From its earliest beginnings, Jaguar has always been about design. Whether it was a sports car or a luxury sedan, they were things of beauty.
I’m thinking of the E-Type and the Daimler Double-six my old man had picked up as veritable barn finds and restored to near perfection back in the day, and they left a lasting memory and fondness for the brand that has endured ever since.
That memory was part affection and part pure unadulterated fear, when I decided to take the 4.2-litre Series 1.5 for a high-speed test run around North Head in Sydney, but almost lost it around the sweeper near the artillery base that used to call the place home.
We went in too hot, and even though I stood on the brakes with everything I had, the discs were small and generally underwhelming and we very nearly ended up in the drink. Thankfully, Dad only found out years later, but I could tell he was still enraged by the what-if factor. Fair enough, I suppose, given the E-Type remains a design icon 57 years after its release in 1961, and worth well over $150,000 in today’s money.
Enzo Ferrari even endorsed the E-Type when he called it “the most beautiful car ever made”. A proper icon then.
My point is that Jaguar has been at the forefront of automotive design for more than a few decades, and for many the brand still leads its rivals, particularly when it comes to creating head-turning SUVs.
Take the F-Pace, which only launched two years ago after being modelled off Jaguar’s stunning C-X17 Concept shown three years earlier at the Frankfurt Motor Show – though it looked production-ready even back then.
Fast-forward a couple of years and Jaguar’s first-ever SUV still cuts a handsome shape among a slew of highly polished rivals like Audi’s Q5, BMW’s X4, the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, and even Maserati with its Levante will play in the same segment once the potent SVR version of the F-Pace is launched later this year.
But for now, at least, there are no less than 18 different variants of F-Pace to choose between, and priced from $72,510 for the 20d Prestige up to the range-topping 35ts at $104,827.
At around $140,000 plus on-roads, the potent SVR will demand a heavy premium, but promises plenty of noise from a more angry cat altogether.
But, let me assure you, not all cats are created equal, as I found out after a week with the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace 20d R-Sport RWD. I’m still struggling to work out what the 'Sport' part refers to, because I’d argue it has little to do with straight-out performance, at least in this small-displacement diesel guise.
And, while it might be way down in the pecking order of F-Pace hierarchy, let me assure you it’s not exactly a bargain buy either – not at 78 grand plus on-roads, and that’s before options. And believe you me, there were plenty of those about this cabin.
Oh, and let’s be clear, this is the rear-wheel-drive version we had on test. If you want the same drivetrain and R-Sport trim with all-wheel drive, the price goes up by $3440 to $81,695.
Our tester was loaded to the hilt with all kinds of extra goodies, including the Touch Pro Navigation with 10.2-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument display along with a high-end 825W Meridian audio system – yours for $5170.
It also had a sliding panoramic roof ($4330) as well as the Practicality Pack encompassing lockable cooled glovebox, powered tailgate with gesture control, load space partition net, air quality sensor, keyless entry with push-button start, and rear seat remote release levers ($3770).
Then there is Adaptive Dynamics, essentially variable dampers, ($2470), 20-inch alloys in gloss black ($2160), Connect Pro Pack (Wi-Fi hotspot and apps) for $1750, Black Pack R-Sport ($1400), 360-degree parking aid ($1250), blind-spot monitor and reverse traffic detection ($1150), DAB (digital) radio is $930, privacy glass ($930), heated front seats ($820), InControl Protect (several connected features including emergency SOS call, Jaguar roadside assistance and smartphone apps) for $670, and the Activity Key (great idea: you can wear it in the water) at $660.
All up, our tester came in at a pinch below $100,000 before on-roads. Ouch. And there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto either, not even as an option. At least, not until 2019MY models arrive.
While there’s no question many of these items seem expensive and perhaps should be included, it’s also fair to say the standard inventory on-board the F-Pace could also be seen as reasonably extensive. Equipment like perforated, grained leather sports seats and steering wheel, 10-way electric front seats with driver memory and four-way electric lumbar adjust.
There are also auto-dimming heated door mirrors featuring power-fold with memory and approach lights, bi-function Xenon headlamps (Adaptive LEDs are a $3790 option on R-Sport variants) with LED daytime-running lights, 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with navigation and Bluetooth streaming.
And given the F-Pace’s reputation for adept handling, our tester was equipped with a raft of electronic systems like speed-proportional steering, torque vectoring, Configurable Dynamics and All Surface Progress Control.
Safety is also reasonably well covered by the F-Pace with active systems like front and rear parking aid with rear-view camera, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, trailer stability assist and hill launch assist. Disappointingly, there’s no adaptive cruise control as standard, rather it’s a $3370 option across all trim levels in the F-Pace line-up.
