SUVs are the big game in car showrooms, so it’s little surprise to spot Jaguar prowling new territory with its F-Pace, writes Jez Spinks.
It might have been considered controversial a couple of decades ago for a brand with sporty DNA like Jaguar to make an SUV, though Porsche absorbed all the wailing protestations from purists a long time ago with the Cayenne in 2002.
Jaguar believes the F-Pace can have a similarly huge effect on its sales, and at least the F-Pace’s athletic styling adheres to a history of fast sedans, coupes and roadsters. The long bonnet, lengthy side glass, and slanted, sweptback bodywork create a visual impression of a vehicle sitting on its rear haunches.
How fast it pounces depends on your choice of engine. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is the most leisurely, not helped by a degree of lag and gruffness, though it is the most economical – in terms of both fuel consumption (5.3 litres per 100km) and outlay (from $74,340).
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel (from $85,544) is much more in keeping with the spirit of the F-Pace. With 61 per cent more torque – 700Nm – there’s a vastly punchier and more satisfying mid-range, which helps to simplify overtaking manoeuvres as one of many benefits.
Two engines borrowed from other Jags, including the F-Type, properly put the pace into F-Pace. A 250kW version of a growling supercharged 3.0-litre V6 propels the SUV to three figures in 5.8 seconds – a time that can be cut by another three-tenths with the higher-tuned, 280kW F-Pace S.
The 250kW F-Pace ranges between $83,745 and $90,515 depending on spec; the S costs from $103,135.
With key rivals including the Porsche Macan and BMW X4, plus the F in its name linking the SUV with the company’s F-Type sports car, it’s imperative the F-Pace entertain in the twisty bits. In this respect, it doesn’t let down a lineage that dates back to the SS Jaguar 100 of the 1930s.
The F-Pace’s body inevitably leans more noticeably than lower-roofed Jags, yet it feels nicely balanced as it grips the road like a cat clawing your favourite sofa. A kerb weight lower than the segment average, thanks to an aluminium-intensive architecture, helps. As does an all-wheel-drive system that only engages the front wheels when there’s a shortage of traction. When a corner has enough room to swing a cat, squeezing the throttle harder can partially change the trajectory of the F-Pace’s rear end.
The F-Pace isn’t the first all-paw Jag here – that was the F-Type AWD – though a ground clearance of 213mm and a wading depth of 525mm gives it an off-roading capability more associated with Jaguar’s sister brand, Land Rover.
Jaguar says the F-Pace’s front differential has the highest torque capacity of any of its AWD models – and can take half of the engine’s torque if needed in just 165 milliseconds.
There’s also a terrain-adjusting Adaptive Surface Response system that varies the F-Pace’s throttle response, gearshift timing and stability control to deal with variable terrain such as snow/ice, gravel, and deep snow or gravel. At low speeds, you can even just steer, by engaging All Surface Progress Control – which acts like an off-road cruise control between 3.6 and 30km/h.
The F-Pace certainly gives you more confidence than an XE or XF sedan to tackle dirt trails – just don’t expect Discovery levels of obstacle hopping. (We’d also recommend avoiding the optional 22-inch wheels unless styling is a higher priority than ride quality.)
If it weren’t for the SUV’s elevated seating position, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re riding in any other Jaguar. There’s the ‘Riva Hoop’ curve linking the front doors and dash for a wraparound cockpit effect, rotary transmission dial, large central multimedia touchscreen, and choice of old-school instrument binnacle or new-age graphic dials cluster. Window switches move higher up the door, like a Land Rover, though similarly doesn’t help ergonomics.
Practicality is where the F-Pace distinguishes itself inside. Door pockets are super-sized for large bottles, rear-seat legroom is claimed as class-leading, and multiple 12V sockets are available.
The 508-litre boot is also the biggest in Jaguar’s range, though only just compared with the XF. A space-saver spare wheel reduces capacity over the 650L of European versions, which are equipped instead with mobility kits.
Fold the 40-20-40-segment seatbacks, though, and there’s a 1740-litre, 1.9-metre-long hole that will swallow lifestyle toys such as mountain bikes with greater ease than a sedan.
Jaguar has also shown its first sign of dipping into the world of personalised accessories with the F-Pace’s Activity Key. The Fitbit-style rubber wrist bracelet is waterproof and shock proof, and allows owners to lock the car key in the F-Pace to avoid losing it while swimming or cycling, for example.
There’s no doubt the British car brand has also put its own personal stamp on the SUV class with the excellent F-Pace.
Expect the tallest Jaguar to see the brand’s sales riding higher than ever.
This review originally appeared in our Summer 2016/17 issue: