But the Macan threw everything up in the air, putting the F-Pace project back months. “We had some big decisions to make,” says Shaw. “Could we match the Porsche on ride and handling using the car we’d got, retuned and rethought, and still end up with something that felt like ‘us’, like a Jaguar?”
They decided they could, and promptly fitted firmer coil springs and anti-roll bars then retuned the dampers and altered the wheel angles for crisper on-centre steering response, ending up with the F-Pace more or less as it is now. “I’m glad the Macan came along when it did,” another engineer explains. “Because before that the F-Pace felt like a more normal SUV to drive. I’d have worried that we’d made it too much like what Land Rover offers. Afterwards, the car became the modern sports crossover we intended it to be all along.”
By that, you can take it that he means inherently more sporting than the class norm without feeling at all too highly strung for the road. It must have been a tricky compromise to strike, but Shaw sums it up neatly with reference to the F-Pace’s rangemates rather than its competitors.
“We’ve aimed for the comfort and refinement of XF, and the handling response and driver appeal of XE,” he says, “and I think we’ve achieved that. The Porsche probably grips harder on perfectly smooth, dry roads with all of the optional chassis kit dialled up, but I think the F-Pace is more engaging and better handling on most roads.”
Ah, the road: not somewhere we were permitted to drive the F-Pace prototype at this juncture, with the European press drives planned for April. Ho hum. However, on 500mm-thick Swedish lake ice and densely packed snow – which is nothing like as smooth in reality as you might expect – the car certainly did everything necessary to back up those claims.
The hip point is medium-high, and pretty typical of its competitors, so getting in requires no bending or stooping. Once you’re in, the seats are wide and comfy and the driving position promisingly recumbent – with a close roofline and high-feeling waistline making you feel particularly nicely ensconced. Occupant space isn’t as generous as some medium-sized SUVs, but a 6ft 4in adult can easily find comfort in either row, while boot space is generous below the windowline.
The cabin looks and feels very much like that of an XF, with a few distinguishing features. Variable-colour LED strip-lighting gives the cockpit a pleasant glow after dark. Elsewhere, Jaguar’s next-generation InControl Touch Pro infotainment system is available, whose screen is an impressively wide 12.3in and whose processing power is evidently much greater than in the systems available on the XE and XF, leading to quicker responses and better usability.
Adaptable LCD instruments are another high-end touch, with an option to display navigation mapping across the full width of the 10in binnacle screen – although not quite with the graphical brilliance of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
Like other Jaguars the F-Pace has Normal, Dynamic and Eco driving modes, added to which is the Adaptive Surface Response mode for slippery surfaces and a new fully configurable ‘custom’ mode allowing you to tailor steering weight, damping and powertrain response to your own preference. The V6 S version doesn’t have the active sports exhaust of the equivalent F-Type, and doesn’t sound nearly as throaty under power nor as cracklingly theatrical on the overrun. The combustive soundtrack is far from plain though, and seems well-judged for the role of the car.