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Joy Ride: Jaguar’s new E-Pace SUV has finally arrived

The new baby Jaguar has an 'Attitude' and you're going to want one.

By Fabio Crispim

Ian Callum, designer of Jaguar’s new baby SUV, says “It has an Attitude,” and we’d know. But he’s right. And you’re going to want one.

It went by the code name Project Cub. Well, what else would you call a baby Jaguar?

But that will be the one and only time that much about the all-new, just-arrived Jaguar E-Pace will be considered small. Because, make no mistake about it, for its maker and for the Jaguar brand as a whole, this newcomer is about as big as it gets. Indeed as big as it has ever been.

It’s the numbers game, you see. The Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) market is booming — nearly six million European buyers will be driving them by 2020 — and Jaguar’s first foray into this market sector, the bigger F-Pace that arrived in 2016, is already the fastest-selling Jag ever. It accounted for nearly half of the marque’s UK sales last year. And the new E-Pace — more compact, more accessible and more affordable, with prices that start at £28,500 — will send those numbers soaring.

It will do that because, while it isn’t big, it is clever. And it’s fun to drive, as connected to its driver and passengers — literally and figuratively — as any car has ever been and, best of all, in the metal it’s a really goodlooking car. It’s the smash hit single from Jaguar’s critically acclaimed album.

To put the E-Pace into the context of its contemporaries, it’s the size of an Audi Q5, a BMW X3 or its sister Land Rover brand’s Evoque. That still means room enough for five on board, but within a footprint that has the wheels pushed out to the corners. Visually, it draws more heavily from Jaguar’s own F-Type sports car than its larger F-Pace sibling, starting with the feline headlights, running through muscular haunches and into a be-spoilered tail with lamps that house a crisp chicane graphic.

The interior is culled from the sports car’s territory, too, with a cockpit that envelops the driver and extends to a grab handle that demarcates the pilot’s space. Fit and finish is exemplary, to a real quality standard that some of its more illustrious brethren may need to match.

It’s a premium product to look at, to touch and to interact with; the heater control dials, for example, move with the precision of an expensive camera lens.

During a press preview drive on the beautiful island of Corsica, the land of 10,000 mountain curves so legend has it, I drove the most powerful diesel and petrol variants, boasting 240PS and 300PS respectively. The diesel is gutsy, torquey and will pull for days, the petrol a bit quicker but occasionally boomier. Both have plenty of vim and are set up to handle crisply, corner flat but feel suitably pliant over broken surfaces. The E-Pace is not quite a Volkswagen Golf GTi, perhaps, but it’s only shades away, which is quite something in an SUV body-shape with all of that versatility and carrying capacity.

An advanced all-wheel-drive system endows the E-Pace with security and stability on tarmac, and a surprising degree of off-road capability that will surely be beyond the needs of most of its buyers — likely to be younger and more upwardly mobile than has previously been typical of Jaguar owners. Amen to that.

The Jaguar E-Pace is 2018’s Dua Lipa on wheels, the kind of car Apple would build had they the wherewithal. Turns out there’s enough attitude for us to share around.

Jaguar E-Pace // from £28,500 // 2.0-litre 16v four-cylinder diesel or petrol engines // 150PS-300PS // nine-speed automatic or sixspeed manual gearboxes // four-wheel-drive //