The premium SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) market is for luxury car makers what the Oscars after-party is to celebrities: each is desperate to get in on the action. When Porsche launched their Cayenne SUV fifteen years ago they went from zero (profit) to money-making hero. Just making sports cars is like owning a selection of race horses, they may look impressive but are extremely difficult to make money from. SUVs on the other hand, can be a licence to print money, as buyers love their perceived sense of security, practicality and driving positions. This explains why we now have SUVs from unlikely heroes like Bentley, Maserati and now arriving late, albeit fashionably so, is Jaguar’s F-Pace.
The F-Pace range starts at £35,020 in the UK and is launched with a range of new engines that major in efficiency. That last word is rarely associated with an SUV but to Jaguar’s credit the F-Pace is predominantly constructed out of lightweight aluminium. This means that the base 2.0 litre 4-cylinder diesel engine (180 PS 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds) with manual transmission offers economy of close to 60 miles per gallon as well as low CO2 emissions of 129g/km. You can of course specify a more traditional 8-speed automatic gearbox if you so wish as well as the security of All Wheel Drive (AWD). For greater budgets (from £52,300) there is a choice of two larger 6-cylinder engines, which come in the form of either a 3.0 diesel (300 PS, 159 g/km and 48 mpg, 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds) or a 3.0 litre supercharged petrol (380 PS, 209 g/km, 31 mpg, 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds).
That slightly awkward name is derived from pinching the last word from Jaguar’s vintage slogan of: “Grace, Space and Pace” and linking it to the ‘F’ in their sports car model, the F-Type. This a deliberate ploy as Jaguar want to pitch F-Pace as their “most practical sports car”.
Trying to incorporate svelte design language and then applying it to the lofty dimensions of an SUV is a challenge for any design team. Porsche’s original Cayenne may well have saved the company but it was cursed with looks less catwalk-queen and more should-not-be-seen. Thankfully, the F-Pace avoids the ugly stick by wearing Jaguar’s latest design cues with ease. From the traditional Jaguar bonnet power bulge through to its pronounced rear haunches and tapered roofline, the F-Pace manages to look much like the feline the company is named after, being both powerful yet graceful at the same time.
Around at the rear the neat light cluster is lifted straight from the F-Type and combined with the F-Pace’s squat stance, which all helps to reinforce the sports car link. It may be late to the party, but thanks to this test model’s optional Italian Racing Red paint complete with 22-inch wheels it is easily the belle of the ball.
Climb inside and were it not for the fact that you sit up relatively high you could be forgiven for thinking that you were sat in one of the company’s sports cars. Unlike most SUVs where you tend to sit perched upright a bit like a Meerkat on look-out duty, in the F-Pace you sit with your legs and arms out stretched just like in an F-Type. This sports car driving position still affords a commanding view of the road ahead – a trait that buyers of this type love. Unlike an F-Type however, the F-Pace is incredibly spacious inside, offering plenty of room in the front and acres of space in the rear. This feeling is particularly enhanced with the optional panoramic glass roof which makes the interior feel incredibly airy.
Ahead of you the dashboard is familiar territory for anyone used to the current Jaguar range with an attractive sweeping dashboard arc, chrome highlights that lend an air of sophistication as well as the rising circular gear selector which adds a welcome touch of drama. The central 8-inch touchscreen removes the need for multiple buttons but it does mean that whilst on the move you tend to point and prod like fumbling for the light switch to the bathroom in the middle of the night, neither of which is conducive to avoiding little accidents.
Talking of prodding, the leather and quality of some of the plastics are still decidedly below par for what you may expect from a Jaguar. Possibly forgivable at the entry level price of just over £35,000 but when dealing with the upper range models at £50,000 + rather inexcusable. Much like in the world of football, the Germans just do this stuff better.
Contrary to popular belief the F-Pace is not simply a re-badged Land Rover as it utilises Jaguar’s own unique aluminium platform. As far as Jaguar are concerned, the F-Pace is an SUV for the road leaving sister brand Land Rover to do all the rough and tough stuff. That is not to say that the F-Pace runs out of talent off the beaten track. Thanks to an optional All Wheel Drive (AWD) system it can cleverly juggle its power between its front and rear wheels to give maximum grip at all times. On top of that there is also a clever traction control (Adaptive Surface Response) that instantly allows you to programme your F-Pace to take on either mud, ice, snow or gravel conditions so that when the going gets tough, your F-Pace (will still) get going.
