The Jaguar F-Pace was among the most anticipated new cars of 2016. Now it’s here, was it worth the wait?
For: Clean, dynamic looks; confident road manners, a pragmatic choice.
Against: Some packaging compromises, overly-ripply ride in Dynamic mode.
SPORTS cars started their pedigree, sports sedans got them on the road and, now, sports utilities – just one for now, but more to come – are key to Jaguar’s future.
What a turn up, right? There was nothing remotely akin to the F-Pace back in Sir William Lyons’ day, but perhaps had the brand founder been able to experience this car, he’d perhaps agree it would meet the conditions of his famous ‘grace, space and pace’ marketing phrase.
In one sense, this new car is no different to those famous products of the Lyons’ era – from the pre-war open two-seater stuff to the might Le Mans cars through to the original XJ sedans – in so much that it carries the usual weight of best-of performance, styling and dynamic expectation that every Jaguar must heft.
Yet, beyond those general expectations, it is quite obviously a whole new thing. Until now, Jaguar stuck to the black top and left anything to do with driving over green, brown and white terrain partner brand Land Rover.
But now, of course, we’re in an age of confusion: There’s huge emergent demand for sports utility product that looks like it could but probably won’t. A slightly elevated ride height, a touch more air under the chassis, the impression of expedition ability … today the world is stacked with quasi sports utes that are often more about performance and panache than practicality.
It’s definitely a must-go destination for any luxury brand - look at BMW, whose X5 has put 1.3 million runs on the board before F-Pace turned up - and Jaguar knew it had to be there, but with a car that doesn’t tread on the toes of sister brand Land Rover, which created the luxury SUV segment with the Range Rover of 1970.
Being late has advantages. Primarily, it allows opportunity to be the best; Jaguar undoubtedly picked every potential rival to pieces to work out the strengths and weaknesses. Also, the local distributor gets opportunity to evaluate what works and what doesn’t in this market; the thought given this is why we’ve taken just four-wheel-drive, high-end editions.
And, anyway, even though the car only got here in July, the timing is obviously still right. Even before launch, the brand said it was fielding an unprecedented interest, with pre-orders running an astounding 275 percent above that for any previous product. It took about a month to establish as the brand’s best-seller here.
The most expensive, First Edition, was a fleeting flagship: Just five came here. All have gone, so the line really starts with an entry Prestige format – at $95,000 the only sub $100,000 version - an R-Sport (from $100k to $115k, depending on engine) then an S at $125k in diesel and $130k in petrol.
Who’s buying what? The Prestige model, with the same 132kW/430Nm Ingenium four-cylinder turbo-diesel found in the XE sedan, is sensible buying (0-100kmh in 8.7 seconds, 5.3 litres of fuel per 100km). This engine also avails in the R-Sport, but it seems greater early interest is in the sixes, both here in 3.0-litre format, with the S version taking priority, so that’s also where we headed. Temptation to pick the 250kW/450Nm supercharged petrol is strong – it’s a great engine. But with this test including a 400km open road drive, we determined the 220kW/700Nm turbodiesel, with its claimed optimum fuel burn of 6.0 litres per 100km, had to be a better choice.
Demand for luxury SUVs across all sizes shows no sign of slowing. In fact, it’s growing, with some industry analysts predicting their popularity will soon outstrip that of standard cars. But the thing about gold rushes is that they attract a crowd; one thing Jaguar didn’t want to do was to be lost in the masses.
The best way to stand out is to look different. Desirously different. The F-Pace really does. Jaguar styling is all about sleekness and agility, aspects that SUVs don’t easy lend themselves to, this being a category that’s all about enhanced height and perceived bulk. Yet, while the F-Pace definitely isn’t as greyhound like as an F-Type sports car, neither is it the automotive equivalent of a Saint Bernard; there’s greater than usual litheness to its silhouette.
The interior is a touch less aesthetically pleasing. Some nice metal trims and premium leather for the seats and door trim are a good (and expected) start, and it is kitted to compete with the base package featuring powered tailgate, bi-function Xenon headlamps with auto levelling, electric front seats with memory and lumbar adjust, 11-speaker Meridian sound system, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, tyre pressure monitoring system, lane departure warning and satellite navigation rounding out the highlights. The higher end cars add in a multi-function steering wheel and the Configurable Dynamics system that adjusts throttle and steering response and gear shifts while S-pure fitments carry to unique leather and suede-cloth seats, satin chrome gearshift paddles, suede-cloth headliner and S exterior styling flourishes.
That the first discussion point is nonetheless still, after all this time, the circular gear shifter that has been a JLR product feature for comfortably more than a decade perhaps suggests that this is a design element that still hasn’t bedded into the public psyche. I don’t have any particular problem with it any more but, at the same token, would suggest there’s something about the F-Pace’s cockpit and the driving position that suggests it would still suit a more traditional shift lever.
