Jaguar’s conviction in its car design knows no bounds at the moment. From the C-X16 concept that previewed the F-Typesports car to the C-X17 that gave us a glimpse of the Jaguar F-Pace crossover back in 2013, both designs morphed from sketch to showroom virtually unchanged.
Nearly three years later and Jaguar’s first ever SUV is now a whisker away from being production ready, so we bagged an early drive in an F-Pace prototype during Jag’s final stages of winter testing in Sweden.
With the tie-up between Jaguar and Land Rover, you might think there’d be no room in the Jag line-up for an off-roader, but the F-Pace is a sporty SUV that promises to rival the Porsche Macan for dynamic ability, so it’s subtly different to offerings from its British stable mate.
So much is obvious from the moment you see the car’s silhouette – even in our test car’s light camouflage, the big, bluff grille, shallow window line and chunky rear end feature “F-Type inspired” styling cues. If Jaguar’s setting its stall out with looks like this, does the driving experience live up to the billing?
Our test was limited solely to snow, so final impressions on how it rides and handles on grippier surfaces will have to wait, but there was still plenty to learn.
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Firstly, the F-Pace’s engine line-up fits the car’s character. We sampled the 3.0-litre V6 diesel first, and with 296bhp and 700Nm on tap, the mid-range motivation is refined and smooth, carrying you along on a rich wave of torque, giving a serious, sustained shove. The muted growl from under the bonnet fits the bill, too, and so does the 5.8-second 0-60mph performance.
We also got a taste of the range-topping 3.0-litre supercharged V6 – borrowed from the F-Type V6 S and producing 375bhp here – and mated to Jag’s clever new four-wheel drive system, there’s plenty of traction to make use of all that power.
The 1,861kg F-Pace isn’t exactly a featherweight, but neither is it particularly lardy thanks to its aluminium architecture. With 450Nm of torque served up from that supercharger, there’s effortless performance available by gently stroking the car along, short shifting through the smooth eight-speed auto box with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
It’s nicely refined when cruising around at lower revs at both town and motorway speeds, because unlike the F-Type, there are no active flaps in the exhaust here. However, extend the V6 to its rev limiter and the car romps away with a properly sporty, snarling soundtrack pumped out of its twin tailpipes. On the right surface the 0-60mph sprint is dispatched in 5.1 seconds, and it’s this sporting prowess that runs right through the car.
In normal driving conditions, the F-Pace is rear-wheel drive, which also boosts fuel economy and reduces CO2 emissions – in fact, the rear-wheel drive only entry-level 178bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel will return a claimed 57.7mpg and emit an impressively low 129g/km CO2, according to Jaguar. It’s only when the British brand’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics system senses a loss of traction that power is directed to the front axle.
The setup is similar to that on the F-Type AWD, so the process happens in less than 165 milliseconds. However, in the hyper alert F-Type the switch sending drive to the front can sometimes feel jerky, whereas in the F-Pace the transition is smoothed out more effectively.
Up to 100 per cent of the power can be diverted to either the front or rear wheels, but Dave Shaw, Engineering Manager for F-Pace, says there’s no fixed split – “It’s infinitely variable depending on lots of factors”
It’s all controlled by a new Adaptive Surface Response feature. This replaces the Rain, Ice and Snow setting in Jag’s Drive Control modes, and adapts the throttle mapping, gearbox parameters and stability control settings depending on surface. It switches between different modes on its own with a noticeable difference between the calibrations.
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With something called All Surface Progress Control (effectively an off-road cruise control to keep momentum up on challenging terrain) and other ‘Traction Toolbox’ features like a launch mode helping you to pull away on slippy ground, Jaguar’s obviously worked hard on the F-Pace’s off-road credentials. But there’s no crossover of hardware between Jag and Land Rover – Land Rover’s engineers have helped in the programming, but the new SUV is actually based on a similar platform to the XE and XFsaloons. And it shows.
From the B-pillar forward it’s the same, and the front double wishbone suspension setup gave decent body control over the higher speed and rutted snowy tracks we experienced.
We’ll have to wait and see how the chassis handles broken B-road tarmac back in the UK, but there’ll be no complaints about the F-Pace’s steering. It’s quick and direct for a 4×4, but that’s a conscious decision Shaw and his team made, pitching the F-Pace as a decidedly sporty SUV.
Jaguar has the Macan square in its sights, then, with Shaw claiming his team “heavily benchmarked” Porsche’s mid-size off-roader during the development process. There’s not quite as much feedback through the steering as in a Macan, but the weight and linear response means you learn to trust the chassis straight away. Add in torque vectoring by braking, and there’s poise, balance and agility to tap into that means even keen drivers will be impressed.
But the F-Pace is also a family car that has to deliver day-to-day, so a 650-litre boot and a powered tailgate on all trim levels give plenty of practicality. There’s enough headroom and legroom in the back for all but the tallest, and up front the high dash wraps around the cabin, while the chunky centre console cocoons the driver.
Our high-spec test car featured a 12.3-inch digital dial pack – the sharpest, highest resolution display yet by Jaguar – which together with the widescreen 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment system gives the F-Pace a high tech feel inside, matched by a logical layout for the climate controls. InControl apps and options like an on-board wi-fi hotspot mean if you’re after connectivity you’ll be well catered for here.
The tech is matched by traditional Jaguar tactility as well. Almost every surface is lined with soft leather, and although our test car was still a prototype and not entirely representative of the final product, fit, finish and quality all seemed top notch.
Which means with the entry-level Ingenium-engined model starting from £34,170, rising to £51,450 for the top-spec V6 S petrol or diesel, the F-Pace packs most of the Macan’s punch at a cheaper price.
This is one of the most important cars in Jaguar’s recent history, but it’s also one of the most important cars for its future. On our first impressions of the F-Pace, we’d say it’s going to be a bright one.