Test Drive: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace SUV

Courtesy Jaguar

The winding mountain roads of Corsica offer a high-octane automotive challenge.

I’m high up in the mountains around the small village of Zonza, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, driving the new 2018 Jaguar E-Pace compact SUV. I’m on a two-lane road that curves off in a new arm-crossing direction every few yards, whipping around boulders that anoint nearby peaks like massive, round crowns. There is a lot to like about the E-Pace, but at this moment I appreciate a technical point. I don’t have to muscle the R-Dynamic S variant; I’m driving through all these tight turns thanks to a brake-based torque vectoring system that automatically corrects for understeer to keep me on my intended path. In practice, this means the chassis doesn’t dip into a curve, so the ride stays smooth and level. It works much better than just my arms, which have already received an hour’s long workout just from turning the steering wheel.

That smooth ride is crucial because the E-Pace is a family-oriented, all-wheel-drive vehicle—even if the design leans heavily on the F-type sports car made by the English marque. The exterior of my E-Pace is a ghostly Borasco Grey that looks cut from a fuselage. But the Mars-red interior highlights the sports car design influence, with a line across the top of the dashboard that mimics the chicane of a racetrack. A front passenger grab handle adds to the sports car racing motif, marking the border of the comfortable wrap-around driver’s cockpit. The E-Pace is pretty quick, hitting the 60 mph mark in 5.9 seconds thanks to a turbocharged, four-cylinder 296 horsepower engine, managed by an automatic nine-speed transmission. But it doesn’t have that instantaneous sports car acceleration when it comes to overtaking traffic on a two-lane road.

Courtesy Jaguar

The Jaguar E-Pace does excel on dirt roads a typical sports car would fear to travel. I spent the previous night at the Domaine de Murtoli, a 6,000-acre estate, with a restaurant in a cave that counts Neanderthals among its previous diners. There are 17 rustic dwellings—think farmhouses with traditional red-tiled floors and chestnut timbers overhead—updated with pools and wifi, situated along a private beach and hidden away amongst the lush marquis. Many of the buildings date back to the 17th century, as do the shepherd-oriented roads. But the E-pace proves to be a nimble off-pavement ride—the low speed cruise control is especially useful here--to the surprise of the numerous black, heavily-muscled wild boar that roam the property. (Unsurprisingly, wild boar stew is on the locally sourced menu.)

In fact, hearty Corsican fare makes a travel agenda based on visits to local restaurants a good route plan. My stops included a delicious roast chicken lunch at the rustic A Pignata Ferme & Auberge, where a complicated rotating mechanical spit dominates the fireplace, and L’Eternisula, a coffee shop in a century-old granite ex-schoolhouse in Zonza. At the latter, a red-topped officer’s kepi hanging on the wall, reminding me that the legendary French Foreign Legion trains on the island. It begins to rain as I head toward Casadelmar, an intimate, contemporary hotel outside the coastal town of Porto-Vecchio. The E-Pace handles the slick roads with aplomb, so all I have to think about is wetting my lips with a glass of the local Pietra beer when I arrive.

$47,250 as driven; jaguarlandrover.com.