Jaguar E-Pace is for the new generation, not old fogies like me

Wednesday March 14 2018

JM Baraza was part of the team that drove around Johannesburg from OR Tambo International Airport to the more affluent suburbs around North Cliff in South Africa last week. PHOTO| CORRESPONDENT

JM Baraza was part of the team that drove around Johannesburg from OR Tambo International Airport to the more affluent suburbs around North Cliff in South Africa last week. PHOTO| CORRESPONDENT  

By BARAZA JM
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I immediately knew we had reached the point of no return when Ferrari S.p.A made a noteworthy about-face recently; declaring an upcoming SUV shortly after swearing by their direct injection kits that they will never stoop that low. Well, they are stooping... after their cross-town rivals Lamborghini unleashed a Urus crossover to critical acclaim. Welcome to a new automotive era, the Age Of The Crossover...

(Full Disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover wanted me to pet their new cub so badly that they graciously overlooked some provocative comments I made earlier and asked me to get onto an Airbus A320 for the hop to Johannesburg for our usual councils-of-war in leather, aluminium and unleaded.

I dropped the ball by forgetting to carry my driving licence, leaving it in my car which I had quickly and gleefully abandoned at the airport parking bay, and as such my driving in South Africa was limited to the confines of a nature conservancy where the roads are not public and I was unlikely to be asked to present my credentials.

The drive sufficed for me to form an opinion on the car, and that opinion is what I present to you today.

WHAT IS IT?

This is Jaguar’s licence to print money. With its success, hopefully they will make enough green to put boyhood fever dreams like the C-X75 concept into production instead of just titillating our sense of taste with teasers that never get to see daylight.

The question was about the E Pace, not the C-X75. What is the E Pace?

This is the introduction to the Jaguar experience for newbies to the brand, who may not have enough green for an F-Pace. It is the second, the newest, the smallest and the cheapest addition to the Pace program of Jaguar utilities. It is also kind of a renaissance car in that it is aimed at a slightly different demographic from the traditional distinguished Jaguar client: the common (wo)man.

Yea, I said it. These are heavily capitalist times we live in, and shareholders have a voice that needs responding. Most manufacturers are compelled to pander to the slightly moneyed middle class who are eating up crossovers like my sketchily wired car eats bulbs; and Jaguar has to shape up or ship out, sometimes disgracefully. The marketplace can be a brutal purgatory for those who refuse to adapt, and Jaguar Land Rover is adapting the hell out of their lineup. Their concession to contemporary market dynamics is the Pace program, which was kicked off with the aluminium F Pace, which is a bit expensive. To generate numbers, the punier and relatively pocket-friendly steel-framed E-Pace was thus born, to the briefest automotive introductory drive I have experienced outside the borders of our (bleep)hole country and a backdrop of snarling, caterwauling noises that unsettled me repeatedly during the lunch break last Monday.

Steel?

Yes, steel. Aluminium is expensive.

Is it not the Evoque, in drag, redressed as a Jag?

It is and it isn’t. The architecture beneath the metal is evocative (haha!) of the baby Range Rover but then again not all of it is. The lady who walked us over the E-Pace preferred to vilify her ex-boyfriend’s car in comparison to the E-Pace rather than go into windy technical discussions on what the Jag’s bones consist of exactly, so now I’m reduced to perusing the motor vehicle handbook on these details. I’m still reading the book as we speak...

What’s good about it?

Well, most of it is.

1. The lines, the proportions; they seem to gel very well with each other. The face may be divisive: a grafted nose-cut off the F Type does not automatically endow F Type prettiness on a tiny crossover, in my opinion; but the general consensus is it looks good. I cannot disagree with that...

2. The steering wheels keep getting better and better with each successive Jaguar I drive. This E comes with a nice, tiny tiller with a chunky rim that urges one to get liberal with the laws of traffic and physics. There is a desire to chuck the vehicle about, just because of that wheel. Chucking the vehicle about does not yield the expected results, however, as we shall shortly find out...

