Skillfully slotted in physical size between the BMW X2 and X3 (or Audi Q3 and Q5, if you’d prefer a different yardstick) is Jaguar’s all-new 2018 E-Pace, a compact crossover SUV that joins the British automaker’s lineup as its new entry-level sport-utility. Playing little sibling to the well-received Jaguar F-Pace is no easy task, but the automaker did its homework – the 5-passenger vehicle delivers everything this segment’s discerning buyer is seeking in one very attractive, cohesive and competent package.

Unmistakable, and attractive, Jaguar styling both outside and in

Jaguar calls its E-Pace a crossover that “blends sports car design with compact SUV practicality.” To visually reinforce that point, the vehicle boasts aggressive styling cues with taut character lines and short overhangs front and rear. The nose features Jaguar’s iconic grill, which is complemented by sleek headlights on each side. Oversized wheels perfectly fill the wheel wells, and the tail end is capped by a pair of prominent oval exhaust outlets finished in chrome. The overall look is stunning – if entered in a beauty contest, the E-Pace is an SUV attractive enough to stand confidently next to the automaker’s gorgeous F-Type sports coupe.

The cabin of the E-Pace is equally as striking. Continuing the sports-car theme, driver and front passenger sit within a wraparound cockpit configured with an attractive mixture of tradition and technology. Familiar round dials control the cabin temperature, fan speed, and audio volume, while high-resolution flat panel displays are used for the main instrument cluster and screen on the center stack. The primary controls are intuitive and effortless to use while driving, but Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, with a pinch and zoom interface that mimics a smart phone, requires multiple steps to accomplish basic tasks – it can get frustrating.

We had zero complaints with the front seats, which are comfortable and very supportive. Even those over 6-foot tall will find them accommodating with plenty of leg, head and shoulder room. The story isn’t as positive in the second row, which is tight for two adults and downright cramped for three. Remember, the E-Pace is a compact crossover SUV. In terms of utility, the Jaguar swallowed a few 22-inch roller bags and backpacks without much effort.

An architecture of steel with sport sedan driving dynamics

As a product of the larger Jaguar Land Rover company, it’s no surprise that the new E-Pace shares architecture with the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport – that’s admirable off-road DNA. However, in a cost-saving maneuver, it veers from Jaguar’s traditional aluminum-intensive construction. Instead, its engineers have opted for a strong steel chassis and reserved alloy materials for several of its exterior panels. Even so, it isn’t light. The 4,175-pound E-Pace tips the scales about 150 pounds heavier than the midsize F-Pace.

But don’t be dissuaded by curb weight, as the new Jaguar is surprisingly agile for its mass. Underpinning the SUV is a fully independent suspension engineered to deliver sporty feedback and rear-wheel-drive dynamics. The front suspension design allows additional camber for improved turn-in and minimal understeer, while the rear suspension is compact, so it doesn’t intrude into the cargo space. Most of the suspension components are aluminum, which helps to reduce unsprung weight to improve ride and handling.

Dynamically, the E-Pace drives like a tall sport sedan. The ride is on the firm side of the scale, but it is never harsh. JaguarDrive Control, which is standard in all E-Pace models, offers four unique modes (Normal, Dynamic, ECO, and Slippery) so drivers may tune throttle, steering, transmission, stability control and climate settings to their preferences. Driving enthusiasts trying to squeeze every bit of performance out of the Jaguar crossover SUV will want to use the Dynamic mode, as it is the most responsive. We found Normal to be the best for mixed everyday driving even though the steering effort in this mode is a bit too light for our tastes (however, we grew accustomed to it after an hour behind the wheel).

A choice of engine outputs and capable all-wheel drive

All E-Pace models are fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mounted transversely under the hood. Coined the "Ingenium" powerplant by Jaguar, this home-grown engine develops 246 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque in the standard (Base, S, and SE) models, and 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque in the performance-tuned R-Dynamic (S, SE, and HSE) models. Both variants are mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Mash the throttle and the turbocharged engine has an impressive amount of zip, According to the automaker, the standard models hit 60 mph from a rest in 6.6 seconds while the R-Dynamic models accomplish the same feat in 5.9 seconds.

An intelligent all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring is standard on all models, but the R- Dynamic models are fitted with a premium Active Driveline that can send almost all the engine’s torque to the front or rear axles in extreme conditions – it even allows a skilled driver to drift the E-Pace on low friction surfaces. All Surface Progress Control (ASPC), a type of off-road cruise control, helps guide the Jaguar through slippery conditions at speeds up to 18 mph without any driver input on the throttle or brake, and its standard on all models.

We spent quite a bit of time off-road, putting this new Jag through a battery of tests that included dirt roads, ruts and a deep-water river crossing that had water flowing up to the base of our windshield – obstacles much more aggressive than 99.99 percent of its owners will attempt. That said, there wasn’t an impediment in our way that the E-Pace couldn’t circumnavigate or crawl over. (Note: Our pedestrian airbag, a Euro-only feature, inexplicably discharged 90 minutes after the water crossing. Jaguar was at a lost to explain the incident, but they are investigating.)

Class of 2018: All the new cars and trucks

A miniaturized F-Pace with a bit more sport

After a full day driving Jaguar’s compact SUV, we were left with a very favorable impression. While it’s not the ideal family hauler (choose the larger F-Pace for that role), the new Jaguar E-Pace does a remarkable job mirroring its larger sibling’s best luxury attributes while retaining a unique sporty demeanor in a smaller package. With more cachet than an Audi, and more lavishness than a BMW, the sporty little Jaguar seems to have carved itself a well-honed niche. The premium compact crossover SUV segment is hot right now, and it appears that Jaguar is determined to fuel the fire with its 2018 E-Pace.

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