Despite years of mismanagement by Ford and its failed Premier Auto Group, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo are thriving. The British outfit of the now-defunct PAG has a complete and burgeoning line of new vehicles, all attractive and enjoyable to drive. And in Sweden, Volvo will almost certainly exit this decade as the most improved automaker of the last 10 years.
But like real-world brothers, these ex-step siblings couldn’t be more different in the way they do things. And that’s especially true of their two new small crossovers. The Volvo XC40 is a technophilic marvel with clean, conservative lines usually associated with flat-pack furniture. The Jaguar E-Pace, though, is like a two-box, five-door F-Type on stilts; a dynamically impressive piece of Anglo-centric design. And they’re both entering one of the biggest, most important segments of the premium marketplace: small luxury SUVs.
They will serve similar customers, but just as two brothers can come up with different solutions to the same problem, Jaguar and Volvo have crafted different – but equally impressive takes – on the cute ute. Here’s how they shape up.
Customers in the compact premium crossover segment are basing at least a large chunk of their decision their choices on looks, and if their consideration extends to Jaguar and Volvo, they’ll have a tough choice on their hands. Both the E-Pace and XC40 wear their respective brand DNA on their sleeves, but the Volvo takes things the farthest – in a good way.
The XC40 is essentially a miniaturized XC60, itself a pared-down version of the car that started Volvo’s most recent renaissance, the XC90. This is no bad thing. The XC40 is a strikingly pretty car, particularly if you grab the R-Design model (like our tester) with its contrasting roof. But it’s not so much the individual design elements that work on the XC40 as it is the car’s excellent proportions.
Everything is right sized. The headlights are small, but they still integrate Volvo’s Thor’s Hammer LED design. The two Mjolnirs flank a rectangular grille that drops the traditional waterfall look for a matrix of dots sitting behind the Volvo logo and its diagonal safety belt. The profile is lovely, with a thick D-pillar, a surging beltline, and a right-sized character line keeping things interesting. In back, the XC40 wears its vertical taillights well. The smallish tailgate isn’t great for cargo loading, but it gives Volvo’s smallest crossover a pert backside that fits this car’s youthful look.
If you think the XC40’s exterior is a scaled-down version of Volvo’s larger offerings, the interior has even more in common with its older siblings. Take a Pepsi Challenge of Volvo interiors, and the only giveaway that the XC40 is different from the XC60 or XC90 is the distance from door to door and a couple of small material decisions.
For example, the controls on the three-spoke steering wheel are plain plastic, instead of piano-black trim. A starter button on the dash replaces the console-mounted starter knob of the bigger cars, as well. And yes, for some reason Volvo is offering lurid orange carpet as a $100 option on the XC40. They’re little changes, but the XC40 feels just a bit less special because of them.
Gallery: 2019 Volvo XC40 vs. 2018 Jaguar E-Pace: Comparison
Goodness gracious, the E-Pace takes a lot of design inspiration from the F-Type sports car. The headlights and taillights, the grille, the shape of the greenhouse, and even the tiny rear haunches and side grilles – it’s like every detail is plucked from the F-Type and shoehorned on to the little 173-inch-long E-Pace’s body. And it’s brilliant.
This is a beautiful car, but in an altogether different way than the conservative, cleanly styled XC40. There’s emotion and excitement to this design; flourishes that are there for no other reason than because they look cool.It doesn’t need muscular, flared wheel arches over the back axle, but they’re there anyway. We dig the style, even if it serves no real purpose.
But like the F-Pace, the E-Pace’s cabin leaves something to be desired. The material quality not only feels higher in the Volvo, but the build quality feels better too. The surround for the infotainment system is cheap-feeling plastic, and the cowl over the instrument cluster, despite its faux-leather covering, feels flimsy. There’s also a tremendous amount of uninteresting black trim. Our First Edition tester wore abundant red contrast stitching, but aside from a splash of aluminum-look trim around the shifter, the cabin is almost all black.