3. Head Up Displays finally make it to the Leaping Cat’s windscreen, and it is more than a passable affair. Like the German affairs we have been experiencing, the graphics are discernible without strain or distraction, and the information at hand is concise and pertinent. It collaborates with the girl living in the dashboard to give accurate sat-nav guidance for those driving on unfamiliar grounds like yours truly - with the prevailing speed limits being a very useful bonus in heavily policed sections of the road network - but the sat-nav itself tends to zoom in and out randomly which could easily throw your spatial awareness off if you are not paying attention. You are safer listening to the girl anyway; thankfully she is not top brash or intrusive.

4. The gear lever is an actual gear lever and not that rotary toy that was not exactly instinctive to use initially. Such details are what makes a car great, and when combined with the fat-rimmed rudder, give a driving feel that is not easy to ape. Good for Jaguar.

5. The roof. Go for the panoramic moon-roof and drive with it open. The E-Pace is a lifestyle vehicle, and you should drive it as such.

The Bad?

Not much, but the little that is there is immediately noticeable when you use the car as it should.

1. It’s noisy, and not in a pleasant way. Can we get a V6 please, preferably supercharged? The 340hp mill sounded like pornography in the XE which is the entry-level sedan; I don’t see why it cannot feature in the entry-level family hauler. The 4-cylinder engines that come in the E-Pace can get raucous when given the beans, with the diesel being particularly belligerent and quite un-Jaguar-like.

2. The car is very heavy, weighing in at about 1700kg, which is more or less the same as a Nissan GTR. But a Nissan GTR has heavy, weapons-grade components in its axles and driveline to enable it channel its 550-600 odd llamathrusts to the tarmac effectively at 314km/h. The E-Pace is heavy because it is made of steel rather than aluminium like costlier Jags.

3. The size of the car has the Jag folks calling it their “little cub”, and there is some cub-like essence about the car in that it does have that cute, little body suspended on oversized paws. It may come off as cute, but there is such a thing as “too cute”. Lose the 21-inch wheels, not everybody lives in an early 2000s rap video. The rim design is also a bit overwrought, something simpler like straight spokes would work better. Jag may be trying to sell a car to the Great Unwashed, but they don’t have to cede some class while at it. The rims are tacky, man.

4. Those rims have another downside in that they lend the ride quality a jarring, thumpy, crashy element, especially over the traffic-calming humps that litter the airport roads. This is also very un-Jaguar-like but is fortunately quite easy to cure by opting for more sensible 18-inch foot wear.

THE VARIANTS

They are named like MAN and Scania trucks, and there are 20 of them. Twenty. Did I hear someone whisper “something for everyone” at the back? Not quite.

There is the D240 (Diesel, 240hp) which is the cooking oil-burner but we won’t get it in sub-Saharan Africa because we are yet to learn how to differentiate peanut oil from bong water. What we will get is the P300 (Petrol, 300hp) version as the highlight of the series, flanked to the left by the D150 and D180 and to the right by the P250, which is the exact same name given to Scania’s latest medium duty truck.

All these are powered by 2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo engines in different states of tune - apart from the Scania which has a 9-liter 5-cylinder, but this is not a Scania article.

JM Baraza was part of the team that drove around Johannesburg from OR Tambo International Airport to the more affluent suburbs around North Cliff in South Africa last week. PHOTO| CORRESPONDENT

JM Baraza was part of the team that drove around Johannesburg from OR Tambo International Airport to the more affluent suburbs around North Cliff in South Africa last week. PHOTO| CORRESPONDENT

These five engine permutations are spread over the S, SE and HSE specifications, and each of these in turn has an R Dynamic version that adds bespoke rim designs and grainy, contrasting leather. That is how to arrive at twenty different E Paces.

WHO IS THIS CAR FOR?

