Anyone who wants a fast (but not SVR fast) Jaguar has a choice of the XE S, XF S, F-Pace S and E-Pace P300. But what if driving pleasure is king, which is the best to drive and just how big is the difference between its saloons and SUVs? We drove them all in a single day around the Evo Triangle in North Wales for answers.
As a motoring journalist, you get to drive a lot of cars. It would be strange if we didn’t. But it is rare you get to drive a large portion of a manufacturer’s range back-to-back, on your own terms and on incredible roads in North Wales. So when Jaguar asked if we would like to do just that, we jumped at the chance.
And so we drove for four hours to the Royal Oak in Welshpool (not the one in Betws-Y-Coed, although we did pop in there for lunch) where our Jaguar adventure around the ‘Evo Triangle’, as it is nicknamed, would begin the following day. With the XE S, XF S, F-Pace S and E-Pace P300 at our disposal, it was a rare opportunity to see how they all compare.
Adventure is an apt word in this instance because, as it turns out, the weather in North Wales can be unpredictable. Snow in the morning, hail at lunch and then glorious sunshine by the afternoon – we enjoyed all the weather groups. This would be no easy challenge for any car, let alone ones with generous servings of horsepower and rear-wheel drive.
So which Jaguar emerged as the most potent? Is a sporty F-Pace really that far off the, erm, pace of its saloon siblings? A solid day of driving later, we had answers – and, rather surprisingly, they may not be as clear-cut as you think.
XE S vs XF S vs F-Pace S vs E-Pace P300: The basics
While each of the Jaguars share various design traits to the point they are easy to mix up, there differences are more numerous. Not just the fact the XE S is a small saloon and the F-Pace is a big sports utility vehicle (SUV), but also that the E-Pace is based on the underpinnings of an Evoque and uses steel where the rest prefer aluminium.
On paper, the XE S has the biggest chance of dominating because the 374bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 (seen in all Jaguars on test except the E-Pace) has the least weight to lug about. 1,655kg, in fact, compared to at least 1,710kg and 1,861kg for the XF S and F-Pace S, respectively.
It is also relatively svelte, measuring 4,686mm in length and 2,075mm in width including the mirrors. An XF S is an extra 281mm, while the F-Pace S comes in at 4,746mm in length and 2,175mm in width. That obviously comes at the expense of boot space and spaciousness, which will be off-putting for those who routinely ferry about adults and their luggage.
As a result, the XE S needs only 5 seconds to go from 0-62mph, where the XF S takes four-tenths longer and another tenth for the all-wheel drive F-Pace S. Hardly a big gap and, as we will talk about in a second, the difference in the real-world is closer than you may think.
All ‘S’ models were for the 2018 model year, the most obvious change of which was taking the power output of that supercharged lump from 340PS to 380PS. Other revisions were aesthetic and improvements were made to the infotainment systems resulting in better ease of use but still lagging behind some of its Germanic rivals.
Underneath the E-Pace’s rather pretty front end is the 300PS (298bhp) Ingenium petrol used in the four-cylinder F-Type, hence the ‘P300’ part. Technically sticking the same engine in the E-Pace would make it a fairer test, but this is as fast as it gets until Jaguar sticks something more potent in.
Size wise, it is actually the smallest in length (4,395mm or 4,411mm with the plinth) and its 2,088mm width makes it slimmer than the F-Pace. But that aforementioned steel-heavy platform means it works out the heaviest. As a result, it manages to be the Jaguar that is most unlike a Jaguar – a problem we highlighted during the European launch in Corsica.
XE S vs XF S vs F-Pace S vs E-Pace P300: The handling
First up was the XF S, which is the one you would buy if you were a business executive who wants to stop being late. Each horse is delivered smoothly and free of lag, ensuring you can reach the legal limit with impressive pace. Despite being less dramatic than a turbo because of the linear power delivery (295lb/ft of torque comes in from 1,500-4,500rpm), the 3.0-litre V6 does make it easy to time when to get back on the power after a corner. Or make a sudden overtake.
Owing to a little extra weight, the rear-wheel drive XF S made progress in snowy conditions without being as twitchy as the XE S. It also rides with an extra layer of suppleness and external noises such as rubber on tarmac and strong winds are hidden better, too, enhancing its motorway mileage credentials.
The back seats prove noticeably more roomy, meanwhile, and the boot can accommodate a larger fax machine and other essential business equipment. Up front, the seats provide excellent levels of comfort and support, while the interior does a good impression of premium – just not in as glitzy fashion as a Mercedes, Audi or, to a lesser extent, BMW.
As Jaguars go, the XF S serves up the best balance of refinement, excitement and pace outside of the somewhat ridiculous (and brilliant) XJR575. There is a price for being sure-footed and less prone to kicking the back out, though, and that is overall agility and a touch of involvement.
