Exploring Skye

It’s hard to argue that Jaguar has experienced anything short of a renaissance over the past few years, and like seemingly everyone else, they’re venturing into the world of SUVs.

Those who believe a Jaguar should be a certain type of car, who speak of the brand the same way a rather famous television motoring host with the initials JC would, are likely decrying this change from their armchairs. And you do have to wonder if the likes of Jaguar are expanding their ranges, is anything sacred? Finding myself not in an armchair, but at the invitation of Jaguar in the driver’s seat, climbing over over the Skye Bridge with some of the greatest roads in the United Kingdom stretched out before me, it seems rude not to put the E-PACE through its, ahem… paces.

The Isle of Skye seems far from the natural habitat of the Jaguar E-PACE. If anything the aesthetic of wilderness, lochs, and remote glens are antithetical to the entire Jaguar brand; more the purview of its sister company, Land Rover. Surely when two companies are as intertwined as these, you’re best served keeping the Jaguars parked in Fitzrovia and the Land Rovers outside the Dog & Gun? Yet, here we are. Jaguar and Land Rover share platforms between one another and indeed, some market share. I’m told the logic is that the Jaguar is suited best for trips like these – active excursions like surfing and fishing, but still within phone signal range and earshot of an A road. Plus, if you want to leave your keys in the car, there’s always the ‘Activity Key’ – a waterproof wristband key.

First off we drop by Kinloch Lodge for a spot of afternoon tea. By all accounts, this is one of the best places to stay in Scotland – with a Michelin-starred restaurant attached, this 16th-century hunting lodge is premium accommodation, as long as you ignore the menagerie of taxidermies lining the walls you might even call it understated. With rumbling stomachs satisfied with a red pepper soup that a neighbouring table described as ‘life-changing’, we head outside to meet the gillie, Mitchell. To help us city-dwellers cope with the sheer brutality of the wilds of Skye, we needed a guide, and he was the right man for the job. In truth, he was there to take us foraging on the shores of the loch.

Spending the early afternoon nibbling on local flora with such evocative names as bog myrtle and hairy bittercress, and regaled with the 8500 year history of Skye, it seemed appropriate to then spend some time with the car. I grabbed the keys to the E-PACE P250 and headed out on my own for an hour. After a not-so-brief excursion up a gravel road to nowhere (which the all-wheel-drive E-PACE handled very admirably), I pulled up at the far side of the loch to take in the soft evening light. Skye is unbelievably picturesque, and the well-appointed interior of this car is far from the worst place to experience it from. In all honesty it’s a very nice place to be, with a very good grade of leather on the seat and impeccable contrast stitching. Even the infotainment isn’t too hard to use. A short jaunt back to Kinloch Lodge culminates in a decadent seven-course tasting menu, containing scallops which I’m not sure I’ll ever consume a better version of washed down with a nightcap cocktail made from some of our foraged plants.

We peel out of Kinloch Lodge early in the morning but not before sampling some truly outstanding breakfast. It’s hard to make porridge sound sexy. I won’t attempt to, but please know that I think about it longingly most mornings. The roads to our next destination are nothing short of magical. Endless visibility, smooth surfaces, challenging corners, and with camber that sucks the car through the turn, they’re a recipe that begs you to go faster and faster. The E-PACE P300 that I’m piloting this morning is more than happy to egg me on. I don’t leave any of the 300ps from the turbo’d inline-four in the tank, and the electronic steering rack delivers a satisfying and direct feeling through the wheel in dynamic mode.

The E-PACE is the smallest Jaguar SUV, but it’s still quite a large car. As you lean into the driving, it almost feels like the car shrinks as your confidence expands. One of the greatest challenges of modern automobile engineering to me is creating an engaging feeling when there are so many systems between you and the road, and that problem becomes exponentially greater the further your seat is from said road. It’s good to know that Jaguar have got their heads on straight. It’s well-balanced on these roads, neither too floaty, nor too skittish. It’s still an SUV, and I certainly don’t recommend trying to find its limit in public, but it’s surprisingly competent on such fantastic roads. As sporting as it may allude to being, the brittle plastic paddle-shifters behind the wheel should be taken as a very clear signal that it sits quite a long way from Jaguars racing heritage. Clearly they didn’t expect anyone to actually use those.

Needless to say, I arrive ahead of schedule. Mitchell, decked out in full fly-fishing regalia, directs me to the side of the road that runs alongside the shores of Loch Fada, which sits near the foot of the iconic Storr rock formation. After ten minutes of practice casting a fly I’m ankle-deep in the loch and under the heavy barrage of a hail and snow shower. With my coat thoroughly permeated, and teeth chattering, the car ‘journalist’ portion of myself says that this would have been a good chance to test the waterproof Activity Key band, which was left warm and cosy inside the car. A half hour later and absent of the brown trout that supposedly call the Loch their home, I make my way back to the E-PACE and lightly toast myself with the heated seats.

The next leg of our tour takes us towards the northern part of the island, and The Quiraing – a towering rock plateau that dominates this part of the island. As we ascend the road narrows, the smooth surface giving way to potholes. The E-PACE is excellently dampened, especially for a car with conventional suspension, and takes the ruts in its stride. Our final expeditionary stop has us trekking towards the coast in hopes of spotting some sea otters. We leave without spotting any, but Mitchell, ever the improviser, uses his encyclopedic knowledge of the area to take us to explore the remains of an ancient castle on a nearby cliffside.

The Skye Bridge disappears in the rear view mirror shortly afterwards, and I spend the drive back across Scotland thinking about what exactly this car means, and who it’s for. The brand overlap with Land Rover feels emblematic of a greater problem of compulsive badge engineering in the automotive world, but at least a good car has sprung forth from it.

So, how does the E-PACE fit alongside the rest of the Jaguar range? Is it the purest Jaguar? No. But it is a good car, and it’s a good Jaguar. The name is a somewhat strange, a shoehorned referral to William Lyons’ maxim of ‘Grace, Space, Pace’, and it is slightly awkward in a lot of ways. But I’m far from offended by its existence, and it should be on the shortlist of anyone looking for a car in this category. It’s certainly one of the best looking, and I’m not entirely convinced that many, if any, could match its performance and capability. The truth is, and I may be losing some cachet by saying this, I didn’t once think I needed anything different on what may be some of the greatest roads I’ve ever driven on.

It’s a long way away from an F-TYPE, and it’s certainly not a Land Rover, but I could definitely live with the E-PACE quite happily. Long live the new era of Jaaaaaag.

Words and photography Nat Twiss

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Exploring Skye