The F-Pace will be the best-selling Jaguar in the company's history, says Ian Callum. No wonder the director of design admits he and his team embarked on the creation of Jaguar's first SUV with some trepidation.
While those who prefer their Jaguars to waft them from the antiques fair to the golf club will no doubt baulk at the very notion of a Jaguar off-roader, the company's debut into the sports utility vehicle market will open it up to a whole new audience who are both young and wealthy. And, as SUVs are expected to account for one in every five new car sales by 2020, now is the time to stretch the on-form company into a new sector.
On sale now, the F-Pace fits somewhere between the BMW X3 and X5, and the Audi Q5 and Q7. It's a mid-size SUV which must tread a careful line between taking Jaguar off-road and not upsetting sister company Land Rover. IBTimes UK explored the Cotswolds in both the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel and the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, which cost from £37,860 and £51,450 respectively.
Jaguar F-Pace review: Design and interior
During a presentation the previous evening, Callum had explained how the F-Pace's design gives it a sense of direction and movement, even when stood still. And, as you would perhaps expect from one of the biggest names in automotive design, he's right. The F-Pace, especially the S model with huge 22in wheels and more aggressive bumpers, looks like it is moving even before you get in. The tapered windows complement the pinched rear and tail lights which seem to have been lifted directly from the F-Type sports car, which in turn harks back to the E-Type of the 1960s.
With such a bloodline it would have required real effort for the F-Pace to be ugly, so perhaps the gorgeous rear and side profiles, and that aggressive stance, should come as no surprise. I'm not entirely convinced by the enormous central radiator grille at the front, but the menacing face created by the headlines just about distracts from the gaping mouth.
Inside, the F-Pace is as you would expect. The interior is a textbook example of simplicity, luxury and functionality. Buttons are all clearly labelled and there's a welcome lack of clutter which some rivals could learn from. Despite its size, the F-Pace cabin manages to feel compact thanks to the 'Riva Hoop', a line which arcs around from the doors to the windscreen. That said, there is acres of space in here with comfortable seating for five adults, plus what Jaguar claims is the largest boot in its class.
As you would expect from the Jaguar brand, the F-Pace's interior is a lovely place to be. There is plenty of leather and wood – or metal, depending on your preference. The seating position feels very much like a regular car, which is all the praise a high-riding SUV needs.
Jaguar F-Pace review: Behind the wheel
Any concerns you might have of the F-Pace being closer to a Land Rover than a Jaguar dissolve the moment you turn into the first bend. This is a car built on the same shared platform as the XE and larger XF saloon cars, and at 473cm long, it fits neatly between the two. The F-Pace has a body made almost entirely of aluminium (which is lighter than steel) and as a result the car feels more dynamic than a tall SUV has any right to. The XE-soured steering wheel is compact and provides decent feedback (again, for an SUV, this isn't an F-Type after all) and makes the car feel pointy and nimble.
The 3.0-litre V6 diesel I drove first has 296 horsepower and 516lb ft of torque which surges through a four-wheel-drive system to produce a 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds. Top speed is 150mph and all of these states put the F-Pace comfortably into the sports car section of the SUV market; it's certainly more Jaguar than Land Rover, and gives you a real punch in the back out of every corner.
Equipped with 22in wheels and firmer suspension, this range-topping diesel would feel more at home on the Chelsea school run than the farm track (especially as my car was white with a red and black leather interior), but that's no bad thing. In this trim (and with Dynamic mode engaged) the F-Pace blends family-friendly practicality and B-road kicks surprisingly well, while still holding its own when wading through a ford and trekking across a short off-road section Jaguar had set up for me to try. A new mode which essentially acts like cruise control for off-roading ensures the F-Pace keeps to a steady (and slow) speed across rough terrain and up or down steep hills. Feet off, the car will maintain a steady speed to matter how steep the hill is.
Switching from the flashy flagship to the 2.0-litre 'Portfolio' model after lunch gave me an impression of what the majority of F-Paces will be like. Here, the engine is less gutsy, the suspension softer (and a little less composed as a result), the styling less aggressive and the interior less brash, albeit still a lovely place to be, especially thanks to the enormous glass roof.
Jaguar F-Pace review: Technology
The two biggest pieces of tech on the F-Pace are optional extras and first is the £300 Activity Key. This is a waterproof wristband which doubles as your key for when taking the actual key fob with you isn't practical. The obvious example is surfing, where you can leave all possessions and the key in your car, then strap the Activity Key to your wrist and use that to get back in when you return. When the Activity Key is in use, your regular key is deactivated and can be left in the locked vehicle.
The second is an upgrade to the F-Pace's infotainment system, called InControl Touch Pro. This takes the regular InControl Touch system and replaces all buttons with a large 10.2in touch screen which is powered by a quad-core processor and reacts to multi touch inputs as quickly as an iPad.
More dramatically, the Pro upgrade ditches the entire instrument cluster behind the steering wheel and replaces it with a second computer screen. This can be configured to display the dials as normal, or just about anything else; it can even be set to show only your sat-nav map and directions.
Jaguar might be a decade late to the premium SUV market, but the F-Pace really is proof that good things come to those who wait. The F-Pace blends SUV practicality and off-road prowess with a dynamic and sporty driving style which, in the case of the 3.0-litre model, is huge fun.
Inside, the F-Pace is almost as comfortable and refined a Jaguar XE or XF, but the ride can sometimes crash around over an uneven A-road.
Prices start at £34,170 and run up to £51,450 for the flagship V6 petrol model, which has the same engine as the F-Type sports car. The entry level puts it almost £10,000 below its nearest rival, the Porsche Macan, while its smaller cousin, the Range Rover Evoque, is £30,600.
The F-Pace is a handsome, fast, practical and good value first step for Jaguar into the SUV market. Make no mistake, these are going to sell like hot cakes.