Wheel Life

By Steve Siler –

2018 Jaguar E-Pace & Jaguar XF Sportbrake

The charming, cute ute joins a sleek sport wagon in a reinvigorated Jaguar.

Not long ago, Jaguar was pawning nostalgically styled sedans and slinky sports coupes to the pipe-and-slippers set. But particularly since Ford Motor Company absolved itself of the Jaguar brand (and Volvo and Aston Martin and Land Rover, too) in 2009 as it skirted a bailout during the recession, the four-wheeled felines from Coventry have emerged as healthier, happier and more youthful-looking creatures. And no longer is Jaguar limiting itself to sedans and sports cars, with its first-ever SUV, the mid-sized F-Pace, arriving for 2017 and promptly snatching the 2018 World Car of the Year award. For 2018, it has added two more ostensibly utilitarian models America has never seen from Jaguar: a compact SUV called the E-Pace that’s destined to become Jaguar’s best-selling vehicle in history, and a low, slinky wagon that most certainly won’t.

While Jaguar has arrived late to the crossover game, it’s made up for lost time with its phenomenal, mid-sized F-Pace arriving in early 2016 with seriously entertaining dynamics and unique and appealing looks, and less than two years later, adding a second, smaller ute—Jaguar internally called it “the Cub” during development—the E-Pace. And after experiencing the E-Pace at its global media launch program in southern Corsica, it appears just as terrific.

In contrast to the same-sausage, different-size tack BMW and Audi take with their crossover offerings, Jaguar didn’t merely scale down its F-Pace and hit the pub. And if Jaguar gets kudos for originality, it deserves a standing “Bravo!” for making such a stubby, tall hatchback look so dapper and lithe. While certain styling cues—the headlamps, taillamps, and the pointy side window treatment aft of the doors—were borrowed from the F-Type sports car, what gives the E-Pace such grace are its muscular rear haunches. Those sexy hips place it some three inches wider than its primary competitors, but without them, the E-Pace would certainly look cheaper and more ubiquitous—and if there’s one thing the world doesn’t need now, it’s another cookie-cutter crossover.

Inside, the E-Pace shares most of its displays, controls and technology with other Jags, and the slinky F-Type once again seems to have influenced its design the most, most notably in the way the low, sloping dashboard’s clever Abrace on the center console gives the driver a cockpit-like feel whilst giving the passenger something to grab in turns. The only overt shortcoming involves tight rear legroom, but then, most crossovers in this class suffer the same way. Cargo space, however, is generous—again, thank you, hips.

Ironically, the soggy weather on my drive day seemed more in line with England than a remote Mediterranean Island, but fortunately, Jaguar’s new “cub” proved eminently unafraid of water. And thanks to input from Jaguar’s sister company, Land Rover, after all, the E-Pace is unafraid of mud or rocks or sand, either, proving its mettle at two challenging off-road venues during our day.

That said, it’s definitely more at home on pavement, demonstrating spectacular dexterity on the skinny and relentlessly twisty Corsican roads Jaguar chose for our drive. Indeed, the barrage of switchbacks and sweepers and hills eventually wore me out, though not the car. As the day went on, the feedbackrich steering and confident braking had me driving more as I would in an F-Type than an F-Pace. The sportier “R Dynamic” model’s more powerful, 296-hp version of the E-Pace’s two turbocharged four-cylinder engines helped, with copious power conjured with little of the loathsome “turbo lag” that often plagues luxury vehicles with small four-bangers underhood.

Having not experienced the 246-hp version, I can’t speak to the R-Dynamic’s subjective advantages, but with a heady $4,750 difference in price, I’d suggest driving both before springing for the faster pussycat. Speaking of prices, the base E-Pace starts under $40K including standard all-wheel drive, while loaded R-Dynamic models should top out near $60K.

While the attractively styled, attractively priced E-Pace is expected to become Jag’s best-selling product ever, not everyone wants crossovers. Beyond the hordes of trendy crossover shoppers exist contrarians, wagonistas and more established wealthy drivers who remember Jaguar’s long, low saloons that oozed class (and sometimes transmission fluid) while devouring miles by the hundreds in utter serenity. For them, crossovers may never offer the appeal of a sleek, capable wagon—especially if it’s fast. Too bad crossovers have crowded most wagons off the market.

Most, but not all. Essentially an all-wheel drive wagon version of the midsized XF sedan we covered in November 2016, the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake matches most of the sedan’s many favorables, from its minimalist interior to its planted handling and luxurious trappings, then adds literally loads more versatility. Some 32 cubic feet of space aft of the rear seats amount to 13 more than the four-door XF and just two cubes less than the F-Pace crossover.

With all seats down, the Sportbrake’s 70-cubic-feet space actually bests its crossover counterpart by six. XF Sportbrake also looks terrific—arguably even more elegant than its sedan counterpart—and exhibits none of the parlor-room stuffiness of yore, particularly in S-model trim (the base trim for now), which gets blackout window trim and huge 20-inch wheels standard.

And yes, it will be fast, boasting the same 380-hp supercharged V-6/eightspeed automatic transmission combo found in the most powerful F-Pace crossover. (Cheaper, less powerful Sportbrake variants are expected down the road, with just as much versatility, if not as much sport, as the early arrivals.) Thus equipped, the XF Sportbrake outmuscles its primary competitor, the Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon, by 51 horsepower.

Jaguar has priced the 2018 XF Sportbrake unapologetically at $71,445 before options, $7K-plus higher than the E400, but that includes the S-model’s sportifications, big wheels, standard leather and wood trim, and more. If that seems steep, consider that, for Mercedes-Benz, the E-Class wagon buyers are among the very richest customers it has. If Jaguar experiences the same with the XF Sportbrake, it may be a niche product for Jaguar, but it’s a good niche to serve.


2018 Jaguar E-Pace
(BASE PRICE: $39,595)
• Sports car styling
• Sports car dynamics
• Stunningly good off-road
• Full of charm and character

2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake
(BASE PRICE: $71,445)
• Contrarian appeal
• Sport sedan athleticism
• More maximum cargo space than F-Pace
• Expensive but exclusive

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