Big, cushy, sofa-like seats finished in an attractive suede and leather combination greet the XC40 driver. Slide into those comfy thrones and the level of space available is impressive. There’s ample headroom, even for tall drivers. The second-row bench is no penalty box either and will accommodate two tall adults with enough shoulder, head, and legroom to make shorter road trips tolerable.
There’s plenty of cargo room, too, with 20.7 cubic feet with the second row seats in place and 47.2 cubes in total. That’s a smidge less than the Jaguar (24.2/52.7). That said, neither car makes loading and unloading especially easy, thanks to their high bumpers and small tailgate apertures.
The XC40 is also quiet for its class, with a minimal amount of wind, road, and tire noise. The cabin feels nicely isolated, despite our R-Design’s optional 20-inch wheels.
Jaguar’s sporty heritage shines through in the E-Pace. Its leather front seats are considerably more aggressive with bigger side bolsters that provide more support than the pillowy Volvo chairs. There’s also a broader range of adjustability for a more performance-oriented seating position.
The E-Pace’s second row is tighter, with an inch less legroom, eight-tenths of an inch less headroom, and nine-tenths of an inch less shoulder room. Taken together, the Jag’s second row just isn’t as pleasant for hauling people as the XC40’s, even if the bench seats themselves in the Jag are more pleasing and supportive.
The Jag’s firmer, more aggressive suspension isn’t able to disguise its identical wheel/tire package – both cars wear 245/45 Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season rubber on 20-inch wheels – as well as the the XC40, so the ride is bouncier, and impact noises make their way into the cabin more easily. The Jag’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is also louder. Wind noise is about equal to the XC40, at least.
The centerpiece of Volvo’s technological suite is a 12.3-inch, portrait-style display that dominates the center stack. The Sensus infotainment system is a favorite among the Motor1.com staff for its clean, intelligent layout.
Aside from some initial lagginess on startup, Sensus is an attractive, logical operating system. It does a great job of presenting information, allows quick access to apps and drive technology like Pilot Assist and the car’s automatic parking systems, and hides the kind of deep settings owners rarely change without actually making them hard to find. Once that lag subsides (usually after a few minutes behind the wheel), Sensus is quick to respond to inputs, be they screen presses or more elaborate swipes. It’s also very pretty, with sharp, crisp graphics.
The XC40 also comes standard with a 9.0-inch-digital instrument. But unlike some more elaborate setups from competitors, it’s not especially configurable. It always shows a speedometer and tachometer, although owners can choose from a few different display themes – they’re purely aesthetic, though. The center part of the screen can display audio info, a map, or simply sit blank. Changing either the theme or the center section requires diving into the menu, but that said, this display feels like a set-it-and-forget-it thing.
The Sensus suite also includes a standard WiFi hotspot that includes up to six months of data or three gigabytes of consumption, whichever comes first. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are included.
The E-Pace features Jaguar’s new Touch Pro infotainment system. Centered around a 10.0-inch, landscape-style display, it features a central hub like the XC40’s Sensus system, but the OS in the Jag is much deeper, requiring more pressing and swiping than Sensus to sift through its different apps and settings.
All of this is to say that the E-Pace’s display just isn’t as logical or easy to learn. The laggy display exacerbates that problem. While Sensus is slow and clumsy on startup, Touch Pro regularly lags, always taking a second to respond to inputs. There’s occasional clipping from the graphics too, which makes this display feel less premium. That said, the graphics themselves are pretty.
In terms of pure screen real estate, the E-Pace loses more ground by lacking a digital gauge cluster. A rather dinky center display that feels a generation behind the XC40 is flanked by two traditional gauge binnacles. It’s a disappointing decision on Jaguar’s part, considering the greater Jaguar Land Rover group has an attractive all-digital setup that offers more customizability than Volvo’s display gauges.
