Compact luxury SUVs like the 2020 Volvo XC40 and Jaguar E-Pace exist for brand-conscious buyers who aren’t satisfied with more common models. Not only do they both feature premium badges stuck to their noses, but they also boast enough performance, luxury, and style inside and out to help justify their premium prices.
Their short wheelbases and overall lengths dictate stubby proportions, meaning the E-Pace will never have the relative elegance of the longer F-Pace any more than the XC40 will draw eyes away from an XC60 or XC90.
Between the two of them, the Volvo is the more successful result. Its styling isn’t meant to be just a pint-sized take on the brand’s bigger SUVs, but has enough character and defining visual elements of its own. Its contrasting roof and squared-off visage make it identifiable as a Volvo, but it appears more playful than its larger siblings. Even wearing a set of winter wheels a size smaller than the R-Design’s standard did little to diminish its cool appearance.
The Jaguar, by comparison, looks almost like a caricatured version of the F-Pace. The company seems to recognize the E-Pace embodies the awkwardness of a pre-teen with its oversized wheels and attempt at curvy body lines that don’t have enough space to fully resolve. There’s even a graphic printed on the lower driver’s side windshield of a gangly Jaguar kitten chasing its parent.
Inside, the E-Pace utilizes familiar Jaguar switchgear, dials, and styling, with our tester finished with premium red leather hides. The Volvo’s innards aren’t as lavish, with the materials and trim feeling low rent by comparison, but details like the vent treatments are unique and reflect the youthful exterior. Orange door inserts are available and would’ve helped spice up this XC40’s relatively dour innards.
In addition to the supple leather finishes in the Jaguar, our tester was loaded up with more than $11,000 in options, many of which were superfluous details, like a black grille and side vents, and red brake calipers. Our E-Pace’s roof was a massive glass panel, allowing lots of light into the cabin, but it’s a fixed affair that won’t vent or slide.
The XC40 also has a panoramic glass roof, but it opens to let fresh air as well as sunlight in. And while the Jaguar has a heated windscreen, the Volvo uses heated washer blades that distribute a broad stream of washer fluid when called upon. It’s a clever design except that it empties the washer fluid reservoir in short order, especially during sloppy winter weather.
Keyless entry and dual-zone climate control is standard fare on both of these machines, and each has been optioned with 360-degree cameras to aid parking in tight spots.
Despite their compact dimensions, each of these little utes makes the best of their available space for both passengers and cargo. While the squat Jaguar may appear larger than the little Volvo, it’s the Swede whose greater length, width, and wheelbase afford it superior passenger space in every measurable respect. Four adults should fit in either machine without a problem, but a fifth crammed in the rear seat will generate some grumbling during a long trip.
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The Jaguar offers more cargo space with the rear seats up or down, but the boxier shape of the Volvo makes it more usable and easier to access through the wide rear hatch. Plus, the XC40 is chock-full of clever nooks, crannies, and storage solutions throughout the cabin and cargo compartments.
To top it off, our Jaguar wore an optional tow hitch receiver but its max tow rating of only 750 kg (1,653 lb) is less than half the Volvo’s 1,588-kg (3,500 lb) capability.
Simplicity is key with ergonomics, especially as new vehicles are offered with more features. While we applaud Volvo for providing a large, vertically oriented touchscreen with bright, crisp graphics, it’s almost as if too much functionality was squeezed onto the screen. Plus, despite being updated for 2019, Volvo’s infotainment system still proved slow to react, particularly on start-up.
Jaguar’s system features a smaller touchscreen than the Volvo’s, but offers an easier menu system to navigate. The E-Pace also has a trio of large knobs to facilitate easy climate control adjustment, something the Volvo lacks.
Both cars have digital instrument pods that provide a pair of clear, round dials for speedometer and tachometer, along with a central screen providing a host of configurable information. Our E-Pace provided informational redundancy with a head-up display, too.
Forward and lateral visibility is decent in each sport utility, but the Volvo’s sizable and upswept C-pillars make careful blind-spot checks and properly positioned mirrors a necessity. The Jaguar’s rear view is compromised by an aggressively sloped roofline. We were thankful for the 360-degree camera systems in both the Volvo and Jaguar when parking.
While the Jaguar’s perforated leather (and ventilated driver and passenger seats) make the front thrones properly luxurious, we’ve never experienced a Volvo seat that wasn’t supremely comfortable. This XC40 doesn’t break with tradition. Being a sporty R-Design trim means the Volvo’s front buckets are bolstered to give good lateral support, yet they’re not confining and we liked them better than the Jag’s.
