Jaguar's first-ever SUV presents a strong proposition for those buyers chasing style and performance, but it falters in other areas.
I’m dead certain Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons wasn’t envisioning an SUV when he coined the marketing phrase ‘grace, space and pace’ all those years ago, yet the marque’s new 2016 Jaguar F-Pace manages to fit the bill to a tee.
Jaguar’s original dream team included aerodynamics genius Malcolm Sayer, tech wizard Bill Heynes, chief test engineer Norman Dewis, and project manager/engineer Lofty England. Together, under Lyons, they created history with fabulous designs like the C-Type, D-Type, E-Type, and XJ6 sedan.
These were the industry benchmarks of the day and were universally celebrated for their exquisite styling and superb ride and handling.
Ian Callum is now Jaguar’s longstanding custodian of design — responsible for a host of contemporary automotive eye candy, including the second-generation XK sports car, XF, XJ, XE, F-Type and now Jaguar’s first ever SUV, the F-Pace.
Yet Jaguar’s offering is a decade late to the party – a decade that has seen most of the world’s recognised luxury automotive brands reap huge benefits from an SUV sales bonanza that’s been on the boil for years.
Take BMW. It’s large SUV, the X5, has been selling like hot cakes ever since it launched way back in 1999. Last count put the number of X5’s sold at over 1.3 million units, with profits exceeding $20 billion.
Jaguar’s sister brand Land Rover is widely credited with singlehandedly creating the luxury SUV segment with the launch of the iconic Range Rover in 1970, after which the German manufacturers followed suit.
Mercedes-Benz was next to join the ranks when they launched the M-Class in 1997, whereas Audi waited until 2005 before the Q7 arrived. Land Rover also launched the slightly smaller Range Rover Sport in 2005, taking the view that they would handle SUVs, while Jaguar would focus exclusively on building luxury cars.
But times have changed, and demand for luxury SUVs across all sizes shows no sign of slowing. In fact, it’s growing, with some industry analysts predicting their popularity will soon outstrip that of standard cars.
It helps if you can share the same lightweight aluminium architecture with agile performers like Jaguar’s XF and more recent XE – the latter possessing what I would label as one of the best chassis in the business. But in order to properly counter the German SUV onslaught, the F-Pace was always going to need more – it also needed to have similar aesthetic appeal as a Jaguar sedan. That’s not an easy thing to pull off in the high-riding, load carrying segment.
Up against a raft of similarly priced SUV offerings in a recent eight vehicle comparison that included the Lexus RX350 F Sport, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, the F-Pace clearly won the catwalk contest. It’s even better looking in the metal than it is in photographs and a real victory in that regard.
Inside, the F-Pace is a bit of a mixed bag and nowhere near as exciting as we saw in Jaguar’s C-X17 concept at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show. This was positively Audi-esque in its cockpit design and all the better for it.
It’s not so much the materials used, because Jaguar uses some nice metal trims and premium leather for the seats and door trim. There’s plenty of standard kit too, even with the entry-level Prestige model, including features like powered tailgate, bi-function Xenon headlamps with auto levelling, electric front seats with memory and lumbar adjust, 11-speaker Meridian sound system, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, tyre pressure monitoring system, lane departure warning and satellite navigation rounding out the highlights.
Our tester, was the $91,304 (plus on-roads) F-Pace Portfolio 30d, which sits directly under the range-topping $117,164 First Edition, but with a host of options fitted, the price lifted to $125,144 plus on-road costs. Those options aren’t exactly a value proposition either, when you consider 22-inch alloy wheels at $4700, Panoramic roof for $4200, heated and cooled front seats at $2300 and digital TV tuner for $2100, to name just a few.
I’m also still not completely sold on JLR’s (Jaguar Land Rover) adoption of the circular gear shifter – I’d argue that it’s a bit counter intuitive and you never really get used to it, as you would a more traditional shift lever.
There’s some cheaper plastics used on the centre stack and steering wheel, and the design of the cockpit itself doesn’t look, or feel, as premium as Audi’s Q7 or Volvo’s XC90, which are both simply superb. Even the Range Rover Sport in pretty much base spec feels like a nicer place to be than the F-Pace.
