The first thing you notice, before you’ve travelled far, is how compact this new, small Jaguar SUV, the E-Pace, feels at speed.
Compactness isn’t something you instantly associate with Jaguars so some built-in agility is especially welcome on this narrow, sinuous Welsh back road that connects the thriving border town of Welshpool to Bala, about an hour away in central North Wales.
Much of that road is flanked by trees, abrupt drops, rocky banks and ancient, straggling fencing first put there when road users crawled past in Morris Minors. But the tarmac between those threatening verges describes one of the most exhilarating driving roads in Britain.
Instilling a sense of Jaguarness
We’re here because this is a favourite haunt for Mike Cross, the hugely experienced engineer in charge of ‘Jaguarness’, whose task is to polish every new model’s driving characteristics – as well as its comfort, visibility and control efficiency – so it fits the marque’s increasingly focused line-up.
Over the years, Cross and his driving-obsessed colleagues have put the finishing touches to a dozen new Jaguars on these roads.
They keep coming here because the ever-variable surfaces, gradients and humps constantly test a car’s springing, damping and cornering – and thus its core stability – to the limit, demanding steering that allows quick, accurate changes of direction and is entirely uncorrupted by extremes of suspension movement.
Like everything else in the compact SUV game, competition over driving factors is getting increasingly hot so it’s vital this Jag should assert itself in areas where the maker has claimed to be pre-eminent for more than 70 years.
If the market likes the E-Pace, the potential rewards are tempting: sales in its SUV class – which starts with the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA and includes models a size bigger – have more than doubled in the UK to about 440,000 since 2012. The increase has slowed a little in past months but they’re still running at record levels, accounting for around a fifth of all new cars sold here.