The 2018 Jaguar E-Pace is a noble effort in the quest to make the small crossover SUV/sports car mashup aesthetic work. It’s decent to drive, too. But don’t get too carried away convincing yourself that this is a family-friendly F-Type; the E-Pace’s value proposition is more about style than substance.

(Full disclosure: Jaguar’s people put me on a business class flight from Los Angeles to Paris, another flight, and then another flight to an island in the Mediterranean Sea so that I could be driven out to a romantic villa on the edge of a cliff and left to enjoy complementary carbonated water that came in a wine bottle. I was sick something fierce and spent most of the night hugging a toilet that I’m sure was worth more money than my 300ZX. Twenty four hours later I went home. At some point in between, I drove a highly spec’d-up variant of the E-Pace.)

Thanks in no small part to Indian parent company Tata’s money, the current crop of Jaguars and Land Rovers is light years beyond what either make was offering a decade ago. That’s great but Tata and its shareholders would like some of that money back now, please.

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That’s why Land Rover is making almost-cars and Jaguar is messing with near-SUVs. Compromise cars are what the people demand; everybody surrenders and builds a crossover eventually. (Why fight it, McLaren?)

The E-Pace, like its larger sibling the F-Pace, has been bred to pounce at the jugular of the American automobile market with the promise to be a little version of a little bit of everything: on-road performance, executive car luxury, hatchback utility and go-anywhere capability.

At least, that’s what the brochure says.

What Is It?

It pretty much boils down to a sleeker version of the Range Rover Evoque. Why the company chose to use the letter “E” for this vehicle and not its upcoming electric crossover (that’s been dubbed “I-Pace”) I’ll never understand.

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We do know that the E-Pace is indeed small, barely over 173 inches tongue-to-tailpipes, and made to compete directly with the new BMW X2. That’d put it in the ring with the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA as well, but the Jag reps I spoke to at the E-Pace launch event only explicitly mentioned the Bimmer when asked about rivalries.

What the E-Pace is not is a poor person’s Porsche Macan, which, I’ll admit, I was hoping for. The German crossover, really more of a super hot hatch than a sleek SUV, is larger and more powerful and more expensive, yes, but the E-Pace does just as good a job grafting sports car looks onto a justifiably practical vehicle.

That had me thinking this little cat might be slightly low-key execution of the same idea. In reality it seems more like, the Jag is exciting to look at, but the Porsche is exciting.

Specs That Matter

The U.S. market E-Pace will come in six trims plus a “First Edition” and two power levels: the P250 claiming 246 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, and the P300 R-Dynamic which means 296 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque. Both run a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline-drinking engine of Jaguar’s own design with a nine-speed paddle-shiftable ZF automatic.

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A front-drive based AWD system is available in “Standard” and “Active” versions, the latter of which aggressively pushes power to the rear wheel on the outside of a turn to, theoretically, keep the car tracking with the road as deemed necessary by the car’s complex system of computers and motion sensors.

Torque vectoring by braking is supposed to come into play in such a situation as well, decreasing overall engine torque and slowing certain wheels slightly to correct the E-Pace’s trajectory before it slides out of an overcooked corner.

EPA fuel economy specs for combined driving are 24 and 23 mpg with the P250 and P300, respectively. The data sheet claims the lower-power option tops out at 28 mpg on the highway.

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A colorful 12.3-inch widescreen infotainment system is tucked nicely into the dashboard and runs Jaguar’s reasonably intuitive InControl Touch Pro operating system. Through that you can integrate your phone with the car, sort of, porting some apps to the infotainment screen and turning the phone effectively into a remote key fob.

Once you get the car unlocked, the tailgate can be opened with an optional foot gesture control availing you of 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats.

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The base model E-Pace starts at $38,600 before you get into dealer fees, taxes, titling and registration. The range-topping P300 R-Dynamic HSE has a starting retail of $53,100.

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Jaguar’s people told me that any E-Pace can be ordered with any options. I personally would recommend the black exterior trim kit ($220), tinted glass roof ($1,225) 18-way heated and cooled Windsor Leather memory foam seats ($1,330) and of course rubber floor mats ($369).

What’s Good

The E-Pace could be the segment’s new cover model. It appears fast, but friendly. The front especially is clearly an F-Type derivative, in a good way, while creating its own distinctiveness. Jaguar’s designers did wonders sculpting the Evoque platform into a fresh and fun looking machine.

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The interior’s a little plain and let down by a few weak material choices—the plastics in the center console don’t look luxury grade to me—but the aggressive passenger grab handle and robot finger shifter add a nice air of bad ass. Be brave and pick the red interior if you really want the car to feel vivacious.

In low-speed urban driving, the car feels competent and awake. Acceleration from a slow roll to just beyond the speed limit is reasonably satisfying and believe it or not, so is the sound produced by the E-Pace’s humble 2.0-liter turbo.

I can’t tell you how the crossover is on the highway because Corsica’s roads are too tight for cruising speeds, but I’m happy to report that a full work day in the seats of an E-Pace flies right by.

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Speaking of sitting, this vehicle’s seat heaters are some of the most impressive rump roasters I’ve ever experienced in any car. The seat heater can be activated instantly by hard-pressing the physical temperature knob, and on setting three of three the seat becomes uncomfortably hot in what seems like no time at all. Climbing into this car after a day of skiing would be glorious.

What’s Weak

The E-Pace is a front-wheel drive vehicle that can transmit almost all of its power to its rear wheels via clutches. Through the miracle of the Active Driveline mentioned earlier, it’s supposed to be able to shift energy aft-ward and left or right as needed to scrub out understeer in aggressive cornering while torque-vectoring braking supplements for even greater stability.

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But in anything resembling real spirited driving, the E-Pace wants to wash out and run wide like any other 4,000 pound front-wheel drive vehicle.

Could a racing driver utilize the torque vectoring system more effectively than me and keep the car in traction more easily than they could a full front-wheel drive? Yeah, I’m sure they could. But racers aren’t exactly the E-Pace’s target demographic. And for banging around twisty back roads, the E-Pace is a lot of work to drive hard without offering much payoff in fun.

The steering’s nicely weighted though, especially in the slightly more excitable Dynamic mode, and throttle response seems direct. But the E-Pace starts to feel uncomfortable when you link a lot of tight turns together and it never really lets you forget how tall it is.

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Spanking the E-Pace P300 R-Dynamic up and down Corsica’s mountain roads felt like flogging a fully insured vacation rental car. Initially thrilling, quickly tiring, and by the tenth time your luggage rolls across the cargo bay you’re wondering: “why am I doing this?”

Now part of me feels like a bully here, knocking what is really meant to be a small practical luxury car for being too soft for canyon carving duty. On one hand, I mean, of course it is. But at the same time, if you put the face of an F-Type on something and have a switch with a checkered flag on the console, certain expectations are going to be set. And the E-Pace comes up short on pure driving pleasure.

Early Verdict

If you want a practical and reasonable luxury crossover that looks awesome, the E-Pace is suddenly one of your best options. I bet you’ll even catch yourself staring back at it every time you park it.

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But if you’re dreaming of an F-Type and hope this will satisfy that itch without sacrificing utility, stop. Just get a Mazda CX-3, which manages to be more fun, and put the difference toward a used Porsche Cayman. Or something else that offers actual thrills.

Like pretty much everything else in this class of car, it’s a little too soft and heavy to be a back road beast and way too stiff to be enjoyable off-road. It’s plenty nice to do daily driving in, though. And as I can’t help but keep saying- it looks darn good doing it.