The Meridian sound system is very good though, with strong clarity on the highs and lows, as well as a nice natural note overall. So too, is Jaguar’s ‘Pro’ level infotainment system with superfast processing speed and swipe functionality. This vehicle is also fitted with the optional 12.3-inch digital instrument display, offering multiple menus and functionality much like the system in the Q7.
Another very cool option is the 'activity' key - especially if you're like watersports. Essentially, you wear a watch-like rubber band while the actual key fob is left in the car while you surf, SUP or ride your ski. To open the car, once out of the water, simply hit the button to open the tailgate, which activates the system, and hold the band on the 'J' in the Jaguar badge on the tailgate, and you're ready to roll. It's a marvellous system that takes pain out of having to hide the key away from prying eyes.
Front seat comfort is another big plus for F-Pace, providing a near-perfect blend of cushioning and bolster that make even hours behind the wheel a real pleasure, no matter what condition the road surface.
Not quite so lush in the rear, though. The middle seat is very restrictive, due to minimal legroom and an overly intrusive transmission tunnel hump. The seatbacks are also quite firm, though the seat cushions are comfortable enough and rear-seat passengers have their own digital climate control console. But the F-Pace has a relatively high beltline that rises towards the rear of the vehicle, so visibility back there isn’t all that great.
Boot-wise it’s a similar story, at least if you option the full-size spare wheel instead of the space saver. In order to accommodate the wheel there’s an awkward-sized floor hump several centimetres high, thereby restricting load capacity.
But all that won’t matter to those that love the way it looks and like the way it drives, because it’s in the latter category in particular, where the F-Pace starts to really shine.
The fiscally conservative will most likely end up with the base model 2.0-litre diesel Prestige for $73,340 (it still looks great), but those wanting all the diesel grunt they can muster will tick the 30d box, which starts from $84,544 for the Prestige (base) trim we mentioned earlier.
Packing a 3.0-litre V6 with 221kW and a whopping 700Nm of torque for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.2 seconds, the F-Pace is easily one of the most powerful SUVs in its class, outgunning and outrunning both its Rangie Sport TDV6 S sibling (190kW/600Nm – 7.6sec) and slightly larger Porsche Cayenne Diesel (193kW/580Nm – 7.3sec) by some margin.
Punch it from a standstill and apart from the customary moment of hesitation before the turbos spool up and do their thing, the F-Pace feels properly quick compared with all its comparatively priced rivals. This engine has character too, and the eight-speed ZF auto shifts quickly and without fuss. but it’s not the most refined diesel in its class and frankly, a bit harsh under full load compared with the Cayenne and Q7, both of which run the same displacement engines.
Not forgetting our F-Pace tester rode on massive 22-inch alloys, ride comfort over well maintained roads was excellent. Where it faltered was on patchy surfaces with sharp edges, and during an off-road test section where it thumped about over bigger hits and felt brittle at times.
But that said, with only modest ground clearance and no low range transfer box, the F-Pace is much less about off-road conquering and more about all-weather capability with a definite skew towards the black stuff.
After all, it might be Jaguar’s first SUV, but underneath it’s got a buffed-up version of the F-Type’s double-wishbone front suspension and steering, and the same integral-link rear setup from the XF and XE sedans. It also tips the scales at around 1870 kilos, making it one of the lightest vehicles in its class.
Our test route included some uncluttered, undulating terrain with a combination of tight twisty turns and long open bends, and the F-Pace was brilliant. Dial up Dynamic on the optional adaptive damper settings, and this is one SUV that can string a series of corners together right up there with a Porsche Cayenne in terms of agility and body control. You can load it up and keep pushing, and the F-Pace just settles, but it’s not quite as sharp on turn-in as its Porsche rival, which might be perceived as a plus for those less inclined to exploit the impressive dynamic talents of the high-riding Jaguar.
It’s by no means the best all-round SUV, but it’s got style and panache to burn and for many, those attributes alone are all that matter. But for those with a more enthusiastic bent, Jaguar’s new F-Pace (at least in 3.0d guise) delivers a more exciting drive than most of its rivals.