Mountain Wheels: Downsized Jaguar E-Pace SUV provides compact luxury (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Downsized Jaguar E-Pace SUV provides compact luxury (column)

To readers of the glossy auto magazines, those endless stories of gadfly journalists careening around the twisty back roads of Portugal or Slovenia in some hot car become old hat pretty quickly.

But given the opportunity to jet over to the French Mediterranean island of Corsica to spend a couple of days running the wheels off a new Jaguar SUV, I gladly consented — and apologize in advance for any gushing.

Jaguar is in the middle of a hot streak in the past few years, with the debut of its F-Pace SUV serving to considerably boost global sales and expand the brand's reputation beyond hot sports cars and limo-worthy luxury barges.

It should then come as no shock that the company hopes to replicate and perhaps expand that success with a more compact version of the F-Pace, a small luxury SUV they've dubbed the E-Pace.

SUVs of this size tend to blend together in their general design, but the E-Pace has managed to remain distinct with a nose and oversized haunches reminiscent of the F-Pace sports car.

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Despite its name, the new Jaguar is not an electric hybrid (that's the I-Pace, which you'll hear about this spring), and for its U.S. variants, will come equipped with either 246-horsepower or 296-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engines, while the Europeans get a wider range of diesel engine options.

I would not necessarily call the 105.6-inch wheelbased E-Pace small, however, especially if you've ever bombed around in a Buick Encore. E-Pace is more comparable overall to the somewhat larger Porsche Macan and very much in line with the Mercedes-Benz GLA, the BMW X1 or an Audi Q3 – feisty, tastefully rendered, compact, but still playful, and with 52.5 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats dropped. During its development, they dubbed it the Cub, and they've included baby jaguar imagery in the window glass and the side mirror puddle lamps as Easter eggs for you to discover.

And so off into the ridiculously twisting mountain roads of Corsica we went in a fleet of right-hand-drive E-Pace, first spending a morning grinding over rocky, muddy trails and wild boar-laden coastal pastures at the 8,000-acre Domaine de Murtoli, a private property turned magnificent getaway (complete with renovated 17th-century shepherd cabins and a restaurant built inside a cave).

SUVs of this size tend to blend together in their general design, but the E-Pace has managed to remain distinct with a nose and oversized haunches reminiscent of the F-Pace sports car. The mesh inside the oval grillwork carries over to side and bottom vents, and brilliant triangular headlamps and a power-dome hood serve to give the small SUV a little more presence.

Wheels as large as 21 inches are available to also bolster the E-Pace's stance, and from the rear, the swept glass angle, a large air dam and prominent dual exhausts also give it a sharp look — plus distinctive and very automobile-styled brake lamps.

Inside, it's thoroughly Jaguar, with a clean, subtle look, reconfigurable electronic instruments and simple heating controls, plus a distinctive bar on the right side of the center console your front passenger can use to grip during your more daring outings.

That came true as the afternoon's drive put us on manically meandering highways that careened through valleys and were interspersed with tiny communities clinging to the hillsides, the buildings hewn out of stone. Late January is about as off-season as you get in Corsica, and the roads were happily deserted of summertime German and Italian tourists, so we were free to cavort in an unencumbered fashion.

That suited the E-Pace's compact scale just right, with a size ideal for the often half-lane-width roads.

The R-Dynamic model we drove, in super-subtle Borasco Grey, upped the E-Pace's standard fixtures with an Active Dynamic system featuring constantly re-adjusting automatic dampers. That resulted in a smooth and responsive ride, even around the 500 or so corners we took on our day-long driving route. Torque vectoring and a fully adaptive AWD system put the power where you need it, further enhancing the vehicle's feel.

Our only really high-speed burst (they were not kidding about those 500 corners) came during a blast back to the airport, where a local in a recycling bin-sized Ford Whatever followed us at a distance of 4 inches until we shook him. Glad to see those regional grievances against out-of-state drivers are a universal thing.

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