Good news from Westminster this week. In the annual budget speech Mr Hammond (not that one, the other one) announced that the personal allowance threshold, which is how much money you can earn before you have to give some to the government, is to be raised by £650 for lower earners and a massive £3650 for those on more sumptuous salaries.
I imagine that all sorts of people will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of all that extra cash floating around, and perhaps none more so than the car firms who make premium-priced SUV's.
Let's take Audi as an example. You can walk into an Audi showroom today and purchase a brand new diesel-powered A3 in full-house S-Line trim for £26,895. Alternatively, they can sell you a Q3 S-Line diesel, which is exactly the same as the A3 except that the ride height has been raised a bit. But because of this Audi can charge £31,355. That's four and a half grand, and budget or no budget, that's a lot of money.
Mad as it seems though, small SUV's like the Q3 have become rampantly popular over the past few years. People like the chunky 'get-out-of-my-way' styling, they like the raised driving position that lets them see over lesser beings in their puny hatchbacks, and they especially like the fact that they can fit all their child and dog paraphernalia in without having to buy a boring-looking estate like the one their Dad used to drive.
Now, there are some, mostly people on the internet who live with their Mothers and can't drive yet, who decry the move towards SUV's. They bleat on about how their Mum's eight year old Astra is more economical, and how it could go around Silverstone 0.0001 seconds quicker than a "stupid SUV that can't even go off-road." "I would NEVER buy one, because I am a REAL PETROLHEAD" they bluster from behind their keyboards.
Meanwhile all the worlds car makers murmur "Cool story bro." whilst pulling the wraps off of another pseudo off-roader.
They're all at it. Audi, Mercedes, Kia, Honda, BMW, Renault and of course Land Rover, who of course only manufacture SUV's. So even though this sort of car is becoming increasingly popular, it was still a bit of a surprise a couple of years ago when Land Rover's sister firm announced an SUV of it's own, the Jaguar F-Pace.
Naturally, the "REAL PETROLHEADS" of the internet were enraged by this. But despite this, the F-Pace turned out to be rather good, and has become a very successful model for Jag. The only problem with it is that with a starting price of nearly thirty-seven grand, it is a bit expensive. And so we arrive at the subject of today's sermon, the new £28,930 E-Pace.
Well, I say it's new. It actually arrived in showrooms at the beginning of this year, but I'm afraid I was busy then. So erm, here it is, and from the front at least, it's certainly a looker.
The headlamps appear to have been pulled straight from the F-Type and the grille and bumper are slightly more 'rough n' tumble' examples of the clean, simple design that works so well on the XE saloon. The side profile is good too, those haunches at the rear are another nod to Jag's gorgeous coupe, and they work with the blacked out sills to stop the E-Pace from looking a little chubby round the middle. The rear I'm not so sure about though. The slim rear lamps are nicely done, but the big black plastic trim around the twin exhaust pipes spoils the classy effect a little.
Things get better inside. No, it isn't the Victorian private members club of your Grandad's Daimler Sovereign, but the E-Pace is contemporary, well-designed and most importantly for a Jaguar, it feels well screwed together. The touchscreen control system is much improved over what came before, although it perhaps isn't quite as slick and speedy as the one you'll find in a Merc or an Audi.
But the basics are done well here. The seats are very comfortable, the driving position (I suspect some input from Land Rover here) is commanding, and the swept up centre stack lends an air of 'specialness' that was a little lacking in the XE.
Speaking of the XE, that car also donates the 2.0 litre 180 bhp diesel engine that the E-Pace I drove was equipped with. I'll be honest with you, I've been racking my brain for a while now trying to find a clever simile or witty metaphor to describe this motor, but I'm afraid it is such a comprehensively unexciting object, that I haven't been able to. It is, put simply, an engine.
Jaguar says that it can potentially accelerate the E-Pace from 0 to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, and I'm sure it can. But at no point whilst driving this car did I feel inclined to check.
The engine rather sets the tone for the rest of the driving experience, I'm afraid. There's nothing really wrong with it, but I had really hoped that Jaguar would have sprinkled a little bit of the fairy dust that I know they keep in their chassis department over the E-Pace to make it stand out. This is the firm that gave us the XJR, the XK, and the bloody E-Type after all.
But the steering, the brakes, the ride comfort and the gearbox are all ordinary. Competent, for sure, but never exciting. You never get the urge to chuck it into a bend, or give the engine some beans. You just drive around, and if that's all you want from an SUV then what's stopping you from buying a Kia Sportage and pocketing the £8000 price difference?
Well, there's no denying that the new Jaguar has plenty of grace about it. In the Caeseium Blue paint my car was finished in, people really did look at it. That interior has the space too, and it is a nice place to be.
But for me, to really 'work' a Jaguar needs the pace too. Or more to the point, it needs to make you want to extract the pace that lives within. And the E-Pace just doesn't. It's problem doesn't stem from being too much of an SUV, it stems from not being enough of a Jaguar.
That's just me though. And for most people, just being able to say they drive a "Jaaaaaaag" whereas before the couldn't afford to will be enough. And the fact that it's an SUV will sway them if the price tag doesn't. I bet they sell millions.
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THE TECHNICAL BIT - 2018 JAGUAR E-PACE D180 R-DYNAMIC AWD.
Engine: 1999cc Diesel, 4 cylinders, Turbocharged. Transmission: 6-Speed Manual. Power: 180 BHP. Torque: 317 lbs/ft. Driven wheels: Four Wheel Drive. 0-62 MPH: 9.3 secs. Top Speed: 127 MPH Economy: 50.4 MPG Combined. Price: £28,930 excluding options.