Jaguar F-Pace: Dirt won’t stick to cream of the cats

The F-Pace has arrived and is hungry for sales – on first impression, it seems well-sorted enough to become a king of the prestige jungle.


WHERE’S the best place to get a handle on what Jaguar’s first ever crossover is all about?

Anyone involved with pushing this product will suggest it’s an events and conference centre in the countryside near Clevedon.

You might already be familiar with Boomrock. We are, having visited a couple of weeks back for Suzuki’s Vitara Turbo media event, with a highlight of that day being the place’s off-road course, a mud-bath due to heavy rain.

Someone on staff that day mentioned Jaguar was up next, so naturally there was assumption within our fraternity that’d be the F-Pace launch venue.

It was. But not for us. Jaguar has been staging pre-launch courses for dealership sales and workshop staff there all week. That explained the brand banners outside the place as we drove past the other day.

However, for journalists, that drive by rated as the day’s closest brush with Nature. We’d come from Ardmore airport and were heading around the Maraetai Coast toward a vineyard, for lunch, wholly by formed road. The only occasion rubber didn’t roll on seal was when we drove up the winery’s driveway. It coped well, in case you’re wondering.

Disappointed? Not really. I’d be surprised if the people who sell and spanner have any dirty tales to tell from their day, either, because while the F-Pace affects something of the appearance and attitude of a mud-plugger, dirt-driving is simply not part of its DNA.

Surely, it’ll cross a sandy beach and slightly muddy field and should have no trouble tackling a snow-covered skifield access road, but insofar as undertaking any more arduous off-road expeditions … well, they’ll quite rightly suggest that’s what sister brand Land Rover is for.

Indeed, that’s why the F-Pace has been priced and positioned to avoid direct comparison with the Defender Sport and why Jaguar not only doesn’t bother to offer any dirt-tuned accessories but even emphatically refuses to call the F-Pace a sports utility. On our drive day, in fact, there seem reluctance to label it as a ‘crossover’, a descriptive that fundamentally better applies in any case in light of its unibody construction.

What is it, then, is what every other Jaguar has ever been: A car. Not just that: A sporty car. Handling, performance and dynamism – those are the hallmarks that associate with what’s being officially touted as a family sports model.

And why not? Jaguar is good at that kind of vehicle and could hardly stand accused of having a laugh at our expense. It jis ust driving to a formula, after all, one not only well-established by other rival brands but also one that the market clearly has a liking for.

The only question ever hanging over the F-Pace was why it took so long to become a reality. Even the national distributor – though delighted about the rich sales opportunities that lay ahead – is a touch rueful about not having had it two years ago, having seen how well the two main entries in that period, Porsche’s Macan and the Mercedes GLC, have done. These, and BMW’s X3/X4 and Audi’s Q5, are cited as major foes.

Jaguar New Zealand product manager Paul Ricketts politely declined to be drawn on sharing the in-house sales projection for F-Pace, but in the past he has said it will be the new No.1, overtaking the XF, and could well capture at least 50 percent of volume. The first allocation of 50 cars is already being snapped up. Not a bad start for a type of car that the brand has never had previously.

First impressions support why that optimism is hardly misplaced. Kiwis are utterly besotted with high-riding vehicles and, with the prestige brands, the compact to medium sector is where big gains are being made. By and large, conquest sales seem to be gained on two particular strengths: Styling and sizzle.

The F-Pace majors particularly well on the first. For all the beefing up that’s had to be undertaken, most obviously in respect to ride height but also with the widened wheel arches and taller nose and tailgate, this vehicle totally maintains the distinctive elegance you expect of a Jaguar. It simply looks fantastic from every angle and in every trim level.

The developmental challenges to the stylists are blindingly obvious; Jaguars are all about being lean and low-slung and crossovers aren’t.

Yet though the F-Pace carries a lot more metal in its vertical planes and is clearly the tallest modern Jaguar in existence, some clever styling tricks beyond the usual tweaks of blacking out the lowest sections and subtly enlarging the lights have paid dividends.

Unless you park next to a Jaguar road car there’s little sense of the car’s actual scale. Obviously the difference is substance and size will show when it does sit with the XE and XF, with which it shares a common architecture, yet it doesn’t look awkward, nor does it appear to be anything but full-blooded.

