When sports car companies start making SUVs, you know the automotive world has changed forever; but when Jaguar makes one this good, then the world has also changed for the better.
We’ve all been there: stuck in a queue, people-watching, waiting for it to progress. Someone in front spots another line moving quicker so they jump across. Time to follow. Others do the same, and suddenly that line is much longer. This follow-the-crowd mentality can lead some into trouble, but it pays off handsomely for those perceptive enough to keep an eye on what’s really going on around them.
With the world’s penchant for luxury SUVs seemingly insatiable, Jaguar changed queues, as it were, by following Porsche’s lead. However, in creating its own version of a lifestyle machine, the British company has a distinct advantage. With master penman Ian Callum at the helm of its design team, Jaguar has created arguably the best-looking SUV ever to set tyre on tarmac.
This is the F-Pace, and it is exquisite. ‘Compromise’ is a word often associated with SUVs and their aesthetics: a swage line that doesn’t quite sit right, or an imbalance with its dimensions due to packaging constraints. Such compromises appear to have been on holiday when the F-Pace was designed. Its balance and proportions are virtually perfect, so you’d be forgiven if you bought it on looks alone and completely forgot about how it drove. But it is a Jaguar, so has to drive like a Jaguar.
Here is where the compromise may become apparent: an SUV isn’t exactly the best starting point for an involving drive experience. After all, it sits higher than a coupé (or sedan), thus its centre of gravity is lifted, causing a top-weighted metronome effect. Yet throw it into a corner, and the F-Pace defies expectations.
Wider than a Lamborghini Huracán, and with 20-inch wheels, there’s a solid footprint with a lot of rubber on the road. Its grip and chassis balance are so well judged that you can turn into corners at ridiculous speeds, yet it rides way better than a car with these hoops deserves to.
Making large wheels feel like they’re two inches smaller is no mean feat – Jaguar, somehow, has got that sorted.The steering has a beautiful heft, linear in feel, and the feedback is very good too. It may be all-wheel-drive, but its bias is distinctly rear-drive, so it never suffers from torque steer. It remains beautifully composed and neutral, no matter what you give it, but always remains comfortable throughout.
Dynamically, then, the F-Pace is the cream of the crop: easily the best-handling SUV in its price range. Hop inside and the presentation has left behind the olde-worlde XJ and XF, and leans toward a swoopy layout with an arched centre stack and teardrop outer air vents. Some plastics could be a little nicer, but the piano-black surrounds look terrific and the 12.3-inch customisable instrument screen is brilliant.
The ambient lighting bathes the cabin in a faint blue glow, but when Dynamic mode is selected, everything turns red – very cool. The InControl infotainment system has a wide, high-res screen with plenty of room, good detail, and very quick response to touch commands as well as ultra-quick pairing to Bluetooth. It’s also easy to work out, and the Meridian sound system it operates is pretty impressive too.
When starting, a rotary gear controller rises theatrically from the centre console, but pragmatists may suggest a simple joystick gear lever (à la F-Type) could liberate more storage for odds and ends. Space isn’t lacking elsewhere, though. A 508-litre boot, good leg- and head-room for all passengers, plus cupholders galore mean long trips are not just possible but recommended.
In fact, those country drives are a highlight. With its 250kW–450Nm supercharged V6, it can sprint to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds and will happily hit its limiter at 250km/h, so overtaking B-doubles isn’t an issue. It doesn’t quite have the sound of its F-Type sibling (wait for the F-Pace R), but when the road turns into something tighter and a bit more winding, it revels in hunkering down and flowing from apex to apex.
Jaguar has done some excellent work with the F-Pace. It’s stunning to look at and fabulous to drive. Okay, so there are a couple of question marks over some interior finishes, but as a whole, it’s an SUV easily worth its asking price. String together a few corners, though, and it doesn’t feel like an SUV. It feels like a Jaguar should, and it can keep pace with the best of them.