The R-Design’s Sport Chassis should mean a stiffer ride, and while it is taut, it’s still surprisingly compliant, especially compared to the E-Pace that’s brittle and clunks over potholes. Not even Jaguar’s optional adaptive dampers set to their softest setting can compensate for the harshness brought on by the larger Jag’s 21-inch wheels.
The E-Pace and XC40 are each motivated by 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engines, and they both deliver their peak power at 5,500 rpm. The Jaguar, however, dispenses nearly 50 hp and almost 40 lb-ft of torque more than the little Volvo.
This should give the Jaguar an obvious performance advantage, and yet when driving around town, on the backroads, and on the highway, the Volvo feels every bit as spritely, with its eight-speed automatic snapping off shifts more briskly than the E-Pace’s nine-speed that occasionally spasmed when shifting under heavy acceleration.
The Jaguar also weighs in a hefty 250 kg (550 lb) more than the Volvo, explaining why the portly little E-Pace crashes over bumps and feels sluggish for its power output.
Even though the XC40 is the bigger of the pair, it drives smaller than the E-Pace. The svelte Swede is legitimately fun to hustle out in the country, acting as a willing and playful partner when the roads get twisty. Yet it’s just as zippy around town, finding small gaps in traffic.
The Jaguar is a competent handler, too, and, thanks to its meaty tire contact patches, it has decent grip. It’s probably faster on a nice, smooth racetrack than the Volvo, but in the real world, on real road surfaces, the Jaguar is not as fun, nor as easy to drive briskly.
Each of these little SUVs is loaded up with the latest and greatest passive and active safety features, including everything from collision-mitigation systems and lane-keeping assistance to park assist systems. They’ve both got excellent LED headlight systems with automated control as well, and their respective handling and braking prowess should help drivers avoid incidents, too.
The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) issued both the E-Pace and XC40 five-star safety awards, though the Volvo generated a higher overall score.
Just as the Jaguar’s nine-speed automatic can’t overcome its weight penalty in performance, the same is true with fuel efficiency where the Volvo beats it in each city, highway, and combined figures. With that in mind, between the Jaguar’s combined rating of 10.1 L/100 km and Volvo’s 9.4 L/100 km, they’re both reasonably efficient for all-wheel-drive SUVs – though both run on premium-grade gas. At only 54 L, the XC40’s fuel tank gives it a pretty meagre range compared to the E-Pace’s 68.5 L capacity.
Up to this point, it would appear the Volvo has claimed a pretty decisive victory in this comparison test based on the categories above. But when value is considered, it becomes a significantly more lopsided fight. With an entry price of $45,650, the XC40 R-Design is a decent value to begin with. Adding only the Premium Package for $1,750 gets most of the essentials we’d want and still rings the register under $48,000. Even loaded up with other goodies like 20-inch wheels and metallic paint, our tester rings in at $53,725 with freight and fees.
By comparison, our E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE starts at $58,500. Add to that a litany of piecemeal options that cost an extra $11,000 and suddenly you’re left with a baby Jaguar that’s brushing $70,000. Those hell-bent on a Jaguar SUV would be wiser to exercise some restraint with the options list and pick up a larger F-Pace R-Sport for several thousand less than our E-Pace.
On its own, Jaguar’s E-Pace is a reasonably fun, capable, and luxurious compact luxury SUV. When compared to the more dynamic Volvo XC40, however, the Jaguar begins to look and feel like a tired choice and a very costly alternative.
||2020 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE 300PS||2020 Volvo XC40 R-Design|
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||296 hp @ 5,500 rpm||248 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||295 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm||258 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.2/8.6/10.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||10.7/7.7/9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||685 / 1,493 L seats down||586 / 1,337 L seats down|
|Price as Tested||$71,440||$55,840|
|Optional Equipment||$11,140 – Cold Climate Pack, $670; Red Brake Calipers, $410; Satellite Radio, $510; Meridian Surround Sound System, $820; Active Damping, $1,020; Tow Hitch Receiver, $670; 21-inch wheels, $1,020; Black Pack, $260; Head-up Display, $1,020; Panoramic roof, $1,180; Aux socket, $230; Roof Rails, $360; Activity Key, $410; Black Contrast Roof, $510; Surround Camera System, $360; Configurable Dynamics, $360; 18-way seats + climate front and heated rear seats, $1,330||$8,075 – Premium Package, $1,750; Premium Plus Package, $2,000; Metallic Paint, $900; Navigation, $1,000); Harman Kardon Sound System, $950; 20-inch wheels, $1,475|