Is Coventry’s all-new SUV on the pace?
EVERY now and again, a motor manufacturer produces a landmark model that either changes the direction of automotive design or makes a case for itself as a brand lifesaver or invigorator. In the case of the all-new Jaguar F-PACE that I’ve just driven for some 500km in mountainous, sinuous Montenegro, I’d say the oddly-named F-PACE falls into the invigorator category which is borne out by Jaguar’s projections that this model will attract a 90% new-to-Jaguar ownership profile.
The current Jaguar portfolio consists of ageing XJ models and much newer XF and XE derivatives, the last-mentioned introduced to gain traction for the company in the bigger-volume, mid-executive segment. It’s a bit early to say with any certainty that the XE is going to help recoup not inconsiderable R & D outlays -remember the appeal of the saloon category is slipping badly – but you can say with a measure of certainty that this will be the task for the F-PACE as SUVs seem to appeal to all and sundry, including buyers at premium levels.
Whether you choose to describe the F-PACE as an SUV or as a crossover is neither here nor there as these days the descriptors seem interchangeable. For me, it’s an SUV but one with a difference, Unlike most of the breed — the Porsche Macan is a major exception and is regarded by Jaguar as their model’s closest competitor – the S prefix (as in SUV) really does stand for Sport as the driving characteristics and to an extent, the styling of the F-PACE , confirm. Consider the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 to be targeted rivals as well.
This was the first time I had seen the new model other than in an exhibition hall, and I have to say, it looked bigger than I I’d remembered. Truth be known, it’s the frontal styling, complete with rather a lot of gaping apertures, that makes sure this is recognised as a Jaguar. From side on, even allowing for the “fast” rear window line, the lineage is not so clear but to make sure there’s no confusion, a set of Jaguar-esque rear lamps seals the identity with more certainty.
There’ a good dose of chunkiness thrown into the styling equation which is appropriate as muscularity is an essential component of the SUV equation, but as usual with a Jaguar, it’s very far from a box on wheels. For a first-time effort, it’s rather well-resolved and looks much more premium than mainstream SUVs which is just how it should be.
Some may understandably think the F-PACE will cannibalise Range Rover sales, but JLR is quick to quell this line of thought, stating that the Jaguar is first and foremost a sporting cat endowed with long-established brand genes and a surprising level of agility, all of which is backed-up by an ability to venture off sealed roads. In other words, the driving priorities don’t precisely mirror those of the Range Rover range.
Jaguar Land Rover’s PR team made a conscious decision to find an altogether fresh venue for the global launch of the F-PACE, eschewing more familiar territory in Spain and Portugal for the sinuous roads that criss-cross mountainous Montenegro. While the narrowness of the roads and the undulating nature of the terrain dictate a maximum legal speed on any road of 80 km/h, the oft-pock-marked surfaces and twists and turns provided a perfect test of the newcomer’s ride and handling, areas in which Jaguar claim to excel.
With its lightweight aluminium architecture — around 80 percent of the structure — conferring the monocoque with an unusual degree of stiffness which aids immeasurably in maintaining chosen suspension settings, the challenge was on to see if the much-hyped dynamic qualities could stand up to a severe test in Montenegro.
First off, we were handed the keys to a limited edition model — only 2 000 are being built — dubbed First Edition and painted in Caesium Blue, one of two exclusive colours for the limited range which is fitted with 3,0 V6 supercharged petrol or 3.0 V6 diesel motor.
Ours was the 280kW petrol version (there is also a 250kW model) as used in the F-TYPE and sported 22-inch colour-contrast alloy wheels, Adaptive Dynamics and more. A series of tunnels en-route simply amplified the already stunning exhaust note and generated a giggling reaction from both us on board. Close your eyes and you could be in an F-TYPE such was the mix of engine howl and baritone exhaust note evident under load.
On the cruise, the environment was one of peace and calm with the silky six delivering its horses via the ever-smooth and responsive 8-speed ZF auto box still activated via Jag’s rotary controller, aided and abetted by paddle shifters which I made liberal use of.
Some of the road surfaces were decidedly nasty but the dual wishbone/integral link suspension brushed off the worst of the undulations with aplomb, despite the relatively low profile rubber occasioned by the large wheel diameter. Chassis boss Mike Cross and his engineering team have done an outstanding job not just in achieving a comfortable ride but in controlling unwanted movement of a body that sits high off the ground and therefore exaggerates any disturbances.
The steering too is stand-out for its nicely-weighted, fluid movement that’s entirely free of an off-centre resistance that plagues so many other vehicles. Whatever driving mode is selected, there’s a lovely linear feel at play from lock to lock and while there is a tad of remoteness evident, there’s rarely any doubt about what the front wheels are doing.
While the Supercharged V6 could never be described as short of torque – remember it will still deliver the goods at altitude – its cutting edge comes at higher revs when that exhaust snarl lets the outside world know that this really is a sporting bolide of note.
