AT A GLANCE
YAWN. Here comes another new SUV. The difference, this time, is that it’s a Jaguar.
Some people, me included, think the F-Pace has a silly name but that’s irrelevant for a car that looks like a Jaguar, drives (a lot) like a Jaguar and has the cat-car look and feel you expect from the badge.
Not just that, but it’s also the first Jaguar sold in Australia with an official towing approval of up to 2.4 tonnes. And it will also sprint to 100km/h in as little as 6.2 seconds.
Even so, it’s still a Jaguar and that brings certain expectations as it slides into a line-up that’s headlined by the F-Type sports cars filled out by the compact and involving XE sedan and luxurious XJ. So it’s a conundrum, wrapped in an SUV wagon body.
My early experience with the F-Pace means driving all three engines with a range of price points, from the basic 2.0litre turbo diesel from $73,430 to the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel at more than $100,000.
It also includes time with the car’s award-winning designer, Ian Callum, who explains that his approach was to make the shape more stylish than a typically boxy SUV.
He also had to ensure there was no crossover with the heavyweight four-wheel drives from Jaguar’s sibling brand, Land Rover.
Talking to Callum, it’s clear that the SUV landscape is beyond crowded and it’s ever more difficult to stand out in such a crowd. That’s why, for example, the F-Pace looks more like a swoosh station wagon above the top of the doors and why the cabin is a roomy fiveseater instead of a compromised seven-seater.
The F-Pace is intended as a soft-roader only but still comes with what’s called Adaptive Surface Control, enabling it to climb steep hills, ford small creeks and maintain grip on slippery mud or sand.
The rest of the package is familiar for a prestige SUV that will be shopped against a wide range or rivals including the impressive Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi’s Q5 and the BMW X5.
But its closest rival, in style and substance, is the Porsche Macan. The German car starts from $92,800 but has a similar design approach and is also intended to be more enjoyable to drive than the typical trucklike SUV. It takes me a while to warm to the F-Pace. The car seemed good on the press preview drive, where it felt quick and taut and almost a match for the Macan over some testing twisty roads.
But, now at home with a topof-the-line Portfolio 30d at nearly $100,000 on the road, I’m not so sure.
It looks tough in British Racing Green with black wheels and with a gaping nose that Callum has used to set an aggressive introduction. Standard equipment includes plenty of luxury and safety gear, although it has yet to get an official ANCAP safety score.
It’s just that it’s not as relaxed and charming as other Jaguars. It’s more minimalist, less special, than either the F-Type or the XJ. It’s not as involving as the XE, which I really enjoy driving.
The diesel engine is not the most charismatic thing about the car and the cabin comes up short on the opulence I expect from a Jaguar. The engine can feel a bit harsh, although the punch provided by 700Nm is mightily impressive, both for getting away from the lights and carrying a load.
Personally, I still prefer the sweeter feel and lighter response of the 2.0-litre turbo diesel four. I can understand towing people will want the big banger and a lot of Jaguar shoppers will go straight to the top anyway.
And that’s another thing. Jaguar is cashing-in on the F-Pace with some really big prices for optional equipment — how about $850 for an electrically adjustable steering column? — and has resisted the industry move to bundling the most-popular options into affordable packages. JAGUAR F-PACE PORTFOLIO 30d PRICE From $91,304 WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km CAPPED SERVICING $1750 for 5 years SERVICE INTERVALS 12 months/16,000km SAFETY Not tested ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 221kW/700Nm TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; AWD THIRST 6.0L/100km DIMENSIONS 4731mm (L), 2175mm (W), 1652mm (H), 2874mm (WB) WEIGHT 1884kg SPARE Space-saver TOWING 2400kg 0-100KM/H 6.2 secs
But the F-Pace eventually gets me, as I expected. There’s still much to like, including the roomy cabin, supportive seats, its general quietness and the lively feel of the chassis.
It’s still not a sports car but it rides and handles well for something that’s more than 4.7 metres long and topping 1800kg. It’s better than any of its rivals, short of the Macan, and packs more rear-seat space than anything in a similar shootout.
The eight-speed automatic is smooth but also responsive with paddle-shifters, I’m confident it will get a five-star safety score, the fit and finish are good and I like the large infotainment touchscreen. It’s taken Jaguar a long time to get its SUV on the road but it’s been worth the wait.