That sense of familial similarity continues inside; every new Jaguar now has commonality in the general cabin configuration and though, as the latest offer, the F-Pace adds a few improvements here and there, it is by large going to seem immediately familiar to anyone who has driven any of the X-badged sedans. Not that those people are necessarily going to be the primary audience. In fact, Ricketts anticipates that perhaps half of all F-Pace buyers might never have consider a Jaguar before.

Ability to make a good first impression, then, is all the more important with this model. Generally, it does really well. Aside from the usual and expected used of premium materials, it presents solidly for equipment. Though technically ‘entry-level’, the ‘Prestige’ is well equipped, coming with leather seats and cruise control, keyless start, an ‘Activity Key’ bracelet, as well as the latest touchscreen infotainment system that includes sat-nav, wi-fi hotspot, iPod and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

A powered tailgate, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, an alarm, rear view camera as well as all-round parking sensors, are also included. You’ve got to pay extra for a smart key and adaptive cruise, but it’s pretty fulsome for a package that starts at $95,000.

Go to the ‘R-Sport’ and ‘S’ trims, as most buyers are expected to, and there are sports seats are upholstered in perforated leather, more pleasing textures and a bodykit, plus better brakes, dual pipes and larger wheels – something you normally be cautious about if this was a pukka off-road car but definitely worth considering here because, with Jags, the bigger the rim the better, in respect at least to visual impact if not ride quality. That Jaguar starts with 19s and finishes with 22s relates that the brand knows full well that this is the case and, further, that it also understands how to fully exploit this.

Adaptive dampers and LED lights with auto high-beam function also package but, again, there are still options that look too tasty to refuse, chief among them being that smart key and clever cruise control, perhaps also the 360-degree camera if you’re worried about supermarket dings.

If you’re looking for particular pitfalls and pleasures within the cabin, then several spring out. The most irksome ‘could do better’ item is the really odd and quite awkward manual steering column rake and reach adjuster; this can also be available as an electrically-operated function for an additional $800 on any model and, frankly, that’s the first box I’d be ticking.

Also, though, the location of the window switches is also confusing. The control panel is right up on the door sill rather than where most makers prefer to put it, down within the door panel. That location is instead taken by a button that locks and unlocks the doors. Twice during the day I went to slide down the driver’s door window and instead found myself locking the car.

Still, everything seems to work well and it also feels well-built, which is a good thing given that Jaguar’s record in this area has not always been brilliant. Indeed, the brand is now having to wear a lowly 23rd place out of 26 manufacturers in the latest JD Power dependability study. At least it has a strong warranty.

The F-Pace’s major plus point has to be the enhanced cabin space. Being a wagon makes it feel more spacious than Jaguar’s sedan’s, but the real benefit of a taller and slightly longer body comes with superior leg and headroom.

Among four-door Jaguars, only the XJ is truly decent for rear seat comfort, because the others tend to compromise on lower leg room. The F-Pace, though, is every bit kind to tall occupants for leg-stretching opportunity as the flagship sedan and has superior head room.

The one trick to releasing decent under-seat foot space is by elevating the front chairs. A raise seating position is something that’s unusual for a Jaguar; they’re so into the ‘lowness’ thing, that, with the F-Type, you almost feel as though you’re sitting on the floor.

Here, though, it’s the other extreme. You’re almost on parity with what Land Rover does to effect its trademark ‘command position’. Sitting tall in a Jaguar seems a bit odd, at first, but you get used to it, not least once the steering wheel position has been tailored to suit. Funnily, though, despite sitting high you do find that the view is not exactly unencumbered. The slim rear windows, chunky metalwork around the windscreen and big, square mirrors tend to restrict all-round visibility.

Normally cars like this end up with small boots as result of their sloping rooflines. The F-Pace certainly maintains a slinky silhouette yet it also delivers relatively well where practicality is concerned, with ability to carry a massive 650-litres in the back, though that’s with the optional tyre repair kit – fit a proper spare and the reduces to 508 litres. The boot can be expanded thanks to a 40:20:40 split rear bench that folds down and it is rated to tow 2400kgs. There’s no thought of a seven-seater option, by the way: again, that would be getting too close to Land Rover territory.