You can question the quality of some of the plastics on the centre stack and steering wheel and some people have truck with the big touch screen that, though ergonomically brilliant, starts to look a bit tatty after a couple of days’ use simply because of the fingerprint marks. I guess the idea would be to have wee cloth stowed away somewhere to allow the occasional wipe down.
Beyond that, though, there’s just something about the look of the cockpit – and maybe it’s just even something as minor as the fonts used on the displays (which will seem inconsequential to anyone who doesn’t work in my industry) that just doesn’t look quite good enough to me. Funnily, the Range Rover Sport has a similar kind of layout yet, to me, it just looks better. First world problem, huh?
Not that the car feels cheap. I’m a big fan of the Meridian sound system, for its clarity and processing speed and easily-sorted swipe functionality. Indeed, the operability of the digital instrument display is very good; there’s no confusion about how to pop in and out of its multiple menus. Locating the power window switches high on the door cards is a Land Rover trick that confuses initially because it’s not a car one, but nearly every other control is logically placed and easily understood.
The car also came with something I didn’t have a need to use but still like for its niftiness; the ‘activity’ key. It’s a watch-like rubber band designed to be worn during activities – mainly watersports - to which the actual key shouldn’t be exposed. The idea with this is that you leave the ‘real’ key hidden in the car and secure (and reopen) the vehicle using this utterly weather-proof device. Accessing is a bit a different than usual, with a touch of 007 about it, in that you have to hit the button to open the tailgate, which activates the system, then hold the band on the ‘J’ in the Jaguar badge on the tailgate.
Back to the cabin. The driving position could have become a hash-up, because really you’re asking for a collision of two traditions – the SUV approach that demands a tall, upright throne and the Jaguar thing about seats being low-slung, so to enhance the impression of ‘one-ness’ with the car.
The F-Pace is certainly the ‘tallest’ Jaguar I’ve sat in and yet the wheel-pedal-seat set up is nowhere near as regal as a Range Rover, so you still have a sense in being ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ it. Being car-like probably won’t be appreciated if you were undertaking actual off-roading, when it’s handy to be sitting high enough for gain a glimpse of the front extremities, but the likelihood of it touching dirt so seriously is so remote that … well, live with it.
What you do get, and appreciate on long drives, is a brilliantly comfortable and quite natural driving position. I put in six hours straight on the first day of driving and never felt a twinge.
The sporting ambience does influence overall room, however. You can’t expect it to match a Rangie with such a low roofline. Despite that snugness, rear seat passengers will foremost nonetheless wish more for a touch extra legroom. Also, though it provisions three belts across the back, the transmission tunnel hump is intrusive enough to make that middle position very much a short straw proposition. The rear seatbacks are also quite firm and, because of the relatively high beltline that rises towards the rear of the vehicle, visibility back there isn’t all that great for the wee ones.
Boot space also reflects some give and take. At 650 litres in five-seat mode, and 1740 litres all told, it looks good on paper. But this is a long space and not as deep or as wide as some, and option in the spare wheel and you must contend with an awkward-sized floor hump that might hinder some load stowage. Still, there’s enough room for to easily swallow a weekend’s luggage or camping gear, even a bike.
As for build quality? We’ve certainly seen how JLR has picked up its game in this respect as it progressively benefitted from some big brand investment. The F-Pace had beautiful paint quality and was rattle-free; but the right hand-side rear door wasn’t a good fit. The misalignment was only millimetric, but it’s the sort of thing Jaguar could do without.
Diesel drives the SUV sector at this level but that’s no issue for Jaguar; they’ve a really great V6 here that has performed admirably well in past family placements, stretching from the big sedans through to the Range Rover Sport.
Actually, it was getting refresher time in the latter that really shows why this 221kW/700Nm unit is a really good match for the F-Pace. The Rangie is a really impressive performer with this mill despite it being heavier, by some margin, than the Jaguar, so obviously the new kid is going to seem more athletic.
So it immediately proves; punch it from a standstill and, once through that momentary hesitation before the two turbos spool up and do their thing, it leaps out of the blocks. A neighbour who has been driving – and loving - a Sport for the past two years immediately noticed the difference; to the point where he had to recheck that both vehicles have identical claimed outputs.
The Jaguar not only felt more alert but also sounded that way too. We didn’t seek to cross-check the factory’s claim of 0-100km in 6.2 seconds, which gives a good 1.4s advantage over the Rangie, but there’s no evidence here to suggest it’s not up to doing that.
That sprint time, by the way, also means the Jag comfortably shows its heels to the Porsche Cayenne diesel, though will need to swallow extra steroids to meet the challenge of the oiler Macan.
Nonetheless, it’s a superb engine, well-matched to the eight-speed auto, too; the shift movements when it is running at open road speed in standard mode are utterly imperceptible and, because the drivetrain is doing all its work when the engine pulling very few revs – on a flat stretch, it sat at 1400rpm at 100km and the maker says all the torque is outputting at just 2000rpm – you can see why Jaguar is so confident in its claim of 6.0 litres per 100km.