This car is for a new generation; it is not meant for old fogies like me who remember pre-TATA Jaguar as the distinguished purveyor of fine British saloons living by the adage “Grace, Pace and Space”; three-box cars that were bought and driven by men who earned their keep through straightforward means such as managing factories, owning Persian carpet emporia, inheriting centuries-old family wealth, pulling heists -train robberies and art theft, especially - and tax evasion.

Nowadays people make their livelihood through abstract and difficult-to-explain paths such as hash-tweeting and trend-tagging followers and #brands on social media apps like InstaTube, YouBook and FaceChat; what’s up with that? It is this new money that Jaguar is targeting, which explains why the E-Pace is reportedly the most connected vehicle you can buy today.

Connectedness is the new horsepower

Connected? Yes, connected. The E-Pace is a 5-seat modem. You may wonder why a four-cylinder 300hp WiFi router would be a good idea on any level, and this is it: autonomy is fast encroaching into the automotive sector.

Jaguar has not plugged any of that sentience into the software of the little E Pace yet, but there is no escaping the suite of driver aids that come with it anyway - including that shockingly aggressive lane-keep assist that you may do well to switch off before leaving the showroom.

The more autonomous the vehicles get, the more free time a driver or occupant of the vehicle will find themselves with. So what to do? Fire up the SnapGram to “post #Selfies” of whatever you are eating and garner as many blue thumbs and grey ticks as you can. I don’t understand what the world is coming to...

Would I buy one?

Yes, but not for myself. I’m not in the market for this kind of thing, my tastes and preferences defy convention and I’m that old dinosaur that thinks Jags should come in three-box silhouettes, V12 power and preferably with superchargers. This is called “living in the past”. An E-Pace would however be a nice addendum to the missus’ veritable list of accessories, making her the source of unbridled envy at the monthly women’s sacco meeting.

The biggest let-down here is the juggling of roles between sport and utility. The focus on sport of course comes at the expense of utility (and practicality), but then again there isn’t enough “sport” in it. 300 zebra force may sound exciting when coming out of an Evo or an Impreza STi but the E-Pace has a weight penalty over the rally-breds that is damn near half a ton. It needs those 300 donkey strengths just to get going, and it is noisy with it. The engine note is uncharismatic and doesn’t sound quite right. This is primarily why I wouldn’t get one for myself.

I don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t buy the car, though. Not everybody is after manic turbo boost or the banshee wail of a V12. It may initially scare the weak of pocket with a Kenyan market sticker price of 80,000 USD (roughly KES 8 million), but at the end of the day it is a cheap Jaguar when you think about it- cheaper than a Toyota*, even. It is well made, and the fact that it has to be affordable to more people means it has less kit in it, therefore fewer things to go wrong.

NOT PLACING ANY BETS YET

We could at last be looking at a reliable Jaguar, though I’m not placing any bets yet. We still have to see how it fares in the hands of the self-driving, corner-cutting, penny-pinching albeit status-savvy middle class population.

(*: one of the Jaguar E Pace’s direct rivals is the Lexus NX300 which caught my eye on the Sawubona in-flight magazine.

These cars are very similar in shape and size, with the Lexus featuring that unsightly double-trapezoidal grille that many of us auto hacks despise dearly.

The top-flight NX costs about R790,000 which translates to just under 70,000 USD.

The Jaguar in the same Mzansi market will cost about R720,000 before options. Granted the Lexus at that price is fully kitted while the Jag is poverty-spec, but the argument still holds: you can actually buy a Jaguar cheaper than its equivalent Toyota competition, and that is enough to grab the headlines.)

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR

There is a new BMW X2 being unboxed. It is not clear if it will hit this market; I await an email from The Smiling Suit.

What will definitely give the Jag sleepless nights locally will be the new Volkswagen Tiguan, which is already on sale for about 10 per cent  less and is actually a bigger vehicle with niftier features such as a flat-bottomed steering wheel. I cannot wait to try it out. Mercedes-Benz has the GLA as well.

Let the car wars begin!