Jumping into a soon-to-be-utterly-caked-in-mud red XE S, it instantly feels more eager to please. If the XF S is the equivalent of a jalapeño chilli, the XE S is a serrano. It shares similarly fast if uneventful progress with the accelerator pedal nailed to the floor, but it is considerably more frenetic and visceral. Battling to keep it on course through the Evo Triangle’s many elevation changes and twists took much greater effort, making it more tiring and rewarding in equal measure.
At lower pace, the rear-wheel drive XE S is noticeably less refined than its bigger sibling, although we appreciated greater levels of supercharged V6 noise leaking into the cabin. Yet going hell for leather (within the confines of the law, obviously) revealed just how well balanced, poised and accomplished the XE S really is. For under £50,000 it is almost peerless. No wonder, then, that we would take it over a BMW M3 – but perhaps not the M2 or M240i – because, like a lot of modern-day performance cars, it has got too big and too fat.
As Sod’s Law would have it, our turn to drive the all-wheel drive F-Pace S came at the point in the day when the snow and rain had turned to sunshine. Our hopes a bigger and heavier SUV could deliver similar levels of driving pleasure were thin on the ground. We were wrong.
At first it feels like you are driving a truck, owing to just how much higher you sit compared with the saloons. Peering over traffic, low walls and fences becomes a possibility, helping overcome the weight deficit with improved visibiality. It feels slower, too, and more prone to understeer.
What was unexpected, however, is how fast the F-Pace grows on you and that, just like the XE S, the faster you get the more alive it becomes. Despite greater levels of body roll and less punchy acceleration, it really held its own in the bends. As SUVs go, the F-Pace S is one of the few that is surprisingly close to a saloon in terms of dynamics.
Being able to roll over all imperfections with more confidence than every other Jaguar on the day helps you carry speed. Potholes and other undulations are barely felt, making it wonderfully easy to drive at speed. The steering is at its weakest in terms of feeling here, (XE S comes first, followed by the XF S) but the directness and moderate weighting lets you nudge the inside of a corner precisely, while the big tyres and even weight distribution keeps any handling surprises at bay.
We will admit that the driver of the XE S in front of us probably had more fun as he made his way through Snowdonia, but boy was it easy to keep up and that made us smile immensely. To make an SUV so capable of defying its size is something that Jaguar manages to do with enviable ease. The sort an Alfa Romeo Stelvio would find impressive.
Weakest of the bunch is the E-Pace because it fails to get the blood flowing. The engine sounds much flatter than in the F-Type and it was never the best in the first place. Not only that, it rolls about more, feels slower, corners with less agility and detaches you from the road more than anything else with the Jaguar badge.
Honestly, the idea of a baby F-Pace was appealing, indeed, partly because large SUVs are overkill for most people but mainly because it meant getting some of that Jaguar goodness at a smaller price without enduring that much of a compromise. In reality, it feels somewhat overpriced and underwhelming in all but the looks. It really is a pretty car.
XE S vs XF S vs F-Pace S vs E-Pace P300: What about the money?
Another obvious standout of the day was the thirstiness of the F-Pace. Not that any of the supercharged V6s proved to be very fuel-friendly when hooning along, but the F-Pace was able to drink almost £15 worth of petrol in half an hour. We had to put the thing in ‘eco’ mode to avoid having to make an awkward phone call to Jaguar’s PR team, which in hindsight was a good thing because they were busy dealing with a puncture on another press car.
The combined fuel economy figure comes in at 34.9mpg, 32.9mpg, 31.7mpg and 35.3mpg for the XE S, XF S, F-Pace S and E-Pace P300, respectively. CO2 emissions, meanwhile, see the E-Pace come out cleanest (181g/km), followed by the XE S (194g/km) and XF S (204g/km). Unsurprisingly, the beefy F-Pace’s 209g/km comes in last.
Looking at the price, a bog-standard Jaguar XE S (which is reasonably well specced as standard) starts from £48,045. Not that much less than the £50,100 XF S, then, or the £52,665 F-Pace S. An E-Pace P300, currently unavailable on the Jaguar website, starts from £48,410.
XE S vs XF S vs F-Pace S vs E-Pace P300: So which Jaguar is best?
For versatility, the XF S and F-Pace S make the most sense. But if it is driving pleasure you seek from a performance saloon, there is no question that the XE S rules them all. What was most interesting, however, is that in real road conditions the F-Pace holds its own and was really only slightly less engrossing.
Ultimately the decision you go for will be based on how big the boot is, running costs and other uninteresting yet vital factors. Deciding in terms of performance, though, well that is much harder than you would think.
Except, that is, in the case of the somewhat disappointing E-Pace.