The Jaguar E-Pace looks like one of those SUVs that won’t ever leave the comforts of the city. Cyril Klopper finds out how it fares in the great outdoors.
Our original plan was to explore the twintracks of the Kouga Wilderness area of the Langkloof in the E-Pace, but one afternoon we learnt that snow had begun falling in the mountains all the way down to the Cape. And so we immediately cut short our trip to Hoeree at the end of the Kouga Wilderness 4x4 Trail and bundled our warmest clothes into our suitcases. Snow, here we come!
Mister Hyde, I presume
We left the Eastern Cape town of Joubertina at daybreak. The hope was to reach the Swartberg Mountain Pass before Oudtshoorn’s traffic officials could close it. Flipping through the drive mode settings, we switched from Eco to Dynamic – this was hardly the time to be thinking about fuel economy. The E-Pace’s demeanour changed instantly, as if it knew there was a race between us and Oudtshoorn’s lawmen. Engine performance increased and the steering seemed to stiffen up, while the mood lighting throughout the interior changed from a genial green to an angry red glow. The E-Pace roared through Krakeel, Louterwater and Misgund, but its stiff suspension didn’t appreciate the bumpy tar road. Outside Haarlem, the R62 regional road improved markedly, and stretched out in a deadstraight line all the way to the Outeniqua Mountains. With the twists behind us, the all-wheel drive began to divert torque from the rear axle to the front wheels, where it’s more appropriate. Somewhere in the depths of the vehicle an onboard computer’s sensors were busy measuring the yaw rate, steering input, and body roll. The intelligent nine-speed automatic transmission worked overtime, but neither the driver nor the passengers were even
remotely aware of the electronic and mechanical hubbub happening behind the scenes. On the dashboard’s 21:9 super-wide display was a visual depiction of the all-wheel drive, where one could see how engine power was taken from one wheel and given to another, depending on the road conditions. Clever.
The clouds lay heavily on the Swartberg mountains – it was clearly snowing up there. But the mountain pass hadn’t been closed yet. A barrel stood in the centre of an intersection at the bottom of the pass, but there was no road sign reading “closed”, or any police vehicle in sight. So we took the opportunity. The tar road quickly changed to dirt – mud, actually – and snowflakes drifted down around us. Every now and then we encountered a mud-splattered car coming down the mountain towards us. In anticipation of possible nastiness ahead, we switched to rain, ice and snow driving mode. At “Witdraai”, a kink in the road about 5 km up the pass, there was a traffic jam. A Volkswagen Touran had slid backwards, its frontwheel drive not able to get the car up the slippery mountain trail. Off to one side there was an Audi A4 with one of its wheels stuck in a ditch; another victim. “Is this a 4x4?” a tourist asked sceptically as we slowly drove past the stricken vehicles. “...because otherwise you won’t make it through this.”
Two thirds up the mountain we stopped at a viewpoint to take photos. The snow was falling thick and fast, and the dirt road had turned to porridge. After building the obligatory snowman, we hopped back into the E-Pace, shivering. The heated seats – in front and at the back – were cranked up to 3, and the aircon cleared the steamy windows. To pull away on an icy mountain pass is often tricky, but the E-Pace’s sensors took a reading every 10 milliseconds (0,01 sec) on each wheel and adjusted the power distribution accordingly. When stepping on the accelerator, it appeared at first as if nothing was happening; but then you could sense a wheel finding traction, followed by another one warily turning – and then suddenly we were off, without skidding a single wheel. At the top of the Swartberg Pass, at the entrance to the Swartberg Kruin 4WD Trail, we considered taking the Jaguar deeper into the mountains. But first we switched from the 360° camera’s bird’s-eye view to the all-wheel-drive graphic. While the E-Pace pushed through kneedeep snow the screen showed a visual representation of how the two independent clutches engaged on the rear axle to mimic a mechanical diff lock. This is when we decided to chicken out. The E-Pace’s allwheel drive might have been able to plough through the deep snow – its relatively decent 204 mm ground clearance would have helped with that – but we couldn’t tell if there were lurkers beneath the snow, waiting to rip off a bumper. Nah... it’s best to leave that kind of adventure for serious off-roaders.
Dr. Jekyll regains control
After the fun and games in the snow, it was time to head north towards the N1 highway and go home. The driving mode button was clicked back to Eco to save fuel, and the adaptive cruise control was instructed to slavishly follow the vehicle in front of us unless it exceeded the speed limit. At a filling station in Laingsburg the petrol attendants checked out the mucky E-Pace. “Did you get lost?” they wanted to know. It’s one thing to test a hardcore off-roader properly, and lightly knock the chassis on a rock; but when we review a soft-roader off the beaten track, there’s always a chance that things will go disastrously wrong. Fortunately, the E-Pace
returned from the Swartberg Pass in one piece, without scratches or flat tyres. Of course, it was covered in mud both inside and out; but that’s how it goes, when you play around in the snow. Our E-Pace’s fuel consumption was not as impressive as Jaguar’s claimed figure of 6.2 ℓ/100 km. During our test we couldn’t do better than 8 ℓ/100 km, but this included quite a bit of time in the snow (and the mad dash to reach the pass before the cops could close it). And to be fair, 12 km/ℓ isn’t bad for an SUV.
If you live in a big city, you will undoubtedly have encountered a few E-Paces. Jaguar sells on average 80 per month, which is rather good for this kind of vehicle. What you probably never would have guessed, though, is how capable this car is on boggy roads. Modern yuppies will probably not be using their E-Paces to muck around in the snow of the Swartberg Pass – but it’s good to know that you could totally do it, should you ever want to.
INSIDE INFO. Jag’s Active Driveline all-wheel drive features an intelligent torque-biasing system to measure out the power. The front suspension has lightweight hollow-cast aluminium components, designed to provide additional camber for improved turn-in and to minimise understeer.