At last, it’s the Jaguar F-Pace, the curiously named and curiously late entrant into the BMW X3/Audi Q5 class. By the time most manufacturers are releasing their sixth or seventh SUV/crossover/off-roader/4x4/callitwhatyouwill in their range, this is Jaguar’s first. Maybe it hasn’t wanted to step on Land or Range Rover’s toes.
The F-Pace’s supposed dynamism is intended to quell any of those fears. Jaguar’s dynamics team have had one particular rival in mind: the F-Pace is meant to be better to drive than a Porsche Macan. If it is, the Discovery Sport will be free to go about its business.
To that end, then, unlike the Q5 and Macan, which share a fair degree of underpinning, the F-Pace bears about as much mechanical resemblance to a Discovery Sport as a penguin does to a kestrel.
The F-Pace’s chassis is 80% aluminium, its architecture shared with the XE and XF; Jaguar is careful to use the word architecture rather than platform, because platform sounds like you’ve dropped a different body onto the same floor, it sounds a bit Volkswageney. But the effect is broadly similar: the F-Pace has double-wishbone front and integral-link rear suspension, just like the XE and XF, there’s great commonality ahead of the front-seat occupants (because that’s where all the crash and powertrain structure is, and that’s the most expensive bit to develop); but in fairness the wheelbase and tracks are unique to this car – as is the height, obviously – and the body structure has received more bespoke work than some rival makers would allow it.
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The 20% that isn’t aluminium, for example, is in places magnesium – lighter even than aluminium for a given strength – so it’s helpful to use it in high places, or at the front of the car, to get the centre of gravity low and even weight distribution Jaguar’s dynamics team so badly wanted. The tailgate is plastic, for CofG reasons, though the spare wheel well is steel – which, heavier than aluminium, pulls the weight distribution back to nigh on 50:50. (It also means, come a mid-life facelift, there’s some easy weight loss at the rear to counter, say, a lighter, even more downsized engine at the front.)
There’s nothing downsized about the car itself, mind. Jaguar’s body engineers are most proud of the fact that the F-Pace has a 650-litre boot, and easily seats three adults in the back (which it does). By being bigger? Or by being cleverer? A bit of both, they say. This is a 4731m long car, 1936mm wide without mirrors (2175mm with ‘em), and with a 2874mm wheelbase. Overall that’s 50mm longer than a Macan and 74mm than an X3, but apparently it’s the packaging beneath the boot floor that really makes the difference; what makes it a full-size, mid-size crossover.
Engines are of conventional capacities and power outputs. You can have an Ingenium 2.0-litre diesel making 178bhp, a 3.0-litre V6 diesel making a sprightly 296bhp or, as tested here – hey, it’s a dynamic car, so why not try the fastest? – a 3.0-litre, 375bhp, supercharged V6 petrol that does rather good work elsewhere in the Jaguar range, most audibly in the F-type sports car.
All of the above drive all four wheels through that most fantastic of gearboxes, the eight-speed ZF auto (though a six-speed manual, and two wheel drive, are options on the 2.0d only).
And here’s one place where Jag hopes that dedication to the dynamic cause will do the F-Pace a favour – the 4wd system is the same type it uses on the F-type, which means it’s rear-driven most of the time, and occasionally puts around 20% of power to the front. It can put 50% to the front if it really needs to, though – if you’re pulling a horse box from standstill on wet grass, for example; the maximum kind of crossovering Jaguar is expecting, though like most cars from a Subaru Impreza upwards, it’d do a lot more than that if you asked it.
The towing limit is 2400kg braked – more than most large trailers with a big nag/racing car, should you have one of those active lifestyles. You can even specify a waterproof fob to wear around your wrist (“while surfing or kayaking”) which lets you disable and lock the ‘proper’ key inside the car. I’m not active enough to do either of those but still consider this a fantastically good idea that’ll save hundreds of hours of pocket-patting, countryside-scouring and forehead-slapping. Bravo.
What's it like?
In the S trim that marks the 3.0-litre Supercharged down as a range-topper, it’s a £51,450 car and gets an interior that’s starting to feel a little out of its comfort zone at this price point. Nothing to get too worked up about: the upper surfaces of the cabin are soft and feel well assembled, and there are natty ambient lights on the upper doors, but the lower door surfaces have a bit less give than you’d hope. At the top, the dials are all digital, with design and resolution that’s in the ‘good enough’ category, while the touchscreen is, at last, wide and pleasingly designed. Audi’s MMI and BMW’s iDrive are impossibly slick these days, but this ‘InControl’ unit stands the comparison.
