Tested: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace P300 AWD R-Dynamic HSE

The wrong speedo

Have you ever brought a knife to a gunfight? A speedo to a beach party? If you can imagine the buttocks-clenching feeling of such faux-pas, you have a good idea what state I was in while testing the newest compact SUV from Jaguar. You see, we didn’t just saunter through town with the E-Pace, we took it deep into the dirty Karoo.

“Jissie, I don’t think we’ve ever had a Jaguar here before” remarks the eccentric but friendly proprietor of the Tankwa Padstal after we park this Caesium Blue metallic E-Pace between the obligatory white bakkies. And like a banana hammock, our alien vehicle drew quite the crowd of increasingly startled onlookers.

“Out here we call cars like that skateboards” rasps another chatty local shortly before pointing out some damage on one of the Jag’s front tyres. We’re barely at the start of our epic hinterland adventure and the special 245/45R20 JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) Pirelli P-Zero has a sidewall blister; evidence of a hard knock. We have a spare wheel, but it’s the thin Marie biscuit type.

From this point onwards I swallow any comments about the abundance of white bakkies and chastise our top speed from 80 to 60km/h. The feeling of having brought the wrong car only grows stronger with each passing kilometre, exasperated by sizable stretches of mean sinkplaat corrugations near our first overnight halt in the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

That evening, while being fed brandy and marshmallows to calm my frayed nerves, I mangle a cardboard box to fashion crude but effective front mud-flaps for our 5,000km-old Jaguar. My heavily-pregnant wife and I also agree on severely shortening tomorrow’s dirt-road route before gazing at the jaw-dropping carpet of stars.

If it looks stupid but works, it’s not stupid.

Do you need to get away from it all, including cell reception and fellow man? If you want a proper break from the rat race, to the point of deafening silence and a mild fear of abandonment, book yourself a chalet at Tankwa. It’s not until the Calvinia turn-off that we see our first white bakkie and any subsequent traffic comes in 20-minute intervals.

Not just the Jaguar was grateful for tarred roads.

The top-spec P300 turbo-petrol E-Pace is holding up well so far, most certainly in appreciation for fewer corrugations and the tarred road to Sutherland. The erstwhile stretch of gravel was paved in time for the arrival of the gigantic Russian-made mirrors for their big SALT telescope – we learn on the guided tour.

Day three sees us depart the chilly village just after breakfast, seat heaters on full blast in the dark blue leather interior. We amble south towards that quaint place called Matjiesfontein. After tea and scones, a photo session and private serenade by the legendary Johnny, we skip up the N1 to Laingsburg before heading south again.

Just a few dozen clicks later, my heart sinks into my left toe as the road turns to dust again. Granted, this time it’s fairly smooth but the cardboard mud-flaps make another appearance as is evidenced by our photos from the awe-inspiring Seweweekspoort Pass. It’s a tad bumpy in places but so worth it!

Another secret tip for connoisseurs of country getaways is Rietfontein Guest Farm near Ladismith which offers us a kloof-side mountain cottage as our final retreat for this trip. The farm tracks are slightly rocky but again, careful driving (and 204mm of ground clearance) gets our cardboard-clad speedo car there and back.

I blame the extremely comfy and fully-equipped cabin with its wood-fired hot tub for the scarcity of photos; some of which you wouldn’t want to see anyway. On both of our two mornings here I immediately peer out at the carefully-parked Jaguar but it’s still there, sitting on four fully-inflated low-profile Pirellis.

It’s somewhere around this time – and the wildlife-laced trip off the farm – that I realise how well this city slicker has done. We may have felt underdressed in the tougher parts of this area but, just like the tanga-wearing swimmer, an extra degree of caution prevented further maladies and ensured that a good time was had by all.

And despite its thin rubber, the E-Pace proved to be a proper Jaguar because it was fairly comfortable (in Normal or Eco mode) while feeling quite dynamic in Sport mode on a short stretch of mountainside tarmac. Its fully-automatic all-wheel-drive system hardly made an appearance, although the stability control did at times.

Maximum power in this R880,000 compact SUV is an impressive 221kW (300hp) while up to 400Nm shove you forward nicely through eight automatic gears. Jaguar claims 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds but I elected not to test that with a bubbly tyre. They also claim 8L/100km (average) from the 69L tank and I’d say that it’s plausible.

Around town, where one abuses this engine’s addictive power, our average consumption hovered in the mid-teens. By the time we hit dirt, it dropped to 12L/100km and continued to do so until levelling out just below nine. Remember, that’s our OVERALL average for a total distance of almost 1,200km.

Obviously, each E-Pace comes with a raft of safety and luxury goodies and while the standard specifications are fairly generous, you’d do well to consult your nearest dealer about engine, trim, spec, wheel and colour combinations. I see there’s a sensible set of 18-inch tyres available but no mud flaps for any of the models…

Other impressions from our Karoo crossing are the sophisticated digital instruments and infotainment system (complete with self-resetting USB playlist), excellent LED headlights, plastic shift paddles, and sufficient luggage space for 2,75 people; the 577L boot expands to 1,235L with the rear seats folded.

Anyway, I hope this text doesn’t put you off buying a new E-Pace because I was silly enough to take one into the sticks. If you just want to slink around the ‘burbs with your sexy new cat, that’s cool, but now you know that hours of dirt road won’t do much harm. Just keep a cardboard box and a pair of scissors in the boot.

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