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Is this the optimum Jaguar E-Pace?

Could be. Our early exposure to this car was in the toppermost spec, with a thirsty petrol engine and big wheels. Here we’re in mid-range SE territory with a lively-enough 180bhp diesel and nine-speed autobox, still driving all four wheels. That brings the price down from a hilarious £50k to a merely stiff £40,000.

But a Jag diesel? No-one likes diesels in general now. And in particular, Top Gear dislikes that Jaguar four-cylinder Ingenium.

Well-observed. But diesels do still emit less CO2 than petrols. This one is rated at 147g/km. And then the installation of the 180bhp unit is actually pretty good here. It runs more quietly than in the Freelander Sport, a closely related vehicle.

You don’t like that transmission much either…

Well finally here’s a JLR vehicle in which they’ve shot that nine-speed autobox a tranquiliser. It uses the torque of the engine rather than fretting hyperactively between gears. And when it does shift, it’s smooth.

Just as well the auto mode is agreeable, as there are no over-ride paddles. On the upside, the transmission lever itself has a +/- gate, and in a move of miraculous insight, Jag has arranged the thing the correct way around. That is, forward for down (because you’re slowing, so that’s the natural movement of your hand) and back for up. Course you’re still going to get lost among the nine choices.

And in other news?

The E-Pace is the most enjoyable little crossover down a twisting road. The connection between hands and road is more than cursory, and the steering responses are wide-awake without being over-busy.

As we’ve noted before, the ride at town speed is really a bit stiff, but in this spec the reason becomes clear. Get a bit more speed into things and it flows along, fluently changing direction and shrugging off bumps and crests. It feels up-for-it and biddable.

In tight bends you can feel the centre diff dealing the torque rearwards, making the E-Pace a small crossover that’s less prone than the rest to one-dimensional mild understeer.

What about town and motorway, the usual crossover commute?

Stable and reasonably peaceful at 70-odd. A bit bumpy in town, but usefully compact for traffic.

How does it play at being a five-door hatch, which is its true purpose?

In the front you get reasonable space for the stuff of life. Not bread. Well only in the form of sarnies – and cups, keys, phone, tissue box, sunglasses case. Infotainment is up to snuff, except there’s still no phone mirroring, just Jag’s captive apps. Still, it has a 4G hotspot and plenty of USB points.

It’s OK in the rear seat given the overall size – the wheelbase is longer than the Evoque’s, if shorter than the Discovery Sport’s. The sloping roof-line makes it look a bit constrained back there but actually that’s only optical.

The boot looks a reasonable size, until you realise there’s no spare wheel. And because of the sloping tail, the aperture is small. That’s the price of the swoopy style.

Stylish inside too?

Hmmm. The dash carries a lot of F-Type genes, but in places looks like a slightly cheap facsimile of what is itself hardly the world’s very most premium-feeling facia. But the layout is fine. It’s a good compromise between clean-looking minimalism and having enough actual switches to do the important jobs without menu-diving on the screen.

So where does that leave us?

People want crossovers. The market for really boxy practical ones is getting saturated, and anyway JLR already starts that race on pole with the Disco Sport. The E-Pace’s silhouette gives up a bit of wardrobe-carrying ability in favour of a cheeky style. And, against all the odds, Jaguar has made a transverse-engined crossover drive something like a Jaguar.

What do you think?

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