While technically down on speakers and power compared to the XC40’s optional 13-speaker, 600-watt audio system, the Jag’s 380-watt, 11-speaker Meridian setup sounds nearly as pleasant. Less pleasant is our tester’s lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. That said, Jaguar added a $300 Smartphone package to the option sheet of its 2019 model year vehicles that solves this problem.
Like all XC40s, our tester features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. While a lesser T4 version of this engine generates 187 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, our T5 model produces a much healthier 248 hp and 258 lb-ft to move its 3,805 pounds of fat. Even with the extra power, the XC40’s performance is merely adequate. The run to 60 miles per hour takes around 6.5 seconds. There’s ample low-end torque (all 258 lb-ft are available at 1,800 rpm), but like so many crossovers in this segment, the XC40’s 2.0-liter feels like it runs out of steam well before its 6,500-rpm redline.
Aside from straight-line speed, the 2.0-liter and the standard eight-speed automatic that accompanies it are satisfying in everyday driving. Ignoring the short, obnoxious electric shift lever (it requires two pushes from Park to access Drive or Reverse, which seems… dangerous), the eight-speed is snappy and unobtrusive in everyday driving. It fires off upshifts and downshifts under gentle acceleration and responds well to more aggressive, sudden inputs.
The suspension tuning is mainly focused on comfort. Even though the XC40 has a short, 106.4-inch wheelbase and a reasonably aggressive wheel package, its body moves more freely than the Jag’s. It’s fine to drive, but the XC40 simply isn’t as entertaining to pilot as the E-Pace.
With yet another turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the E-Pace is available with either 246 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque in so-called P250 guise or 296 hp and 295 lb-ft in the P300 setup with the R-Dynamic Package. Our First Edition tester featured the less powerful engine, although its higher torque and the availability of a more powerful option automatically gives it a leg up on the XC40.
But even with its base output, the Jaguar feels more eager and energetic. The torque arrives more suddenly, and the engine revs more freely. But its nine-speed automatic is also quicker to engage, with shifts that feel more satisfying. The downside is that this engine doesn’t sound nearly as pleasant. The E-Pace is buzzy and occasionally coarse, so even though it’s more enjoyable to wind out, your ears won’t be in on the fun.
The E-Pace’s biggest trump card, of course, is a tight suspension that grants it agility at the expense of ride comfort. The Jaguar changes direction faster and more aggressively, and its body doesn’t roll as readily. There’s more feedback through the chassis, although that’s relative – this is still a crossover. And like the XC40, it’s based on a front-wheel-drive platform, with all the imperfections that entails. Neither of these cars feel as dynamic or as exciting as the they could if they rode on a rear-drive platform.
The XC40’s optional Pilot Assist system is a genuinely excellent suite of semi-autonomous active-safety tech, and is the highlight of all new Volvo models. Packaged as part of the reasonably priced $900 Premium Package, it’s easy to activate at the press of two buttons and a genuine pleasure to use on the freeway. Pilot Assist dramatically reduces the fatigue caused by constant tiny incorrections. It’s one of the most persuasive reasons to buy the XC40 full stop.
Surprisingly, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have crash-tested the XC40. But from a technology standpoint alone, the Volvo has what it takes to earn a Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the IIHS (if/when it’s finally tested).
The E-Pace never really stands a chance here. It has active safety gear in the form of adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and full-speed automatic emergency braking, but the XC40’s package is far more comprehensive. It lacks lane-centering technology, and where Pilot Assist can negotiate gentle freeway turns with no hands on the wheel (do not try at home), the E-Pace lacks that level of intervention.
The technology in the Volvo feels more natural, too. Where Volvo seems to gently nudge the steering when necessary, the steering torque the E-Pace applies is more intrusive, bouncing its driver back towards the center of the lane. With our hands only loosely holding the wheel, the E-Pace ping-ponged back and forth from lane marker to lane marker. The systems Jaguar has installed will surely be helpful to drivers, but the tech lacks the sophistication of what the safety conscious Swedes are up to.
Like the XC40, though, neither of the big safety testers have assessed Jaguar’s new compact CUV.
