When I heard the news that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) decided that Jaguar absolutely needed a utility vehicle, I could not help but think that they’d lost their minds. I’ve heard the pitch where Jag owners interested in an SUV would shop elsewhere to fill the void, but had they ever looked across the showroom floor at the Evoque, the Discovery or the Range Rovers? Were Jag salespeople not allowed to promote the Rovers?
I silenced my mind and figured that maybe the F-PACE would do for Jaguar what the Cayenne did for Porsche. But, then again, the German company was not called Porsche Jeep, for example. The debate became moot as the concepts and prototypes made the rounds at auto shows and the least that could be said was that the F-PACE was one hell of a looker. The name, on the other hand…
The 2017 Jaguar F-PACE is lots of good and lots of bad rolled into one important product. To be honest, my first encounter with the Jag left me displeased with everything, but by the end of the week, I wanted more time to see if I’d not missed something.
I stepped out of Mazda’s new CX-9 after a 1400-km road trip and dropped directly into the F-PACE. I’d really enjoyed the Mazda so I was in a good mood getting behind the wheel of the Jaguar. By the third corner however, I was incredulous—the ride was terrible. Every minute imperfection in the road’s surface was sent straight up my spine. Worse, the steering wheel would judder in my hands. Had I stepped down into a 2000 Kia Sportage?
On top of this unfortunate discovery, I found the powertrain to be very uncooperative. The eight-speed automatic transmission was very obstinate, while the supercharged 3.0L V6 felt unresponsive regardless of the selected drive mode. I parked the Jag for a day to cool off—the rough initiation to the F-PACE completely through me off.
Needs to be driven
The 24-hour break did loads of good as my next stint with the F-PACE turned out to be far more entertaining. It could be that the Jag wasn’t in the mood for me either, but time apart helped us both out.
As the mileage piled on, I began to welcome the F-TYPE-derived suspension underpinning the SUV. The more I pushed the F-PACE through its paces, the better it responded and the more rewarding its dynamics became. Said dynamics are configurable and, when cruising the city, are best left in normal. The moment speeds increase, the chequered flag must be selected. The main reason for doing so is for the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission to step up its game. In normal mode, its hesitant nature mars passing and accelerating manoeuvres.
The supercharged engine is brilliant. In the tested R-Sport version, it puts out 340 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. This is enough power to send the F-PACE to 100 km/h in 5.8 seconds. The transmission bridges the gap to the AWD system that can send up to 90% of the power to the rear or do the opposite when things get ugly. The F-PACE also features torque vectoring.
Those interested in more power can opt for the S, which thrives on 380 horsepower and equal torque from the same V6.
On paper, the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE is set up for maximum high-speed driving and cornering fun, but the vast majority of owners will never understand the breadth of abilities contained in their Jaguar utility vehicle. In order to get the most out of driving the F-PACE, you quite nearly need to abuse it. Driven in a mild-mannered way, the luxury ute just about feels out of its element. The moment I’d push it, I could almost hear it utter “Finally! Let’s do this!” In other words, it’s a high-strung vehicle that needs to be driven hard in order to appreciate it.
The suspension works best when under duress. This in turn sharpens steering and enables the strong lightweight and sporty chassis to manage road conditions. When pushed, the F-PACE comes to life with responsively sharp reflexes.
The Jag’s interior packaging is also bi-polar, but far better executed. The F-PACE’s cabin is engaging which is very Jaguar-like. Save for the overly large spoked steering wheel, I can find nothing else that is out of sorts. Well, there are two exceptions: The first is the transmission selector wheel which provides insufficient resistance from “D” to “R,” for example, and the other is the occasionally slow-to-respond infotainment screen.
The seats are firm and supportive and despite the steering wheel, the driving position is very sporty. The rear bench is accommodating and I’ll give many points to the larger-than-expected trunk, ideal for everything!
Fit, finish and presentation are top-drawer; however, a little more room for phones, change, cables and the usual stuff would be nice.
The Jaguar F-PACE is certainly handsome, but draped in Ebony black as my $70,700 tester was, it somewhat flies under radar. Less than a handful of people actually noticed what it was. Dark Sapphire Blue or better yet, Odyssey Red would do wonders for the truck. The standard Templar wheels are also better matched.
The F-PACE’s front fascia is the only true spark in the vehicle’s design. The gaping snout and profiled headlights are signature Jaguar elements. The remainder of the Jag is fairly tame by comparison, but will never be mistaken for something else once it becomes more common.
Charging into a tough crowd
On the last point, the question is whether or not it will sell well. Luxury SUVs are all the rage at the moment and brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all over the segments. Those looking to differentiate themselves from the X3s and GLCs will certainly do so with the new Jaguar F-PACE. I would strongly recommend a test drive of the Jaguar and perhaps avoiding the Porsche Macan as it may throw everything off…