Is Jaguar's debut SUV good enough to set the pace in the segment?
11 October 2016
Historically perceived as leading purveyors of wafting limousines and creamy British sports cars, Jaguar couldn’t be caught out as the middle-aged bloke who hadn’t realised that mullets and C90 cassettes are no longer in fashion. With seemingly every car manufacturer under the sun announcing a SUV, it was an inevitability that Coventry would follow suit.
Unlike one early performance SUV from Germany, which looked like a frog had had an unfortunate encounter with a foot pump, Jaguar’s F-Pace looks splendid from all angles, essentially blending the XF’s face with the F-Type’s posterior, in a wholly embraceable and effective way. Jaguar’s trademark finishing touches such as the J-blade daytime running lights and slimline taillights add a sprinkle of class to the muscular, dynamic silhouette, accentuated in this case by R-Sport body styling with Black Pack.
The F-Pace is much more stimulating to behold than rivals like the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC. The Porsche Macan is unarguably subtly special-looking, but the Jaguar pips it, largely thanks to its snorting grille that threatens to swallow other cars alive for supper. The Toxteth and indeed Hale Barns posses will be over the moon with the black 22” rims that fill the arches amply but don’t appear as elegant as the silver alternatives, which are available right down to 18 inches.
Larger SUVs such as the Range Rover, X5, Q7, XC90 and pretty Levante require a set of stepladders to climb aboard, but the F-Pace is hunkered lower to the asphalt like its rivals, meaning people of average height will be able to slide across into it. Sat at the helm, the Jag’s elevated seating position rubs shoulder to shoulder with all manner of cars from a Qashqai and X3 to a Grand Scenic and Galaxy but unsurprisingly feels grander and more special thanks to visual prompts ranging from the logo on the steering wheel to the red contrast stitching and bulging bonnet.
Inside, it’s apparent that the F-Pace has been built to a price, the roof headlining not made from Outer Mongolian wolves’ eyebrows and the switchgear not hewn from precious metals from a distant planet, cheap-feeling surfaces and controls such as the armrest storage lid, door handles and steering wheel adjustment lock letting it down. Still, despite Jaguar’s SUV not ultimately troubling Audi and the other German rivals in terms of interior quality, the F-Pace still feels special and buyers upgrading from mass-market brands will be smitten.
Aside from the electric window switches counter-intuitively positioned on the highest section of the doors, which is incidentally wide enough to plonk the contents of one’s picnic hamper on, the F-Pace is ergonomically executed very well indeed, the chunky leather steering wheel a joy to hold and most controls easy to fathom and operate. SUV drivers tasting Jaguar for the first time will fall head over heels for the rising rotary gear selector and gesture-controlled interior lights. Folding mirrors and a reversing camera are optional, the latter highly advisable due to the shallow rear window which makes reversing slightly daunting on occasion. Jaguar’s latest infotainment system and InControl Touch apps work effectively and the cabin is beautiful to behold at night if specified with curvaceous mood lighting.
Even without optional lumbar adjustment, the front seats are superbly comfortable on long journeys and the two-tone leather itself adds some pizazz even if it feels somewhat artificial to the touch, as per other recent Jaguars barring the XJ. Head, shoulder and legroom in the back are also plentiful and the provision of one 12V and two USB charging sockets is handy for families of technophiles, who will also appreciate the Wi-Fi hotspot and abundance of large storage cubbies on-board. The rear doors open generously widely, somewhat compensating for the arches eating into access, and the British SUV’s 650-litre boot trounces those in rival cars. Practicality has clearly been considered by the way the boot floor can be flipped between carpet and rubber at will and plenty of bag hooks are fitted to prevent loads sliding around. Additional hidden space is available underneath next to the battery and tyre inflation kit, and the back seats are a doddle to fold, although they don’t end up entirely flat, as a trip to IKEA proved. Gesture-opening is available as an optional extra and Jaguar’s Activity Key wearable technology will appeal to lovers of sport or the great outdoors who don’t mind wearing the wristband. In terms of comfort, standard equipment, space and practicality, the F-Pace excels and impresses.
Firing the 2-litre, four-cylinder Ingenium engine up, a distant diesel thrum can be heard, which turns into a clatter when the accelerator pedal is mashed into the carpet, but otherwise, it’s a remarkably refined and creamy unit. There’s discernible lag in Eco mode but it’s a joy to cruise, ahem, economically in. Even in Normal mode, the torque exploitation window still feels fairly narrow, unsurprisingly rectified by switching the handsome Jag’ into Dynamic mode and rotating the gear selector to ‘S’, the steering and throttle noticeably sharpened as a result. Producing peaks of 430Nm and 180PS from Jaguar’s in-house engine, the 2.0d F-Pace is no rocketship but its punch will satisfy the majority of drivers and performance is helped by the extensive use of aluminium, which keeps the weight down to just 1,775kg. This engine will unarguably prove the most popular for both private and business purchasers and leasers, and although returning 45.4mpg combined after 600 miles of mixed driving falls short of the 53.3mpg figure on paper in AWD automatic guise, it’s still pretty respectable.
The 2-litre F-Pace is a remarkably effective motorway cruiser with surprisingly low levels of wind, tyre and road noise, despite its reassuringly large wing mirrors and overall bulk. Its forte, though, is on snaking country roads, which it takes to like a pug to mud. The Electric Power Assisted Steering is weighted wonderfully, particularly in Dynamic mode, and provides plenty of feedback and crisp responses, making the F-Pace a hoot to drive enthusiastically. Advanced double-wishbone front suspension with an Integral Link setup at the rear help the Jaguar to corner with aplomb with relatively little body roll. The feeling of planted agility and nimbleness mean that drivers of all abilities will end up with beaming smiles on their faces, impressed and engaged but never intimidated, the wraparound dashboard helping ease how wide the car feels. The 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox very occasionally behaves clumsily and can be felt shifting and hunting, but is pleasantly smooth on the whole and holds onto higher gears impressively when cruising, helping optimise fuel economy. With a remarkably supple ride even on 20” alloys, along with torque vectoring control as standard and reassuring safety from the all-wheel drive system incorporating Intelligent Drivetime Dynamics, Adaptive Surface Response and All Surface Progress Control, it’s a fabulous SUV for any occasion, from the office commute and family seaside holidays to cheeky hairpin thrills at the weekend.
Emissions of 139g/km CO2 place the big cat in road tax band E, meaning £130 per year currently, whilst it’s rated as 27% in the BIK stakes. The F-Pace 2.0d R-Sport’s environmental credentials are on a par with an X3 xDrive20d M Sport and greener than a Q5 S line Plus 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic, which emits 157g/km.
With prices starting at £40,360 on the road and business fleet leasing prices currently around £414.99+VAT per month, Jaguar’s debut SUV is undisputedly pricier than alternatives like the Q5 and X3. However, the others simply don’t provide this special blend of Britishness, sexy styling, a beautiful ride and handling, and impressive, spacious practicality. Jaguar has created something rather wonderful in a crowded marketplace.