Effort to ensure F-Pace meets all possible global demands doesn’t just show in the spec lines, of which two are left behind by the NZ distributor, but also in the drivetrain options.

Again, Jaguar here has kept that side of things relatively trim; we’re reasonably diesel-intensive and there are no four-cylinder petrol options because that has been the market preference, though maybe that is changing slowly. Mercedes, for instance, is now discovering that its GLC petrol models are outselling the diesel.

Also, everything is four-wheel-drive – there are rear-drive variants overseas, but the feeling is that all-paw is expected here, on grounds that even buyers who never leave town will expect a reassuring level of grip on poor or wintry road surfaces. Also ruling out rear drive is that this configuration comes only with a manual gearbox; the AWD fare, on the other hand, is only married to the eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The entry diesel engine is the 132kW/430Nm 2.0-litre we tried a couple of months back in the XE. The F-Pace implementation is more suited to its characteristics; you appreciate the torque and there’s enough sound-proofing here to make the at-idle clatter less intrusive.

However, it’s still something of a make-do engine, here to fulfil price rather than performance expectation. It’s the engine that’ll appeal to those people who keep notebooks on running costs; Jaguar cites 5.3 litres per 100km economy and will also point to it having 34,000km/24 month service intervals. It’s not too sluggish off the line, either, with 0-100kmh in 8.9 seconds looking pretty decent for a car that weighs 1775kg in its lightest format, yet it does get vocal when worked up, which is how it needs to be driven.

Nonetheless, if you want to experience the ‘pace’ side of this model’s name, then only the 3.0-litre V6s will do.

The 3.5t-badged mill is the petrol choice, taken from the F-Type coupe; it bangs out 250kW in the R-Sport (for 0-100kmh in 5.8s) and 280kW (for 5.5s) in the S model, with both having 450Nm torque and cited optimal economy of 8.9L/100km. It’s the best-sounding engine in this car, too.

However, it’s not the best engine for this car: That honour goes to the six-pot twin turbo diesel. Shared with the Range Rover Sport, it can propel the F-Pace from 0-100kmh in just 6.2 seconds – faster than the equivalent Porsche Macan - and seems just as silky as the petrol six.

The power output of 221kW is impressive for a diesel of this capacity, but it’s the torque that wows of course: A brilliant 700Nm of pure slam bam wham is pretty titantic for a RR Sport, let alone a much smaller Jaguar wagon, though it’s hardly dynamite drama – for the most part it lends impression of being impressively grunty even when it is using hardly any revs at all.

That this engine contains to the S as well as R-Sport is good logic, because while the F-Pace certainly has a dynamic edge, on the roads we drove it didn’t really express as Britain’s equivalent of Germany’s most overtly sporty model, the Macan.

Don’t get me wrong: It doesn’t feel at all top-heavy and wander-prone as, well, some sports utilities do. Yet the different specifications obviously deliver different ride and handling traits; the base setup is softest and has the most comfortably ride, but it’s less assertive in corners than the S or R-Sport.

The latter is the sharpest drive but, even then, though the adaptive damper set-up deliver more firmness – exacerbated by the big rims and low profile rubber – a smarter steering response and less body roll than the standard tune, it just doesn’t feel as rapier-sharp as that Porsche. Which, admittedly, is so expressly set up to be more sports car than sports utility it almost defeats the purpose.

It also came out that way on the airport runway exercises; even though the all-wheel-drive is designed to lend a primarily rear-drive feel, purposely going hard into a coned slalom suggested it’s more likely to break into understeer – as any other SUV would - than kick out the rear the end, as a truly sporting Jaguar will.

Doubtless, though, there will be an ‘R’ model and, beyond that, a fully berserk SVR edition from the Special Vehicles Operation that might turn the tables. For now, though, it’s a car that works best as a brisk tourer than as a full-on attack weapon, which personally I don’t see as a problem. It still has heaps of traction, grip and balance.

Taking all that special styling, the sportiness and its genuine utility into account, this car has potential to lift Jaguar’s road count by a considerable margin. It’s a very satisfying car that will have considerable appeal to anyone looking to break away from the German choices.