My big drive didn’t quite reach that level of parsimony, with a 7.2L/100km average, but it did mean that the tank had enough left in it on arrival to allow five days’ further local area running, and another 300kms on the clock, before it needed to visit a forecourt.
Diesel vee-engines have a special note all of their own; this V6 is certainly smoother and more even-noted than the four-cylinder Ingenium that JLR is now putting into play. At the same token, though, the JLR engine might come across as being a bit louder and less schmoozy under full load compared with the same displacement VW Group mill that goes into the likes of the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. Or perhaps those cars just have even more sound-proofing.
One designation, plenty of different flavours: That’s how it goes within the SUV sector in respect to dynamic ability. The ‘sports’ part of the descriptive is open to wide interpretation.
On the road, the F-Pace handles in a safe, controlled fashion. It has precise and well-weighted steering, with just the right weighting through corners, and plenty of grip. Body roll is also well-controlled. So far, no unpleasant trait.
But you’re still left wondering what’s the barometer for this car? Unquestionably, Jaguar would have spent time picking apart the Porsche Macan, because that is – in my experienceat least – was the most sports car-like SUV of this size in the business before Jag threw in.
Actually, the Macan probably still is. There’s nothing about the F-Pace, at least in this S specification, to suggest Weissach has to put up a white flag. But the Germans should be worried because, realistically, sooner or later the house of Coventry will want to deliver an ‘R’-badged car that could lift to that level.
That’s not to suggest the F-Pace doesn’t have the ability to leave a feel-good impression. Certainly, the car’s dynamic demeanour is good enough to show that they have achieved a primary development ambition; namely, to impress that its car is not just an ordinary high-riding wagon, but a vehicle with the essence of a sports car.
That’s why it offers a torque-vectoring system to apportion power between the left and right wheels, along with an advanced all-wheel drive system that will siphon power to where it's needed most. And why it shares the same lightweight aluminium architecture with the XF and more recent XE sedans, both impressively agile performers.
At that same token, while amiable, even when you dial up Dynamic on the adaptive damper settings, in terms of agility and body control it doesn’t quite deliver the cutting incisiveness that you might have wanted. There’s certainly a lot of charm to how it steers and handles to make it enjoyable, and the rear-biased tuning of the all-wheel-drive gives it a great cornering exiting edge, yet a bit more sporting character wouldn’t have gone amiss. But that’s generally only insofar as the dynamic side goes. Again, I’m guessing that Jaguar will alter this with an impending performance flagship.
Ride-wise, it’s as firm as you’d want it to be, perhaps too much so on some occasions. The tester was on big alloys and, notwithstanding that Jaguar has done a brilliant job suppressing the usual associated bugbear of terrific road noise – not least over coarse chip – they have found no way of avoiding a degree of brittleness that, unsurprisingly, tends to accentuate depending on what setting the drive control happens to be in. This is the greatest difference between a Range Rover and the F-Pace: When a Rangie Sport is at the point of less yield, it still runs with more compliance than the Jaguar, which tends to falter on patchy surfaces with sharp edges.
Would you take it off-seal? With only modest ground clearance and no low range transfer box, the F-Pace is clearly not too serious about conquering anything other than bitumen. Really, it’s far more about all-weather capability on proper roads. In saying that, it does drive really nicely over gravel. Inevitably, sometimes the wide rubber will skate across the stones rather than bite through to the dirt, but the 1870kg kerb weight and wide track help counter it getting too skittish.
Perhaps it’s fair to say, too, that perhaps the Jaguar is more talented than you might necessarily twig to. I say that only because there were several occasions – that first big drive being one, but also shorter trips over challenging roads that I knew very well- where the car drove without seeming to be overwhelmingly brilliant and yet, inevitably, I’d find that it actually accomplished a trip time that was more impressive than I’d thought it would be. So, perhaps, it really is a lot more of a threat to the Macan in its ability to string a series of corners together.
Any first effort is bound to have a couple of blemishes; it says so much about the quality of the F-Pace that, despite having to carry a couple of foibles and one or two flaws, it still stands out as a highly creditable option.
For one, is has huge character. The whole concept of a Jaguar as a SUV might seem ludicrous to some old-school fans, but you cannot construe it to be a caricature of this brand’s past – or of other cars of its generation. It stands out as being something quite impressively different in a category that has too much same-again.
It’s a great pity that the F-Pace cannot be considered for New Zealand Car of the Year (simply because it failed to meet requirement for candidate cars to be driven by a majority of members before a nominated cut-off point). Had it passed muster for selection, the test car might well have caused me to reconsider my own nomination for that prize.
As is, the F-Pace is an above-average car that has every chance of steering this increasingly impressive brand back to glory and out of the niche it has occupied here for far too many years.