Jaguar is the latest brand set to jump aboard an increasingly popular category that has created a new sub-segment in the luxury space.
Due in Australia in April 2018 and to be priced from about $48,000, the new E-Pace is Jaguar's second – and smallest – SUV.
The E-Pace has diminutive dimensions but huge aspirations, hoping to tackle the compact five-seater segment dominated by German muscle, including the Audi Q2, Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1.
The E-Pace will be powered exclusively by the latest Ingenium four-cylinder turbocharged engines ranging in power from 110kW for the base model diesel to 221kW for the top-of-the-line petrol.
Jaguar design boss Ian Callum describes it as "the sports car of its class".
The small luxury SUV segment was created in 2010 with the arrival of the BMW X1.
Since then there's been an influx that includes the Mini Countryman, Audi Q2 and Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo V40 Cross Country and Infiniti QX30 that together account for more than 12,000 sales annually – about 10 per cent of the luxury cars old in Australia. Range Rover also has its Evoque, even if it is classified by the industry as a medium SUV.
The formula is simple: take the engine and suspension of an existing small car and add a chunkier, higher-riding body that oozes an SUV flavour profiles.
But the E-Pace – which is made of a mix of steel and lighter aluminium, with the aim of keeping weight down - is a little different.
Without a small car in its portfolio Jaguar turned to sister brand Land Rover for the all-important architecture; it's based on the Land Rover Discovery and Evoque.
It's all about the details
There's a certain same-ness to German luxury, something that Jaguar counters with its distinctly British cars.
And the E-Pace ramps it up a notch (or two).
The puddle lights that illuminate the ground outside the front doors – now common on luxury cars – incorporate the silhouette of a jaguar (the animal one) and its cub, the latter guaranteed to nail the cuteness factor over late night lattes.
For an indication of the attention to detail – and just how far the brand is taking its wildlife roots – the tiny tag on the leather seats of some models is printed on a "contemporary animal print", with dozens of paw prints.
Some of the dials inside have also been inspired by old Leica cameras, while the kink in the horizontal tail lights was inspired by a chicane on a race track.
The E-Pace also gets a pedestrian airbag to help it perform better in the increasingly important Euro NCAP crash tests.
No word yet on whether it'll also give kangaroos a better chance of surviving being hit by an E-Pace; Jaguar says its focus has been on pedestrians.
Plus, having Land Rover genes helps separate the E-Pace in a market segment where off-road is in some ways dirty thinking.
Many competitors rely heavily on two-wheel drive models, something that gives the rugged and adventurous look but without the hardware to head to the snow or the scrub.
While the E-Pace will be produced as a two-wheel drive overseas, all Australian models will drive all four wheels.
They will also come with the snappily named All Surface Progress Control (or even catchier ASPC), a form of off-road cruise control. It maintains a set speed in off-road situations, allowing the driver to concentrate on positioning the car and whatever is standing in the way of the (little) cat.
Developed in conjunction with Land Rover – a brand renowned for its off-road innovation and prowess – the system also uses electronics to monitor available grip and adjust throttle and braking to suit the conditions.
For those imagining trips to the yonder in the E-Pace, don't get too excited.
Its sizeable low profile tyres – up to 21 inches in diameter – aren't designed for sharp rocks or soft sand.
Connectivity is also a big one for the small Jaguar, right down to its 4G wi-fi hotspot.
All E-Paces will come with four USB slots, ensuring everyone will be appropriately smartphoned and tabletted.
The E-Pace comes with either a 10.0-inch or optional 12.3-inch touchscreen as well as a larger head-up display designed to project more information in the driver's line of sight.
And for when it's time to put the gadgets away and get out and about there's an Activity Key, which looks like a fitness band and can be taken swimming, running or cycling while allowing the regular key to be locked and deactivated in the car.
More small to come
Most luxury brands now play in the small SUV space.
But there's more to come.
Lexus has confirmed it will produce a model called the UX.
To sit below the NX, the UX uses the underpinnings of the Toyota C-HR but with a unique Lexus body and, no doubt, the trademark Lexus attention to detail.
Newcomer Genesis – Hyundai's luxury brand, which arrives late in 2017 – will also no doubt be evaluating the merits of developing a small luxury SUV, although for now there's nothing in the pipeline.
Others, including Porsche and Maserati, have ruled out anything smaller than their current SUV offerings.
What do you think of the smaller is better trend in luxury SUVs? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.