Jaguar is roughly a decade late to the compact-luxury SUV segment, so it’s no wonder company officials sound a bit reluctant about this whole crossover movement.
They want to keep steering the discussion of the company’s first SUV, the F-Pace, back to its sporting credentials and its somewhat tenuous visual and mechanical—and nomenclatural!—connections to the F-type sports car.
It certainly looks athletic, as if the front and rear of a more traditional SUV form have been pinched and yanked into the F-Pace’s taut, muscular shape and classic rear-drive proportions. Jaguar designers should be celebrated for their curation of the F-Pace’s details, which buck the current trend toward overdesign—have you seen the new Lexus RX? They really knew when to lift their pens.
But all this sporty talk almost makes it sound as if Jaguar was looking to build a dramatic crossover, even at the cost of severely compromised rear-seat and cargo space. Sure, the enthusiast media would have fawned, and then the vehicle would’ve been salesproof to actual customers.
But Wait, It’s Practical
But that’s not the case; the thing we find so compelling about the F-Pace is that its dynamic excellence is augmented with serious practicality. For instance, its back seat easily accommodates occupants more than six feet tall, with excellent rear legroom, ample foot space under the front seats, and, considering the standard panoramic sunroof, surprisingly reasonable headroom. However, a center rear occupant will have to straddle the hump in the floor that’s there to accommodate the driveshaft, and we wish the seatback cushions were less firm. The F-Pace’s generous cargo hold is nearly twice as spacious as that of the Porsche Macan.
The F-Pace is no dynamic slouch; it offers exceptionally sharp on-center steering precision and great turn-in response. Steering effort is on the light side, but that likely helps impart the feel of frisky eagerness. (Selecting Dynamic mode adds additional heft.) Also helping is a claimed 50/50 weight distribution and an all-wheel-drive system that stays rear-drive until torque is needed at the front axle.
Body control is excellent, and the structure and steering column feel extraordinarily rigid. Even the ride comfort on the upsized 22-inch wheels is better than expected. Helping the ride cause is Jaguar’s stubborn refusal to employ run-flat tires, which we salute, and this means—hooray!—the inclusion of a compact spare tire, an increasingly rare feature.
Sure, turn off the stability control and hurl it into a corner like, say, an F-type, and the jig will be up, as it starts to spin the inside tires due to the lack of limited-slip differentials and single-wheel brake applications. But let’s not get too crazy; the F-Pace is a crossover, after all.
Most F-Pace variants will be available in four trim levels: base, Premium, Prestige, and R-Sport. All the vehicles we drove had the $1000 Adaptive Dynamics package, available on the Prestige and R-Sport, which includes electronically adaptive Bilstein shocks. This package usefully lets you customize the F-Pace’s Dynamic mode according to driver preference from a menu of separate engine, transmission, steering, and suspension settings. The ride is seriously tied down in Dynamic mode, so the Normal setting is the way to go when traveling over any kind of cratered surface, as it allows the suspension to move through more of its travel.
One caveat: The F-Paces we flung around the mountainous roads of Montenegro all wore Pirelli P Zero summer tires. However, P Zeros will be available in the U.S. only on the 275 units of the highly optioned $70,695 First Edition models. After that, all F-Paces will wear all-season rubber, which certainly will erode some of the dynamic excellence we experienced.
We did have a couple of complaints. Brake response is soft and unsatisfying, giving a disconcerting sense that the brake pedal is sinking closer to the floor than expected. And throttle response in Dynamic mode is far too jumpy at high rpm; toeing back into the throttle midcorner often caused such a strong surge that it hurled the F-Pace headlong into an intervention from the stability control. There’s a reason the Chevrolet Corvette makes the throttle significantly lessresponsive in its Track mode.
Aluminum-Intensive and Large
The F-Pace is based on similar rear-drive architecture to that of the XE and XF sedans, including a body structure that’s 80 percent aluminum. But once the SUV attributes were accommodated—higher ground clearance, additional suspension travel, and more mass—fully 81 percent of the F-Pace’s components are new. Its 113.1-inch wheelbase gives a clue to its spaciousness; the F-Pace splits the difference between BMW’s compact X3 and mid-size X5 in that dimension.
It’s surprising that the F-Pace doesn’t get Jag’s 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine, considering that 2.0Ts anchor most competitors’ lineups. Instead, the volume engine is the familiar 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 found in the F-Pace 35t and shared with various Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, available in either 340- or 380-hp states of tune. (Getting the high-output version requires stepping all the way up to the $57,695 S model, which does not offer any trim variations.)
Although fuel-economy ratings aren’t stellar, we can’t say we mind, because the V-6 emits an invigorating edgy rasp as it snarls toward redline; it’s worthy of a windows-down blast through a tunnel, yet it doesn’t drone when cruising. The ubiquitous ZF-engineered eight-speed automatic is the only transmission, and, as in every application, it delivers nothing but smooth shifts. Responses to requests from the shift paddles are reasonably prompt, and downshifts could only be made better by a more dramatic throttle blip.
The other engine, which will be added to the U.S. lineup this fall, is an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel found in the F-Pace 20d. Don’t be fooled by its 180-hp rating; its 318 lb-ft of torque means the diesel doesn’t want for muscle. An estimated 7.8-second zero-to-60-mph time isn’t exactly blistering, but the only time it can really feel flat-footed is with an aggressive stab of the accelerator from rest. Although the diesel ignites with a bit of a shake, and at times buzzes the floorpan when working hard above 3000 rpm, it is quiet throughout the rev range.
Finally, A Decent Infotainment System
Attempting to right Jaguar’s recent infotainment sins is the company’s new InControl Touch Pro system, part of a $3200 Technology package option (again, available only with Prestige trim). It adds a 17-speaker Meridian stereo as well as a 10.2-inch center screen and a 12.3-inch unit as a virtual gauge cluster. Jaguar has been developing this extremely responsive touchscreen infotainment system for four years, and it’s new from the Intel quad-core processor out. It
features a 3G data connection for satellite images, and, similar to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allows a smartphone to run certain apps through the center screen. However, actual Apple and Android functionality won’t be added until later. The Jaguar system does have a few oddities, such as the inability to choose the north-up view for the map (we’re told this will be added shortly), but the system otherwise indicates that Jaguar finally is in the infotainment hunt. It’s worth noting that the base 8.0-inch infotainment system, called InControl Touch, is fundamentally different and not based on the new hardware.
With all that available screen real estate in the cluster, we expected richer information displays. However, in a spectacular lack of creativity, only one item of trip information, such as fuel economy or remaining range, can be displayed at a time, and it’s controlled via the turn-signal stalk. Just as it was on the new-for-2004 Jaguar XJ’s tiny dot-matrix display screen.
With athletic good looks and dynamic driving character, excellent rear-seat and cargo space, pricing that puts it in the heart of its segment, and a new five-year/60,000-mile warranty with service included, all indicators look positive for the F-Pace. It should—along with the compact-lux XE sedan—significantly grow the Jaguar brand in the U.S. well beyond its paltry sales of fewer than 15,000 units across the lineup last year. Considering that Lexus regularly sells more than 100,000 RX crossovers annually, no matter how many F-Paces are sold, it will deserve more customers. It’s that compelling.