2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic Review: A Punchy Little Crossover Getting By on Looks and Charm

In a category of awkward, not-quite-convenient big-small cars, it's hard to rub the shine off the charismatic E-Pace.

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick car review consisting of impressions and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE.

The 2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic, By the Numbers:

  • Base price: $52,850
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, 296 horsepower, 295 pound-feet; nine-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
  • 0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds (manufacturer)
  • Top Speed: 146 mph
  • Cargo volume: 24.2 cubic feet (52.7 cubic feet with folded rear seats)
  • Main competitors: (deep breath)...Audi Q3, BMW X1, BMW X2, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX30, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC40
  • Quick Take: As you can see from the competitor list above, the luxury subcompact SUV class is a bloodsport. The small Jag stands out for its strong, on-brand design, lively driving dynamics, and surprisingly generous cargo space. Jaguar, like the rest of the luxury-car industry, is conscientiously tending to the booming market for hulk hatches.
Josh Condon / The Drive

2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic: Pros

  • Design: This is a handsome car, recognizable as a Jaguar thanks partly to the teardrop roofline, dropped nose, and aggressively arched lights. Even though the E-Pace's tall, sturdy, compacted body seems incongruous to the long, low, lithe models that made the name Jaguar shorthand for sensuous design, the E-Pace R-Dynamic takes the scimitar styling of an E-Type and pounds it into an adorable little war hammer. Aggressive blacked-out touches—wheel wells, mirrors, rims, pillars, and window trim—play well off my tester's rich pearl-white paint.
  • Driving Personality: The R-Dynamic pulls a lot out of the small turbocharged four-cylinder—the E-Pace gets 246 horsepower in base form, but 296 here, along with 295 pound-feet of twist. It's not enough to make the car's 4,175 pounds feel light, but it doesn't want to break stride when it's hustling. (The E-Pace's wheelbase is 2.4 inches longer than the F-Type, but it's three inches shorter than that sports car.) The steering is overweighted and impassively direct, but it's easy to point—you're practically sitting in the engine bay—and when you step on it, the little four-cylinder rumbles to life and makes growly Jaguar noises. The engine tuners out of Coventry must all have been in punk bands at one point.
  • Cargo: 24.2 cubic feet with the seats all up and 52.7 cubic feet with rear seats folded is a lot of usable room for a car this size.
  • Interior: This is more of a hit-and-miss situation, but it's mostly a win. As a general rule, a top-of-the-line Jag feels as wildly extravagant as an inexpensive Jag feels cheap. The R-Dynamic HSE is the top-of-the-line trim on an entry-level Jaguar model, so the results are predictably mixed: the layout is clean and mostly comfortable—the cabin is perched on the nose, pushing the driver somewhat into the wheel well—and there's a nice 15-speaker Meridian sound system and a wi-fi hotspot, but also large swaths of plasticky or rubbery bits, notably around the center stack and passenger dash. When your eyes hit the cheap stuff, you're left with the sinking realization that what you've been paying for is not quite as lovely or elegant as you were led to believe, like when the lights go on in a strip club. The huge moonroof is nice, though, as huge moonroofs tend to be.
  • Standard Safety: Lane-keep assist, emergency brake assist, traffic sign detection, parking sensors front and rear, rearview camera, and drowsiness monitoring. 
  • Infotainment and Displays: The Jag system isn't best-in-class infotainment—that probably belongs to Audi—but the user interface is clean, well-organized, and easy to use, and there are plenty of redundancies for the features you'll use most, like seat and climate control, radio, phone, and navigation. The 10-inch screen and digital gauges are clear and crisp enough, if a bit dull, but they likewise don't overload with information. In a twist, Jaguar decided to take the boldly stupid move of not offering either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (The systems will be coming to JLR products very soon, however.)
Josh Condon / The Drive

