2018 Jaguar E-Pace P250 AWD

No cat metaphors were harmed in the writing of this review. You are perhaps as relieved to read this as we are to write it. What we must tell you, however, is that after a string of very fine all-new vehicles that includes its first-ever sport-ute, the F-Pace, Jaguar’s second attempt, the E-Pace, leaves us a bit wanting.

For starters, we wanted a more luxurious interior and even more upscale materials for the $54,190 price. That said, there are bright spots—literal and figurative—in the silver trim surrounding the climate-control vents, around the gearshift, below the door pulls, and elsewhere. The seats and the dashboard are handsomely trimmed—especially nice are the quilted leather seats, exclusive to the optional 18-way Windsor leather seat package in our test example—but the matte-black plastic bezel around the infotainment touchscreen is dull and uninspiring, and the leather wrapping the steering wheel is put to shame by that of the Jeep Compass.

We also wanted shift paddles (they’re offered on the more powerful, P300 R-Dynamic model). In a vehicle trading on its maker’s reputation for sportiness, the omission is a small yet telling detail. With nine speeds on tap, we occasionally found ourselves wanting to drop down a gear or two for an extra bit of go, only to fumble futilely at the backsides of the steering-wheel spokes. The BMW X2and the Volvo XC40 have paddles; so does the Honda Accord, for that matter. You can at least manually select gears with the shift lever, and said gearchanges are smooth and crisp. Moving from park, reverse, or drive, however, can be tricky due to the fussiness of the shift-lock button on the lever itself.

Less weight would be nice, too. At 4223 pounds, the E-Pace is 537 pounds heavier than a BMW X2 xDrive28i and 369 more than a Volvo XC40 T5 AWD that we’ve recently put through our testing regimen. Those extra pounds didn’t help our E-Pace P250 AWD’s 246-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four in the zero-to-60-mph contest, where it did the deed in 7.2 seconds (versus 6.4 seconds for the X2 and 6.5 for the XC40). That mass also contributed to both the longest braking distance from 70 mph at 184 feet (against 169 feet for the BMW and 175 for the Volvo) and the least amount of grip on the skidpad at 0.83 g versus 0.91 g for its German competitor and 0.85 g for the Swede. It’s worth noting that the Bimmer wore summer tires, while both the Jaguar and the Volvo were equipped with all-seasons.

The EPA estimates 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the E-Pace P250; in our real-world 75-mph highway test, we recorded 27 mpg. After nearly 1000 miles, in conditions that included stints of more spirited driving, the E-Pace returned 18 mpg, some 25 percent worse than its EPA combined estimate of 24 mpg. As with any vehicle, your mileage will vary based on how mild or wild your driving style is.

On Paper and On the Road

Now that we’ve piled on the demerits, here’s the surprise: Through some sort of clever alchemy, Jaguar has created a vehicle that is greater dynamically than its numbers suggest. The E-Pace performs marvelously while being tossed around on the whoop-de-doos and hurly-burlies of the rural back roads that compose our 10Best test loop. Its relatively low grip makes it easy to slide around with impunity, while the accurate and progressive steering allows for simple course corrections before things go horribly wrong. The engine has a delicious growl at wide-open throttle, and it revs eagerly to its redline. “Frisky” is the word that comes to mind after a romp in the E-Pace.

The E-Pace is equally competent on the highway, where it is comfortable and cruises quietly with little wind noise to disturb the cabin. Driving over imperfect pavement, however, caused an unrefined ruckus from the front suspension. The ride isolation was good; the troubling part was the awful noise that made it sound as if the suspension were coming apart. The front seats are comfortable, and the rear seats offer acceptable legroom, with their lower cushions providing good underthigh support. The light-oyster leather made the cabin look airy, a sensation enhanced by the expansive sunroof overhead. In terms of cargo room, the Jag tied with the Volvo for number of carry-on boxes (six) with the rear seat in use but lagged behind the Swede with the rear seat folded (17 versus 23).

Glitchy, Glitchy, Goo

Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system is on duty in the E-Pace, with a 10.0-inch touchscreen featuring tiles that include a touch of whimsy: The tile to connect your phone bears an image of the iconic red telephone booths that once dotted the British landscape. There’s navigation and a Wi-Fi hotspot (standard on the S trim level and up). The system’s response times earned a “fair” rating in our testing, but touch too many buttons in succession and the system slows. The lack of redundant hard buttons is disappointing, and given our history with this system’s tendency to freeze up or black out completely, we’re less than optimistic about its long-term robustness.

In a similar vein, some of the active-safety tech proved not quite ready for prime time. The forward-collision warning misfired on two separate occasions, and the steering wheel challenged us to a wrestling match when the lane-keeping assist wouldn’t let us switch lanes despite the turn signal being activated and the lane open.

Now about the price. As Queen Elizabeth II might say, “Bleeding hell, Philip, that bugger costs how much?” The midrange P250 SE trim that we tested starts at $45,295, and our vehicle came with a hefty dollop of options that lifted the final tab beyond $54,000. Those extras ranged from the previously noted 18-way power-adjustable front seats swathed in quilted leather ($1530) to 20-inch 10-spoke wheels ($1430), the fixed panoramic sunroof ($1225), and heated front and rear seats ($1020) all the way down to $100 for the power liftgate.