Does the Jaguar F-Pace present a viable challenge to the mighty Porsche Macan?
The 2017 Jaguar F-Pace SUV is nothing short of a proper Jaguar, a largely uncompromising model in what is now the strongest line-up in the British brand’s history.
At first, the F-Pace may confuse. After all, Jaguar is a sports car company at heart and SUVs have always been left to sister brand Land Rover - but it’s when one takes a deep look at what makes an F-Pace a Jaguar, both in and out, that it starts to make more sense.
Styled by world-renowned car designer, Ian Callum, the F-Pace is unmistakably a Jaguar with its signature front grille and the F-Type-inspired rear taillights. It’s somewhere between an SUV and a coupe, though it does tend to exude the best of both worlds.
The design mission was to create a great looking Jaguar that just happens to be an SUV, rather than a good-looking SUV that happens to be a Jaguar. In that regard, it has been a success.
On the inside, the F-Pace presents a clean and simple cabin with an elegant use of materials that feel as they look. A massive 12.3-inch HD virtual instrument display is optional on all models (although standard on First Edition), which, in combination with the new 10-inch InControl Touch Pro nav system, really adds a layer of technological sophistication to the car that its German rivals so dearly lack.
Australian-delivered F-Pace models will lack the connectivity component of the infotainment system to start with, so things like Google street view and wifi hotspot will be unavailable at launch. They should arrive with model-year 2018 cars, though.
The infotainment system is finally on par with the best in the business, BMW's iDrive, and in some ways it's even better considering the speed at which it responds to inputs.
It’s a highly innovative car, in that regard. There are some exemplary features, such as the ability to unlock the car using your Apple Watch, or optioning up what Jaguar calls an activity key wrist band (roughly $500), which allows you to leave the keys in the car at all times and simply touch the J of the Jaguar badge on the boot to unlock the car. It’s genius, as it’s waterproof and looks like a fitbit, and it means you’ll never have to worry about keys again, whether you’re going for a surf or running late to a meeting.
The rear seats are incredibly spacious as the car tends to sit somewhere between an X3 and an X5 in size, and certainly provides significantly more knee and head room than a Macan. The boot is also enormous at 650-litres (seats up), well ahead of the 500 litres of the Porsche Macan and BMW X4, the 540 litres of the Audi Q5 and the 550 litres of the new Mercedes-Benz GLC.
Local pricing starts from $73,340 for the base model diesel and goes all the way up to $120,700 for the limited First Edition model.
A 132kW/430Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel starts the range, followed by a 220kW/700Nm 30d 3.0-litre diesel, 250kW/450Nm 35t petrol and the range topping 280kW/450Nm higher output supercharged version of the same engine. Full pricing and specification details can be found here.
The British company says the F-Pace will go up against most medium-sized luxury SUVs, but it does focus its attention on the Porsche Macan and the BMW X4, as they present a more dynamically-oriented challenge that the Jaguar claims to better.
To prove the point, we travelled deep inside Montenegro in East Europe, where the roads are twisty and extremely narrow and the locals enjoy playing games of chicken with cars. Here, the F-Pace proved a few things.
Firstly, even in the First Edition model, where 22-inch wheels all around are standard, the ride quality is superb. Roads in Montenegro are riddled with potholes and uneven surfaces, but the F-Pace felt composed, compliant and not at all jittery. It must be said that both the First Edition and 3.0-litre diesel we drove had adaptive suspension (dampers) that provided a comfort mode.
Secondly, as good as the new F-Pace is - and it’s very good - the Porsche Macan is still a more capable car. Where the F-Pace wins on practicality, features for the money and potentially even for styling, in our view the Macan remains the dynamic king of the SUV segment. But it’s important to know why and whether that’s even relevant.
From the outset the F-Pace is certainly not your standard SUV. It’s an all-wheel-drive offering with a rear-wheel-drive bias that makes its dynamic characteristics more in line with a BMW X5 than any Range Rover product to date. As such, it demands to be driven in a certain way.
In normal driving conditions, it pushes more than 90 per cent of its might to the rear wheels, only powering the front wheels when the situation requires. But, its wet clutch is still capable of pushing 90 per cent of the engines torque to whichever end is in need.
Strangely, then, we found that it tends to understeer when pushed hard and, where the Macan’s torque vectoring system would assist by applying torque to the outer wheels in a tight corner to bring the car around, the F-Pace feels as though it does very little to help, lingering with the rear bias far too long.
We experienced the same levels of understeer in cars fitted with 22- and 19-inch wheels, though the character of the diesel tended to suit the F-Pace’s chassis and capability a bit better.
The other notable disappointment is the steering, which is vague and relatively uncommunicative. On one hand it’s sharp and very sensitive, but on the other there’s no tangible connection between the front wheels and the driver. Where the Jaguar XE is superb in this department, the F-Pace is lacking. This is, in part, the cause of some of the understeer issues, for there is no feel as to when the front end is going to let go right until it does.
But is any of this relevant? For the average buyer, the answer is a resounding no. But it should be, for Jaguar claims the F-Pace is the perfect balance between ride comfort and dynamic capability. While there is no doubt that the first Jaguar SUV rides almost as good as the best from Range Rover, it doesn’t have the dynamic edge that it seeks.
The F-Pace uses a near 80 per cent lightweight aluminium body structure, and the lateral stiffness for the front and rear is 50 and 30 percent stiffer than a Macan, respectively. Yet, there is something missing. The F-Pace is a superb choice for a sporty city SUV with plenty of room inside and a big boot, but it falls short of the high dynamic bar that has been set by Porsche.
From an engine perspective, we sampled the top-spec 280kW supercharged petrol and the 220kW turbodiesel. The six-cylinder petrol is straight out of the F-Type and it sounds as such (though Jaguar has removed the F-Type’s active exhaust, so there are no crackles on the over run). In normal mode the high-spec petrol is smooth and full of pull, but switch it to dynamic mode and it becomes very edgy, with the throttle response almost too sensitive. Jaguar claims it can do 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, but it’s more the in-gear acceleration that will impress you.
The diesel is a more liveable engine choice. It’s smooth, effortless and, while it's 0.7 seconds slower to 100km/h, it provides its power in a more linear fashion that suits the F-Pace’s characteristics. It has slight turbo lag off the line, but once the 700Nm of torque kicks in, there’s no stopping it.
All models make use of a ZF eight-speed transmission, which we found best left alone in automatic mode, as it occasionally tends to ignore manual paddle-shifter inputs - most annoyingly on the upshifts, when we found it hitting and sitting on the rev limiter despite being asked to go up a gear.
On the plus side the F-Pace is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to more open-road cruising. It’s a solid performer that will feel just as at home on a trip to Coles as it does around a winding country road. It has enormous grip and it’s unrelenting in that it begs you to drive it faster.
If the Jaguar F-Pace is measured on its own, as a sporty SUV, it is brilliant. Most owners, of which there will be more of than any other Jaguar in history, will find its aesthetics highly appealing and its road manner and ride comfort hard to beat. It will present a fantastic choice to those that seek something more unique and characterful than just another German SUV.
This is not an purchase decision that requires you to forget logic in favour of pure emotion, the F-Pace does so many things right you can forgive its small character flaws.
The pick of the range, which includes 12 models (plus an extensive options list), in terms of value for money and performance is the top-spec diesel in prestige or R-Sport guise.
However, at an on-road price of just over $80,000 for the entry model 2.0-litre diesel Prestige, the Jaguar F-Pace is about to open the door for the brand to a whole new set of buyers, and none of them will be disappointed.
The MY17 Jaguar F-Pace arrives in local dealerships in July.