Later in the drive, we also sampled the F-PACE S with the same motor but with different spec levels including wheel diameter (this can drop to 18-inch in certain applications) but more of the detail in due course
The 221kW 3.0 V6 diesel seems like more of a cruiser by comparison but don’t get the idea it’s lacking claws. It delivers a stout punch with disarming ease thanks to a stonking 700Nm torque peak and truth be known, it delivers tranquillity in motion which gives the lie to old beliefs that diesels are clunky and slow. For sure, it lacks the rev range of the petrol mill, not to mention that strident exhaust note, but the flat torque curve masks that inherent characteristic such that in everyday use, I think this would be my engine of choice.
Even the extra mass of the oil burner fails to upset the composed ride, and the variable rate steering, to all intents and purposes, is just as fluid too. And so it was with the model I was most interested in – the 132kW all-aluminium 2.0 Ingenium diesel. (In selected markets, a 177kW 2.0 turbo petrol motor will also be offered.)
Forget the 132kW power output and take more notice of the 430Nm torque peak which ensures that the F-PACE so equipped never feels short of thrust. On light throttle openings and even at idle once heat has soaked through the block, you’d be hard-pressed to know that diesel was being burned. Only when caned does a hint of gruffness evade the otherwise very effective measure taken to minimise noise, vibration and harshness. And the final bonus comes in the form of evading fuel pumps for longer.
Obviously, a real SUV is expected to handle reasonably testing off-road excursions and here again, the engineers have done a fine job. The F-PACE is fitted with a torque-on-demand AWD system enhanced with Intelligent Driveline Dynamics borrowed from the F-TYPE.
In layman’s language, this high tech solution allows for rear wheel drive handling balance and agile steering feel, a characteristic I have already made positive reference to. When conditions demand, engine torque is sent at lightning speed to where it is most usefully employed, with control provided by an electronic system known as Adaptive Surface Response that constantly reads every element of the driving process and not just traction.
There are more control functions on hand such as All Surface Progress Control which we tested on a steep and loose ascent and descent. Simply put, ASPC functions like a low speed cruise control and takes away all the hard work for the driver by controlling braking and throttle application so as to avoid wheel spin or wheel locking in slippery conditions. Very clever and very effective.
If the F-PACE has the powertrains wrapped up, occupants will be very satisfied with how they are wrapped up inside the cabin. Jaguar is particularly proud of the space they’ve extracted out of what is a medium-sized SUV and cite the class-leading rear seat width as a big plus. Certainly, there’s more than adequate room for four adults but some compromise might be needed to free rear knee space if particularly tall passengers occupy the front seats. Luggage space with seats in-situ is exceptional at 650 litres.
Trim levels vary according to model and buyers are offered an amazing array of options but rest assured that a cosseting, luxurious ambience is guaranteed with plenty of soft touch surfacing and fragrant leather in evidence, whatever the model. The basic dashboard architecture borrows heavily from the XE and new XF and aside from a rather plain execution in the area immediately in front of the passenger, the execution works well and particularly so as far as the excellent new capacitative touch screens are concerned.
The standard screen measures 8 inches and incorporates all the usual Bluetooth connectivity and mapping but it’s the 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro set up that stars with its 60Gb solid state drive and tablet-like features that allow the home screen to be customised to an extraordinary degree, quite apart from providing a WiFi hotspot facility.
There are simply too many options and features for me to list here, suffice to say that the F-PACE can be equipped to rival a spaceship with tech such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist that tracks the vehicle in front, Blind Spot Monitor and Reverse Traffic Detection, Park Assist, Trailer Stability Assist and more.
On the safety front, every possible braking aid is on board together with air bags hidden in every nook and cranny but all this can be supplemented with state of the art vision sensors that detect the onset of a calamity and react to avoid it. Even the driver’s physical condition can be monitored as can traffic signs. A multi-function laser head-up display allows the driver to concentrate on matters in front of the vehicle and there’s even an Intelligent Speed Limiter available to order which can automatically slow or speed up the vehicle according to posted limits on roadside signs!
Not all SUVs are created equal, especially those that are based on relatively crude pick-up platforms, but the F-PACE is a different animal altogether. It’s one of the few contenders in this category that earns the “Sport” moniker and the fact that it blends its athleticism so seamlessly with its practical attributes is a huge feather in its maker’s cap.
It drives and handles like a competent sports saloon on the hard stuff and it shows every indication of being more than capable off-road with its amazing array of traction aids allied to decent ground clearance, something you’d never normally associate with a Jaguar! For sure its real strengths lie in its dynamic driving qualities, irrespective of which engine is fitted, but the fact that it does so many other things with so little compromise is a mighty achievement for a first-off effort by Jaguar’s engineers.
For me, it’s the most complete vehicle ever to come out of Coventry and provided the pricing can be contained within reasonable bounds, Jaguar will be well on the road to attracting a whole new customer base while sending shivers through the factory yards of the more established purveyors of smart SUVs.
(Please note detail specifications may vary by market and may include an entry-level 2WD diesel with manual transmission. Consult your local Jaguar dealer for an update)