We were kindly lent the 3.0 diesel S model (from £52,300) to put through its er, paces, and right from the outset you can sense the Jaguar breeding in the way it flows down a road. Thanks to its relatively low weight combined with quick steering it glides effortlessly from bend to bend. Throw in the optional adaptive dampers and it offers tight body control (Dynamic mode) when you require maximum attack mode or eases everything off for a more comfortable ride (Normal mode) when you simply wish to cruise. That said low speed ride comfort can be firmer than you may expect, not uncomfortably so, but the standard 18 inch wheels make for a more cushioned drive.
Something else noticeable at low speeds is that the F-Pace is supercar wide, more so than even a Lamborghini Gallardo at just over 1.9 metres. Having such a wide track may bless the Jaguar with fine handling but it curses it when you need to manoeuvre in confined spaces. Like trapping a big cat in a cage, this Jaguar is much better suited to the big wide outdoors where its refinement can really shine. The 3.0 litre diesel engine offers plenty of power to give instant overtaking ability and unlike the smaller 4-cylinder diesel engines available it is as quiet as Hillary Clinton’s political career and unlike Mr Trumps, beautifully smooth too. Combined with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission gear changes slip by unnoticed or change instantly at the flick of a paddle to devour miles with ease. Fuel economy was impressive at an average 50 miles per gallon on a longer journey proving that budget willing this is the F-Pace to go for. Rest assured however, no matter which engine you choose the F-Pace jostles with the Porsche Macan for first position in the SUV driving stakes.
The F-Pace is by far and away Jaguar’s most practical car – not an especially difficult task from a company that specialises in sports cars and luxury saloons. However, this is a very spacious car even when compared to its nearest rivals (Porsche Macan, Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC). Boot space is an impressive 650 litres and can be further extended to a whopping 1,740 litres with the rear seats folded.
There is also plenty of space front and rear, but those in the back benefit from nearly a metre in leg room. This is more than a certain Mrs May benefits from in the back of her company Jaguar and means business class travel for either three children or two big kids.
This being the latest and most advanced Jaguar yet with a technology options list that tends to read like “thou shall not give in to temptation” with appealing gadgets such as: Head-Up Display, LED Headlights, a Surround Sound System to name but a few. That said any prospective owner would do well to upgrade to Jaguar’s expensive Touch Pro (£1,780) system, which offers a larger 10.2-inch central touchscreen that features sharper graphics and thanks to a much faster processor it reacts to inputs and gestures instantly. The standard (In Control Touch) 8-inch touchscreen seems like it dates from even a pre-smartphone era where whole seconds can be counted between input and output.
The upgraded Pro system also provides ‘Virtual Instrument Display’ in front of the driver which swaps the conventional dials for a crisp 12.3 inch virtually rendered dashboard. The driver can then configure your display to what you want to see. From virtual instruments that look as crisp and clear as conventional analogue items through to viewing the satellite navigation instruction in all its full 3-D mapping widescreen glory.
Talking of clever displays, Jaguar have also introduced Land Rover’s optional ‘Dual View’ technology that allows both driver and passenger to follow different media on the same central touch screen.
Very clever technology that works by making use of different viewing angles. For example, the driver can follow the navigation instructions whilst his/her passenger can dutifully go all La La Land for Ryan Gosling thanks to the supplied wireless headphones.
The F-Pace also introduces an optional ‘Activity Key’ that looks and acts like a fitness bracelet and yet acts as a set of waterproof car keys whilst the conventional fob is stored safely in the car, making for a cool way to enter the car when the only thing you have on is your swimwear.
Fashionably late as it may be, the F-Pace has wasted no time in flying up the charts to become the fastest selling Jaguar in history. We may all want an F-Type but then pesky everyday considerations like practicality and running costs come into play and thankfully, the F-Pace exists to soften any fall back to reality. It is the best all round Jaguar the company produces, offering grace, space and pace aplenty.
Model tested: Jaguar F-Pace S, 3.0-litre diesel, 8-speed automatic, All-Wheel Drive (300 PS, average of 47 MPG combined, 159 g/km of CO2 emissions). Price as tested £59,665.
Priced from: £34,730 for 2.0-litre diesel, manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive (163 PS, 59 MPG combined, 126 g/km of CO2 emissions)