Jaguar enters crowded compact crossover segment with sporty and stylish E-Pace
Leader or follower? Jaguar enters the compact SUV segment Jaguar E-Pace. PHOTOS: JAGUAR

Jaguar has finally entered the compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment. The E-Pace will compete with crossovers such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40.

There are eight variants - six diesels and two petrols. The car tested here is the R-Dynamic S P300, the more powerful of the two petrol versions.

Equipped with MacPherson struts (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension, the all-wheel-drive E-Pace acquits itself fairly well on this French island.

Mountain roads dominate the test route, including a 15km stretch in the Tour de Corse, a round of the World Rally Championships held annually.

With 20-inch tyres (optional), the E-Pace displays abundant grip and balance. Only in really tight corners does it feel unwieldy, a result of its heft. Despite aluminium used for its bonnet, roof and tailgate, the car weighs almost 1.9 tonnes - heavy for a compact model.

There is a hint of understeer, especially if drivers get their cornering lines wrong. But the car's Active Driveline system, which apportions torque between rear wheels according to available grip, works well to keep trouble at bay.

Comfort-wise, the SUV glides over most road imperfections and its noise insulation is excellent.

The E-Pace revels in long, swoopy asphalt and it is here that its 300hp turbocharged 2-litre engine can be put to good use. Zero to 100kmh takes 6.4 seconds and the needle hits 243kmh if you pedal to the metal long enough.

Gear changes on its ZF-sourced nine-speed autobox are a little sluggish when the paddle shifters are used. Leaving it in "D" is preferred.

The steering is sufficiently communicative, with the sportiest Dynamic drive mode offering the most "connected" feel. Drive modes are accessed via a switch near the gear lever.

The looks department is where the E-Pace hits a home run. Inspired by the shapely and most attractive F-Type coupe, the car is a blend of smooth sheet metal, rakish glass and characterful lines. Its high shoulder line and longish bonnet shout "sports car".

The sportiness extends to its cabin, with rotary dials for the climate control, motorsportsinspired chicane line on the dash top, and double-stitched leather upholstery.

In terms of space, the rear will seat two adults fairly comfortably, but only if the front occupants are not too tall. Storage options are aplenty, including a clever configurable cubby box between the front seats. This will accommodate two one-litre bottles or an iPad.

Alluding to the fact that the E-Pace is a smaller sibling of the F-Pace, designers have placed a discreet motif on the lower-right side of the windscreen showing a cub playfully following an adult Jaguar.

In the crowded compact SUV segment, it remains to be seen if this latecomer will be a leader or a follower.