Jaguar cub: The compact E-Pace ute debuts in Detroit

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Novi — Call it a Jaguar cub.

The iconic British sports car brand introduced the compact E-Pace sport utility vehicle — its second of three all-new SUVs — to the U.S. market Thursday.

The E-Pace rides the explosive success of Jaguar’s midsize F-Pace, the hottest-selling SUV in the red-hot premium ute market. The brand once known for its slinky sports cars is rapidly transforming itself into a full-line luxury brand to compete against BMW, Audi and Porsche In addition to the $39,595 E-Pace and $43,060 F-Pace, Jaguar is developing a top-of-the-line all-electric I-Pace SUV for production.

“We now have a family of Paces,” Jaguar design legend Ian Callum said at the E-Pace unveiling. “Who would have thought five years ago we’d have three SUVs?”

The all-wheel drive E-Pace will go head-to-head against compact utes like the BMW X1, Audi A3, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Mercedes GLA, Lexus NX and Porsche Macan. After years in the wilderness squandering its early sports car inheritance, Jaguar has been reborn in the last few years under the ownership of India’s Tata. Its F-Type sports car is a runway supermodel and SUVs have hit the luxury market at the right moment.

Jaguar sales set a record for the seventh consecutive year in 2016, riding the tail of the mid-size F-Pace which has quickly become the best-selling Jag ever. The E-Pace starts just $3,465 below the F-Pace, but when properly accessorized should sell in the mid-$40,000 range, said Jaguar boss for North America Joe Eberhardt. The F-Pace typically transacts in the mid-$50,000s.

The new SUV will be available in early 2018.

Like the F-Pace and Jaguar’s gorgeous sedans, the E-Pace takes its design cues from the halo F-Type sports car with signature oval grille, J-blade running lights and a tapered, coupe-like roof. The E-Pace’s hindquarter’s will be distinguished by so-called “chicane” rear headlamps which will also appear on all future Jags. In a playful touch, Callum’s design team added the silhouette of a Jaguar and her cub in the corner of the windshield.

E-Pace will also be the first cat with a transverse engine, unlike its longitudinally-mounted, rear-wheel-drive siblings. That’s because the E-PACE cub shares the same architecture with the Range Rover Evoq SUV (also owned by Tata) so that it can fit its turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine under a short hood.

“We set the proportions of the car around the big wheels,” said Callum. “With an east-west engine, it has a larger overhang which is a challenge for any designer. We wanted to get some of the real sportiness of the F-Type so we can attract younger people.”

The 2.0-liter powerplant puts out 246 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. A more aggressive version exclusive to sportier, R-Dynamic models will pump out 296 horses and 295 pound-feet.

Inside, the cub will be cozier that the F-Pace, but will feature an upgraded interior with standard 10-inch infotainment screen, optional 15-inch instrument cluster, and a center-console handle for the passenger to seize when the driver wants to test the nimble cat’s limits.

The E-Pace’s introduction in Metro Detroit was a cheeky reminder that European brands are eating Detroit’s lunch in a luxury small truck market that Motown innovated. While Lincoln and Cadillac birthed the large SUV, they are behind in the small crossover market as foreign brands have moved quickly to slake Americans’ thirst for smaller, nimbler family haulers.

“On the premium SUV side, the Detroit automakers have missed the boat,” said Navigant auto analyst Sam Abuelsamid. “Cadillac was there real early with the Escalade, but it’s the Europeans who are making the biggest in-roads with utility.”

Jaguar dealers at the event were over the moon about another SUV. The brand set the tone for its rebirth with the F-Type sports car and sleek XE sedan two years ago, but their sales have been tepid. America wants utes.

“I am very excited about another Jaguar SUV model of this size and caliber,” said George Sharpe Jr. who owns The Sharpe Collection of premium luxury car stores in Grand Rapids. “We’ve seen a degradation of sedan sales in Jaguar and all the brands we sell. It’s a great market entry for Jaguar.”

Jaguar also used the Novi event to unveil a 380-horsepower, $71,445 “Sportbrake” station wagon version of its mid-size XF sedan that will go on sale in 2017. Also joining the litter is the Jaguar XJR575, the brand’s latest full-size super sedan, with a top speed of 186 mph and an equally stratospheric price tag of $123,395. A limited-edition, 300-production run XE SV Project 8 will be available from Jaguar’s SVO performance lab with 592 horsepower. With a huge rear wing to keep it glued to the tarmac at 200 mph, the Project 8 will sticker for $187,500.