For some, including die-hard Jaguar fans and those with an eye for beauty, none of that will matter, because from any angle this is a seriously handsome SUV. Pretty even.
It’s not any one aspect of the design either, it’s the whole package. The masculine grille with Jaguar’s now-trademark J-blade daytime-running lights to the E-Type-inspired tail-light assembly and down to the multi-spoke glossed alloys – it all looks good. Sporty, but at the same time elegant – another vital trademark for this brand.
In this segment it’s as much about comfort too, and it doesn’t get much better than the perforated leather buckets up front. Even the rear-seat cushions are cosseting, though the two-tone leather upholstery might be a bit too much of a contrast for some.
And there’s plenty of twin-stitched hide around the rest of the cabin, as well as soft-touch surfaces and all the latest gadgetry. Yet, for all that, it just doesn’t feel special or, for that matter, as premium as it probably should. It’s all a bit ordinary against any of its German rivals. Some might even say Japanese luxury marque Lexus does a better job of premium at this level.
Mind you, it’s not any one aspect that stands out either, more a collection of things like the semi-dour plastics and switchgear, neither of which look or feel premium enough against the competition – namely Audi and ’Benz. BMW is up there too with top-notch materials and high-end tech, but lacks the five-star ambience that embellishes the others.
And while there are no real complaints about the functionality or indeed size of the 10.2-inch infotainment screen, the colour, clarity and resolution are not nearly as good as the superb system in the Range Rover Velar, for example, which gets two such screens that look and feel extra special.
The same goes for the digital instrument display – it lacks both the colour and crispness of those supersize screens in rival models. Frankly, it’s all a bit dull for my liking, especially given our tester’s $100K price tag, and light-years behind the systems found in the latest Audi and ’Benz models.
And, if you're hoping your R-Sport F-Pace lives up to its badge or indeed its slick styling, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel makes just 132kW of power and 430Nm of torque. And even though its largely aluminium body helps cut its kerb weight to 1775kg, it struggles to get going with any real enthusiasm, at least from a standstill or when exiting roundabouts.
It suffers from both its lack of power and inherent low-down turbo lag, though once up to speed the Ingenium diesel ticks along just fine. There’s more diesel clatter than I seem to recall of this engine, too, and certainly enough to dull its premium positioning.
But what it lacks in good ole fashioned grunt is more than made up for with its supreme fuel-sipping character. Drive this F-Pace with a light foot and you’ll go satisfyingly close to its 5.1L/100km claim.
However, if frugality isn’t your thing and you require more go from under the bonnet, there’s more than enough choice in the F-Pace range to please most needs.
You could easily forgo a few of the pricier options listed in our tester, and instead opt for the beefier 25d variant priced from $88,935. Mind you, it’s the same 2.0-litre displacement, only in this tune it's wound up to deliver a more versatile 177kW and 500Nm.
But, for even less, you could have the $86,445 30d armed with a far more serious twin-turbo V6 diesel making 221kW and a whopping 700Nm. It’ll go from 0–100km/h in 6.5 seconds – wiping a massive 2.3 seconds off our 20d R-Sport’s performance.
That’s despite its near-100kg weight penalty over the four-pot too. Thankfully, there’s no such compromise when it comes to ride and handling, though, both of which the F-Pace 20d excels at.
It’s a very competent chassis with inherently taut body control through the bends. This is where the F-Pace starts to feel like a proper Jaguar with sharp steering and good feedback for the driver.
You can push it hard when the opportunity arises and body roll is more than kept in check. So too is the ride, even on the larger 20-inch alloys. There’s a real suppleness to the way the suspension absorbs the bumps. Even those monster units that seem to be popping up more and more frequently in suburbia these days.
Comparisons will be made with same-segment rivals like the slightly smaller Porsche Macan (4.681m), and while it’s a close contest, we feel the Macan is sharper and even more composed when pressed.
But, if space is more important to you, then the F-Pace (4.731m) wins hands down with no less than 508L available behind the second row, and 1740L when folded – trumping the Porsche by 8.0L and 240L respectively.
It’s actually a really good size, and able to swallow those supersize prams and a few short surfboards due to the relatively flat-folding rear seats.
There’s simply no denying the superb styling of Jaguar’s first-ever SUV. Two years on and it’s still a head-turner, despite a few significant flaws, not to mention the end game when it comes to price – at least with this particular tester.
We still have a soft spot for the F-Pace, but with serious competition from the German brands, you’ll need to choose wisely as far as drivetrains and options go for it all to make sense.