I’ve been thrown into a bout of confusion by the F-Pace. I thought this was supposed to be the first ever crossover from Jaguar? It is — and it’s a radical departure for the brand, but it doesn’t come off as a newbie entering the cutthroat segment riddled with issues and there’s a good reason for that — Jaguar Land Rover, of course. The company has a bit of know-how when it comes to SUVs but I still expected the F-Pace to leave me scrunching my nose in disapproval. Purely because the F-Pace, unlike anything from Land Rover, is not exactly an off-roader. It is built on an all-new platform and is rear-wheel drive in most applications, until it needs all-wheel grip. Again unlike a Land Rover. More pertinently though, Jag doesn’t make high-riding family haulers. Never has done. We know it for its rip-roaring sportscars and bonkers saloons, cars for keen drivers basically. But a people carrier?
My pen was poised on my pad ready to jot down all manner of problems that I anticipated. Not engaging to drive. A numb steering. Slow. But, I’ve come away with an almost clean sheet of paper. This doesn’t feel like Coventry’s first SUV at all. On the contrary, the handsome and purposeful F-Pace leaves you thinking the British carmaker has had this one in its line-up for years. It feels as if it’s been around for a decade and certainly doesn’t give you the impression of being a debutant in the thriving crossover/SUV scene. Nerves? It’s hiding them extremely well under that sleek exterior that we first saw three years ago as the C-X17. Even from 100 metres away it’s easy to distinguish this is a Jaguar — its sheer presence makes itself known from any distance. The aluminium-intensive body (how intense? Over 80 per cent of it is made of the lightweight material…), which remains true to the aesthetics of the concept, features an elegant yet muscular design. It’s a svelte looker with more than enough attitude infused in it for its German rivals to sit up and take note. It combines aggression with assertiveness in its stance and is clearly influenced by the F-Type. Take the rear for example; the LED taillights are almost identical to the coupé’s and the muscular haunches, too. Heck, even the profile, with that sleek roofline and those short overhangs, reminds me of the two-seater. The power bulge in the bonnet hints at the performance potential the F-Pace carries and the bold grille and sleek headlights have a rather menacing look about them. Our tester, the F-Pace S (there are six trims in all, this is the hottest one, yet) rides on a set of 22in 15-spoke wheels and it has a black paint job. Not any old black — Ultimate Black.
Jump in and you are met with a first-class cabin. There is space, luxury and refinement aplenty in here. This true five-seater packs premium materials and high levels of craftsmanship that far higher-end models are blessed with. The driver’s seat lends you a favourable forward view (the B-Pillar doesn’t get in the way when you’re looking over your shoulders but the side-view mirrors sure are on the large side) and sat up high, above all the other mere transportation devices amongst you, the F-Pace gives you a grand sense of occasion. The seats have been shaped to give you both comfort and support (they’re available with 14-way adjustment, heating and cooling), and they do a fine job in holding you in place when you hammer down, but it is the details such as the Taurus soft-grain leather, contrasting twin-needle stitching and embossed headrests that leave a lasting impression. Then there’s the fancy instrument panel that features a 12.3in HD virtual instrument cluster, a full-screen 3D navigation display residing in the 10.2in infotainment touchscreen with the premium InControl Touch Pro system (with a powerful quad-core processor) and ambient lighting that changes the mood in the cabin depending on the drive mode; in Dynamic the lighting turns an angry red, in Normal and Eco it’s a soothing blue.
It’s ever-so practical, too, what with more than enough leg- and headroom up front, and even more in the second row; with a 2,874mm wheelbase, access to the back is easy as you like and the rear seats have been designed so that you sit further outboard, increasing the space ahead of you. Also, thanks to the low beltline, you get a good view out and in spite of the sloping roofline, you don’t feel claustrophobic — not with a panoramic roof allowing lots of natural light to bathe the cabin. Pull open the lightweight composite tailgate (or push the button on the key fob or use gesture control by making a smooth kicking motion) and it lifts up to reveal 650 litres of luggage room. If you need more, simply fold the second row flat and that number swells to 1,740. More than enough to accommodate bags, shopping, the pet dogs.
Jump in and you are met with a first-class cabin. There is space, luxury and refinement aplenty in here.
On the technology front, it’s loaded. Some of the highlights include Bluetooth connectivity, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a reverse traffic detection system, automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning system and a crystal clear Meridian 11-speaker sound system. But, the one piece of hardware that’ll raise an eyebrow is the world debut of Jaguar’s Activity Key. This is a waterproof wristband with an integrated transponder that allows you to lock and unlock the doors with the key fob in the car. It disables the chunky key, too, so any chancers out there thinking their luck is in and they’re about to ride off into the sunset with the F-Pace, bad news. You’re not.
That’s all fine and dandy but I’m not nearly as impressed by all the whizbangery as I am with the way the F-Pace drives. As the body has a high torsional stiffness, this allows the F-Type-derived double wishbone front suspension and integral link rear to really showcase its ability. And, with torque vectoring as standard, not to mention a nicely weighted electric power steering, this potent crossover boasts assured handling.
“Packing 380bhp and 460Nm of torque, it takes just 5.5sec for it to reach 100kph from standstill...”
However, it isn’t ready to knock the Macan off its perch just yet. The Porsche is still the best-performance crossover out there in my opinion, but the Jag isn’t as far off in terms of dynamic ability as some may have thought. With the all-new torque on-demand all-wheel drive system being Jaguar’s most sophisticated yet (in normal driving conditions, all of the torque is sent to the rear axle but if more traction is needed, the system sends power to the front axle in just 165 milliseconds) it gives the F-Pace a real sure-footedness and as a result, you are able to wring more out of the superb 3.0-litre supercharged V6. The motor may not sound great under load, it is slightly noisy and coarse, but it sure has the ability to move the F-Pace in a hurry — even if it tips the scales at 1,861kg. However, the weight rarely transpires on the road, unless you push it really hard in the corners, in which case there is some roll to contend with.
“The all-aluminium engine (it’s shared with the F-Type) is characterised by its seemingly immediate throttle response.”
Packing 380bhp and 460Nm of torque, it takes just 5.5sec for it to reach 100kph from standstill (two-tenths of a second faster than the base F-Type) and its straight line prowess never gets tiresome. Its top speed has been pegged back to 250kph but it’s well within its capability to do more; the V6 provides an ideal balance of power, refinement and economy — but it’s the go that induces the biggest smile on your face. The all-aluminium engine (it’s shared with the F-Type) is characterised by its seemingly immediate throttle response. With a roots-type supercharger along with direct injection, high torque output is guaranteed throughout the rev range and thrilling acceleration is always a toe poke away. But a motor is only as good as the transmission it is paired to and with a ZF unit working the cogs, the eight-speed, which directs power to all four corners, is always in the right gear. Manual donwnshifts could have been more immediate, however the paddles make a satisfying ‘click’ when pressed into action. But there’s a hint of jealousy for markets that get a six-speed manual. That one would be so much fun to drive, but then again, so is this. How much more fun do you really need? Maybe there’s an F-Pace R in the works to answer that question.
Compared to some of its German rivals, Jaguar is a minnow and doesn’t build nearly as many cars every year. But it’s made a real contender for the crossover crown in the shape of the F-Pace — its first effort in the segment is so good that it could easily pass as the second- or third- generation model, as it feels so confident and so mature despite being a newcomer. Best of all, it can also be a playful cat when you want it to. The boys in Coventry have done a sterling number on this one — a model that more than lives up to the Sports promise in Sports Utility Vehicle. You know, a bit like SUVs are supposed to do…