The driving position’s good enough, too. I’d prefer if the wheel – deliciously round and of perfect dimensions – reached closer, and that the A-pillars were thinner – a common aluminium-bodied problem. But it feels ‘tall Jag’ rather than ‘short Land Rover’, which is presumably the idea.
And the drive? Precisely likewise. Terrible phrase coming up: the F-Pace retains a recognisable Jaguar DNA. It drives like a taller, heavier Jaguar ought to. A car stymied inevitably by the addition of height and kilograms, but one that has made the best of things. One whose engineers know that the rest of the Jaguar range, for all the things that might keep them off the top of the class elsewhere, steer, ride and handle better than anything else on the market. And so, I suspect – though I’d want a back to back test on some good roads first – the same is the case here.
The 3.0 engine fires to an idle that’s quieter, inevitably and thankfully, than you’ll find in an F-Type – the sort of car that wakes the neighbours – but the character is still there; it’s a rich noise. And gives a smooth delivery and step-off on light throttle openings. Think you’ll fancy a slightly brisker getaway, mind, and it’ll happily disconcert a passenger – this is a 5.1sec car to 60mph. (Perhaps it doesn’t feel quite that fast, but I remember saying similar about an earlier XF, which then proved it was precisely that at a test track.) The gearshift is, as expected, very good too: mostly seamless, except for the occasional kick down which takes a moment longer to arrive than you’d hope, though mostly on the kinds of roads on which you’d want to take control, via wheel-mounted paddles of the shift itself.
It’s a credit to the F-Pace that it’s that kind of car – the kind in which you decide you fancy involving yourself in the grubby business of gear selection, just for the fun of it. And that’s because it steers well – it’s a slick, accurate, oily, quick enough at 2.5 turns between locks – and rides deftly. Body control is good in the adaptive dampers’ standard mode, but flick them to dynamic and you’ll realise – despite the fact that the dials go red – that engineers, not marketing people, have been in charge of the damper settings.
Either is good for the road; the tighter set-up gives better body control but far from ruins the ride, which is very good in its standard setting, and still good on the firmer one. Quiet, too, despite the standard 20in rims – with 255/50 R20 tyres, the sidewalls are generous. Even on 22s, Jaguar says there’s 100mm of tyre sidewall, and more tyre overhanging the wheel than on rivals’ 20s, to prevent kerbed alloys.
And the handling? It’s always hard to make a convincing case for crossovers and road-biased SUVs when it comes to handling. The F-Pace is good – better, I’m sure, than anything up to and, perhaps including (back to back test, etc) the Porsche Macan. If you wanted to make a car handle, you wouldn’t make it 1861kg and 1.7m tall. But if you have done that, there are two sets of engineers you’d want to set it up – JLR’s or Porsche’s.
And here, Jaguar’s have done fine work. The V6 turns-in keenly – not so keenly as the lighter, 2.0d we also had a go in, but more convincingly than the 3.0d, more on both another time – grips well, retains its composure mid-corner and throws itself convincingly at the next straight. It’s ostensibly rear-driven and there’s torque vectoring, too, to apportion power at the rear so it isn’t wasted by a spinning inside wheel.
Should I buy one?
If you want the most fluid driving car in the class, you might well. This is a car that is easy and rewarding to drive at any speed. It’s easy to develop a flow with it, a rhythm; Jaguars get a lot of development work in Wales and it shows, on bending roads – their steering response is pure and slick. But here too there’s strong straight line stability and many-mile comfort.
On this reckoning, then, the F-Pace puts as much S into SUV as you’d realistically want to. In short, it feels like a Jaguar, which is precisely as it should be. There’s clear air between this and a Discovery Sport or Range Rover Evoque. Whether you’d choose a 3.0 V6 petrol is a different matter – it’s the least fuel efficient and highest emitting of all F-Paces. But if you want a tall car that’s good fun to drive, this or a Macan are your best destinations.
Jaguar F-Pace 3.0 Supercharged AWD
Location Montenegro; On sale Now; Price£51,450; EngineV6, 2995cc, supercharged petrol; Power 375bhp at 6500rpm; Torque320lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight1861kg; Top speed155mph (limited); 0-60mph5.1sec; Economy31.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band209g/km, 36%