power and a healthy 430Nm of torque.

If you buy a petrol R Dynamic S, the motor is the same P250 as the R model and the price is the same as the diesel, $79,900.

The R Dynamic SE is available in petrol only, with the P250 motor priced at $84,900 and the P300 motor at $89,900. The P300 motor is again another 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder twin-scroll petrol motor but putting out 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque. None were available for us to drive during the launch.

All EPACEs are fitted with a 9-speed automatic.

Things like LED headlights, 10-way heated electric leather front seats, 360-degree camera, parking assist (parallel and perpendicular), and torque vectoring control are standard across both models. A real shame and quite surprising that adaptive cruise control and a powered tailgate are only standard on the top spec SE model. These are available as options on the lower models.

We then watched a video from Ian McCallum, one of the car’s designers. He explained the little Jaguar touches on the car, like the mother-and-cub jaguars on the windscreen, and the ‘chicane’ detailing all around the car – on the taillights, dashboard, side design and headlights. The video told us, “Birds Fly, Fish Swim, Jaguars Roar”. Does it roar? Only a test drive will prove that one.

The EPACE was then revealed to us, and it does look good. Yes, it looks like a compact SUV, but it does have some styling touches from the F-Type that you can easily pick out.

Not sure about that washed-out grey colour…

Time to hit the road

Enough talk, time to drive from Auckland Airport to Piha to see how sporty the EPACE really is. I drove first, and my passenger grabbed a base S model with the diesel engine. After a long run of petrol-engined test cars, it was refreshing to get back into a diesel. Man, that diesel motor can move. Quiet too, almost like a petrol engine. The instant torque made it a pleasure to drive on the motorway, with passing just a small touch on the gas pedal and the EPACE would surge forward. Lovely engine. The gearbox too was spot on, all nine speeds of it. Just like the X3 I recently tested, it was always in the right gear at the right time.

Getting to Titirangi, we stopped and switched seats, which gave me a better chance to see how the interior has been designed. We were surprised by a few things that seemed missing – the base model EPACE doesn’t have a driver’s foot rest, so your foot is left hanging there.

I missed having auto-hold for the car at the lights, and even the top-spec model doesn’t have this.

There’s quite a few hard plastics in the cabin, all around the dashboard and on the centre console and doors.

In saying the above, it’s a nice cabin. It still feels expensive, and build quality looks as good as you would expect it to be. There’s some nice Jaguar touches, like the rubber mats in front of the selector and at the bottom of the cup holders, that are embossed with jaguar paw prints.

It is quite dark in the base model interior though; the headlining is black and with no sunroof it feels quite, well – cosy.

Getting to our first checkpoint, we switched over to a top-spec car with the petrol engine, with me driving the first half through the twisties out of Piha and back to Titirangi. While I love that diesel motor, the petrol engine is a totally different beast. It just wants to go. It’s actually noisier than the diesel motor, and while it doesn’t have that same instant pickup, it’s a whole lot of fun to drive. I switched the car into Dynamic mode for the drive through the much twistier bits, and the car did well. Sporty? Yes, to a point. There’s not too much steering feedback, even in Dynamic mode, but it was fun to chuck about.

Diesel or petrol? Either – both are great, but the diesel still wins it for me. Smooth, quiet, and oh so torquey.

The R Dynamic has a panoramic sunroof, and this transformed the interior from too dark to just nice. The model we were driving was actually a ‘First Edition’ version, of which there are just 12 in the country, and once they are gone, that’s it. This means it’s actually above the R Dynamic SE in specifications. These First Editions are $99,900.

Other than the panoramic sunroof, the interior felt very similar to the S model, although there was a much bigger range of adjustments on both front seats (18-way), including electric adjustment for the seat cushion and electrically adjustable side bolster support.

It was over all too soon, and we were back at base.

Switching cars to the petrol version – not the F-Type

So, the EPACE. Verdict?

It has potential to be in the running in the XC40/X2/Q2 space. For some, this could be their entry into the Jaguar world of cars.

This is a busy market segment to be playing in. Can the Jaguar run in it? We’re aiming to do a full test on an EPACE as soon as we can – a week with the car will tell us if it’s worthy or not.

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