Another day, another corner-carving SUV.
Jaguar on Thursday took the wraps off its compact E-Pace, the performance brand’s third SUV in two years. The 2018 E-Pace, which will be available next year, joins the hot-selling midsize Jaguar F-Pace and electric I-Pace in Jaguar’s portfolio. Like Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, Jaguar is a sports-car brand that is finding success translating its performance DNA to a broader luxury demographic hungry for utility vehicles.
The five-door, two-row E-Pace was introduced Thursday in spectacular fashion in London, completing a 270-degree corkscrew barrel-roll at the end of a 50-foot jump. The feat was meant to communicate the cat’s agility in the fast-growing compact SUV niche that includes the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and Infiniti QX30.
As ute sales have surpassed sedans, SUVs have become critical to luxury automakers’ bottom lines. Jaguar has made enormous strides on SUVs in a short period – its F-Pace is already the brand’s best-seller. It flies off dealer lots in an average of just 19 days, a faster pace than any model in the U.S. F-Pace sales outsold all Jaguars combined in June, dwarfing its traditional F-Type sports car and XF sedan.
The E-Pace will put added pressure on premium Detroit brands like Cadillac that have lagged in the SUV revolution. It is also a shot across the bow of Porsche and Fiat-Chrysler’s luxury division Alfa Romeo – direct Jaguar competitors who do not yet have compact SUVs in their lineup. Alfa’s first SUV, the midsize Stelvio, hit dealer lots this month. Jaguar expects that the E-Pace – which offers standard all-wheel drive and starts at $38,600 – will bring new buyers to Jaguar at an affordable entry-price point.
Jaguar has been transformed since its sale by Ford in 2008. Under the ownership of India’s Tata Motors, its sales have exploded. “We anticipate (the E-Pace) will see its global sales peak at around 61,500 units during 2019, at which point we see Jaguar's overall volumes standing at 270,800 units,” said IHS auto analyst Ian Fletcher. “This is a far cry from the lows of under 50,000 units that it sold globally in 2011.”
The new cat sports familiar Jaguar design cues pioneered by the brand’s F-Type, including a bold grille, “J-Blade” daytime running lights, muscular haunches and a coupe-like roofline. Inside, the E-Pace gets “grab handles” inspired by the F-Type – for when the passenger needs help coping with the mini-ute’s sports-car handling.
Like other Jaguars, the E-Pace makes extensive use of aluminum for trimming weight. There’s an aluminum hood, roof and tailgate – and the aluminum block of its new family of 4-cylinder Ingenium engines.
But E-Pace is a departure from traditional Jags as well.
It will be the first Jaguar manufactured outside of England – produced alongside its corporate cousin, Range Rover, in China, Austria and a new plant in Slovakia. The Jaguar is expected to share the transverse-engine mounted architecture of the Rover Evoque – a notable change from the longitudinal-engine, rear-drive based platforms of its sports sedans and F-Pace ute.
The move seems to be a nod to making interior room a priority. Interior touches include extensive connectivity featuring 4G Wi-Fi for up to eight devices and four available USB ports.
No Jaguar comes without lots of power for its four paws, and the E-Pace will be no different. It will purr along on two turbocharged, 2-liter engines ranging from 236 horsepower for the base model, to a 296-horse unit. The latter will be available in the car’s sporty, R-Dynamic trim. Both engines will be mated to a 9-speed transmission. R-Dynamic trimmed vehicles will top out at $53,100.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.