An SUV with driver appeal? British talisman makes a flying start with its first step into a fresh sector
Unlike its name, the reason behind the Jaguar F-Pace’s existence is not hard to fathom. You may like, loathe or feel thoroughly indifferent about premium SUVs, but in the car world they are flavour of the month, year and decade. By the end of this one, sales are projected to double the sky-high level they enjoy today. But to a car manufacturer, these cars are better news even than that. In the past companies were forced to choose between or balance their ranges across low-cost, high-volume and low-volume, high-margin models. But cars like the Porsche Macan have shown that if you get the formula right, automotive utopia – a car with both huge sales and margins – can be achieved.
Jaguar has made the F-Pace a certain way – and that requires a little further explanation. While you and I may have been made aware of Jaguar by an XK, E-type or a MkII, in the wider world in general and vital emerging markets in particular, this is the first Jaguar that people will recognise. If it is not the best selling car in the company’s history something will have gone badly wrong, so it must serve not only as a car in its own right, but as a shop window for all the others. So it has to have a face that makes people realise that XEs, XFs, XJs and F-types are Jaguars too.
Nevertheless, at least while speaking to hacks assembled in Montenegro for its launch, Jaguar’s pitch is that the F-Pace is most definitely ‘a Jaguar that looks like an SUV’ rather than the other way around. The roads around the tiny Balkan state would soon reveal the truth or otherwise of that assertion.
You will read elsewhere that the F-Pace is based on the same platform as the XE and XF. It’s not. It doesn’t share a single significant dimension with Jaguar’s saloons and more than 80 per cent of its components are unique. Carry-over parts relate mainly to powertrains and electronic architecture. What it does share is the same design template, which is not the same thing: you can put two entirely different dishes into the same oven for the same time and they’ll never turn into the same meal. But it does mean an XE and an F-Pace can go down the same production line and be built by the same tools and robots, which is where the economies really lie.
The big seller, at least in Europe, will inevitably be the 2-litre diesel, mainly with automatic gears and four-wheel drive, though a manual rear-drive version is available to squeeze the car under the vital 130g/km CO2 barrier vital for fleet sales. All other F-Paces have 3-litre V6 engines, all-wheel drive and automatic transmissions, with either turbochargers, diesel fuel and 296bhp, or supercharger, petrol power and 375bhp. Prices begin at £34,170 for the base model, rising up to £51,450 for either of the V6s. The most popular in the UK will be 2-litre diesel, four-wheel-drive, mid-spec ‘R-Sport’ models retailing for £40,360.
Physically it’s a large car, bigger than rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Macan in most dimensions. It will seat four adults in comfort, five at a squeeze. The interior is more smart than special and lacks the visual flair that has distinguished Jaguar cabins of the recent past. But you cannot complain about the bewildering array of what marketing types describe as connectivity solutions on offer. Jaguar design boss Ian Callum showed me an app on his smartphone that gave every detail of every journey his car had done, exactly where it was parked and the virtual button that could start the engine remotely as easily as if you were sitting in the car with the key in your hand. Given that at the time it was in Hampshire and we were quite near Albania, I was suitably impressed.
I enjoyed driving it too. The 2-litre diesel offers only adequate performance but compensates by being notably light on its toes, exceptionally for a car of its size and height. Its ride was not great, but good enough to make you feel the correct balance between comfort and agility had been struck for an SUV. In the class, only a Macan has a better chassis. I was at least as interested to discover how quiet the car was, having been disappointed by the noise the same engine makes in the XE and XF. And whether for reasons of installation, on-going development or both, I can report that – at least in the F-Pace – the problem is solved.
I tried the petrol powered V6 next and emerged slightly disappointed. It only felt as fast as its figures suggest (0-62mph in 5.5sec) if you caned it, at which point it made a rasping noise that to me sounded rather contrived, though I am assured there are no sound ‘symposers’ or other black magic apparatus fitted. And I’d not much fancy the fuel consumption either: Jaguar claims 31.7mpg, which probably means 25-26mpg in normal use.
It’s hard to see how it can be worth it when the 3-litre diesel actually feels quicker in normal driving (thanks
to a monster 516lb ft of torque at just 2000rpm compared to 332lb ft at 4500rpm for the V6 petrol), and does 47.1mpg on paper, so probably 40mpg in practice. It sounds more natural, is quieter, delivers its power in a way that is more appropriate to this kind of car and will probably go half as far again on a tank of fuel. The extra 100kg of mass in its nose means it doesn’t feel quite as nimble as cars fitted with the little diesel but, crucially, this is still an engaging and rewarding car to drive: a Jaguar that just happens to be an SUV indeed.
So the company should feel proud of its newest recruit, not least because it is its first SUV. Of course there is the know-how within the group derived from Land Rover living under the same roof, but this is no reconstituted Discovery; it’s a brand-new car designed to define how a Jaguar SUV should appear and feel, not a badge-engineered Land Rover. It doesn’t feel like a tall, imperious Land Rover at all; it feels
like a tight, taut Jaguar.
I am told that the fate of the faster versions you might naturally assume would follow is still to be decided. Jaguar is evaluating right now whether an F-Pace R, or RS would be a viable proposition in the marketplace. Certainly the car has been engineered to take the big, blown 5-litre V8 – already existing with outputs of up to 562bhp in other Jags – but Jaguar fears the sales volumes might not be sufficient to justify it. My inner cynic suggests very strongly the car will come and Jaguar is just speaking this way because for now it wants the focus to stay on F-Paces customers can actually buy, and I don’t blame them for that.
In the meantime Jaguar can relax in the knowledge that, as of now, it has managed what BMW, Audi and Mercedes have not, and produced a premium SUV which does all the things such cars must while retaining real driver appeal. Porsche’s Macan is the only other car in the class that can say as much. As company to keep, in this category at least, it gets no better than that.