2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic: Cons

  • Fuel Economy: Anyone who appreciates what Jaguar does best with cars—charismatic loud fast fun on a lovely chassis—will probably be willing to sacrifice some gas mileage for the privilege, but the 21 city / 27 highway / 23 mpg combined figures are some of the worst in class, without the engine or the performance to justify it.
  • Visibility: Crash and pedestrian safety standards being what they are, there's not much car designers can do about modern vehicles' neck-high belt lines. But Jaguar's elegant but severely domed canopy sacrifices visibility for some interior headroom, especially rearward, and it didn't start with much to begin with.
  • Rear Comfort: Even with the cabin pushed frontward, the roomy cargo area comes at the expense of the back seat, which is flat uncomfortable for any average adult with the usual calcified bones. 
  • Emergency braking warning: What the system lacked in usefulness, it made up for in personality. I couldn't sense any pattern as to when the center console would start start flashing and beeping "Emergency Brake" (or something like that) at me—sometimes when a car was 10 feet away slowing down, sometimes when it was 25 feet away accelerating, sometimes when I was coasting along in flowing traffic, and once when I was stuck unmoving behind the car in front of me, which was also not moving. I started thinking about it like a weirdly bigoted piece of programming that would pop into the cabin at random to shout warnings about the different types of cars it didn't like. Hey, hey, get the hell away from that Buick Regal, you know Buicks don't even pray to William Lyons? Oh, tell me that's not a goddamn Toyota Sienna in front of us!

2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic: Value

I don't care how the industry categorizes an E-Pace, this is a car—a bulbous high-riding sedan with a huge, tall trunk. That's what the whole subcompact crossover category is. I have a hard time imagining people who want to buy bulbous high-riding sedans with huge tall trunks—what they need, how they use the vehicle, which online shopping assistant they use for their crisply anonymous office attire and sensible loafers. I keep coming back to single, 30-year-old, low-level corporate achievers making exurban commutes, perhaps appreciating what the car is capable of but still using it mostly as a leased status symbol. Or, possibly, two married, 35-year-old mid-level execs with his-and-hers models, at least until the kid comes. 

So, to determine value, first one must suss out what those buyers want and what they don't. Pure driving joy is likely not the first priority among people buying bulbous high-riding sedans with huge tall trunks, though it may be on the list. The Jag neatly fits the bill; it's not as soulful to drive as the XE sedan, but surefooted and eager to get after it. Looks are probably important among these buyers, but probably not in the traditional sense. The E-Pace can't be described using words found in traditional Jaguar design language—ideas like "short," "squat," "tall," and "compacted" wouldn't register. Yet this car is recognizably a Jaguar, and not only that, it's damned handsome. I don't know how Ian Callum & Co. pulled it off. 

Also, among people who drive bulbous high-riding sedans with huge tall trunks, getting in and out comfortably—without undue bending of the knees or folding of the body—is presumed to be quite important. The E-Pace fails in that regard in the back, with its narrow rear door opening. Though this might be designed as a deterrent to anyone actually trying to fit into the back seat, which is not recommended. 

All that aside, here's the question I have about the whole category, largely comprised of far more generic vehicles than this Jag: If you're shopping around for an entry-level status-symbol commuter car that sits high in traffic, and you're not trying to pack kids in the back—maybe a dog or some gym bags, at most some friends on the short ride to the beach—why the hell not go for the one that's the best-looking and most fun to drive? I don't care how "sensible" people insist these things are; except for ingress and egress and better cargo space, subcompact SUVs are not, in any sense, practical cars. In the absence of practicality, then why not have a couple extra servings of personality?

Josh Condon / The Drive

2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic: The Bottom Line

The Jaguar E-Pace is a slick machine, a different class of handsome from its competitors, including the smart Volvo XC40. It has solid infotainment and display and a proclivity for the fast stretches, as far as bulbous high-riding sedans with huge tall trunks go. In a category of not-entirely-practical machines, Jaguar seems intent on staking a claim as the most impractical—no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, poor fuel economy, a nominal back seat—seeming to bet the E-Pace's forceful charisma and punchy sex-tank design will charm the romantics. 

And why not? If you're already in the market for something not entirely practical, you're probably an easy mark for the up-sell to good-looking, charismatic, and fun. This is what Jaguar has always done so well: get the mood lighting right and sell the sex, not the pillows. Somehow, in the notably frumpy subcompact luxury crossover category, it's managed to do it again.