Prices for the front-drive-only XC40 T4 starts at $33,700, but our T5 starts at $35,200 for the base Momentum trim with all-wheel drive. The R-Design trim adds $2,500 to that.
Our tester carried the $900 Premium package (Pilot Assist, power-folding rear seats and a power tailgate, a wireless charging pad, and some other lesser pieces of equipment). Frankly, that’s the only package we’d really advocate for purchasing, but our tester goes further, adding the $1,100 Vision package (automatic parking, blind-spot monitoring, auto-dimming mirrors, and retractable side mirrors), the $995 Advance package (surround-view camera and LED headlights with a washer system), heated front seats and a heated steering wheel for $750, a $1,200 panoramic sunroof, the $800 20-inch wheels, and a 13-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system for $800.
Including a few additional things such as those absurd orange carpets and metallic paint, the as-tested price for our XC40 sits at $45,395.
Our 2018 E-Pace First Edition starts at a silly $53,550. If you’re shopping for the recently released 2019 E-Pace, the closest analog to the discontinued First Edition is the $46,400 R-Dynamic trim with the $6,450 HSE sub-trim, which comes standard with the more powerful P300 2.0-liter engine. So straight away, there’s a reason to go for the newer model. Standard all-wheel-drive across all trims/powertrains also works in the E-Pace’s favor.
From there, shoppers for the 2019 model have a far broader range of customization options, with five wheel designs, more paint colors, and the choice of four upholstery options to the XC40’s one. There’s also a choice between heated seats or heated and cooled seats. Rounding out the options is a package that adds a heated steering wheel, and one that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Unlike the XC40, our First Edition doesn’t carry any optional extras. The as-tested price is $54,545, thanks to a $995 destination charge. That’s too big a difference for the E-Pace’s impressive customizability to overcome.
The XC40 T5 with all-wheel drive returns an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon city, 31 highway, and 26 combined. While Volvo recommends Premium fuel, the company’s customer service site says that it can run on regular 87 octane without affecting the engine’s reliability. The availability of the thriftier, front-drive T4 and the eventual availability of a plug-in hybrid model and a full-electric variant should earn the XC40 some solid marks with customers interested in fuel economy.
The all-wheel-drive-only E-Pace returns 21 mpg city, 28 highway, and 24 combined. Unlike the Volvo, the Jag only drinks the good hooch, which in this case is Premium petrol. While the E-Pace feels like a natural vehicle for Jaguar to offer a plug-in-hybrid powertrain on, there are no signs of the model expanding its powertrain offerings beyond its turbocharged four-cylinder, gas-powered lineup. If you want an electrified Jag, for now the only choice is the $70,000 I-Pace.
The Volvo XC40 is clearly the winner in this contest. It does the things a premium, compact crossover should: offering adequate space, an attractive design, premium style, and a relaxed driving experience. But it also pushes the envelope. It’s smarter than the E-Pace and most of its competition thanks to its impressive infotainment system and suite of advanced active safety features. That it’s so efficient, and with electrification on the way, doesn’t hurt its case, either.
That’s not to say this is a total Swedish victory. The Jaguar E-Pace is unquestionably the sportier, more entertaining choice. It has British cheek and style in spades, too, offering more emotion and character than the occasionally staid Volvo. But those traits simply aren’t enough to overcome a premium compact crossover as complete as the Volvo XC40.
|2019 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design AWD||2018 Jaguar E-Pace First Edition|
Turbocharged 2.0-liter Four-Cylinder
Turbocharged 2.0-liter Four-Cylinder
248 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet
|246 Horsepower / 269 Pound-Feet|
|Drive Type:|| |
|0-60 MPH:|| |
6.6 Seconds (est)
6.3 Seconds (est)
|Fuel Economy:|| |
23 City / 31 Highway / 26 Combined
21 City / 28 Highway / 24 Combined
|Curb Weight:|| |
|20.7 / 47.2 Cubic Feet||24.2 / 52.7 Cubic Feet|