Launches: Audi Q5, Renault Captur, Honda CR-V
Jaguar has perfected the art of the fast SUV. Lindsey Schutters investigates the underpinnings of that achievement I’m not a fan of fast SUVS because I don't enjoy how they feel when heading through an off-camber bend. Call me a coward, but that's just me. I also had a problem with the two-litre diesel Jaguar F-pace because I couldn't see any compelling reason to recommend it over Land Rover's slightly less well screwed together Discovery Sport. Then I got behind the wheel of the three-litre supercharged V6 F-pace S and suddenly I was intrigued.
This car has all the off-road capabilities of its less muscular cousin, but is an entirely different animal on the asphalt. I found myself wanting to go faster. I started chasing the exhaust note. I wanted it to exhale a puff of tyre smoke on each corner. I was intoxicated. And like all things that give me a rush, I wanted to know why.
There are faster things out there, like BMW'S X5 M, but for now let's concern ourselves with the first legitimate lovechild between Jaguar and Land Rover. The feline influence is the first you'll feel because the suspension design comes from the almighty F-type and is adapted to fit the 2 874 mm wheelbase, which places most
of the weight between the axles.
Up front is the famed double- wishbone and round back is a multi-link set-up that Jaguar named Intergral Link, obviously doffing a hat to the integral nature of good rear suspension on a large vehicle. To be fair, the company could have slapped new body panels and fancier leather on a Discovery Sport, but it chose to make an exceptional car instead.
Stiff lower bits
Suspension is mostly made from aluminium with components forged from cast blankets into a ribbed design. Using aluminium makes the platform as light as possible while resisting corrosion. That ribbed design also contributes to the stiffness.
Upper links of the rear suspension are forged aluminium; the lower arm features a hollow casting of the same material. Springs and dampers are mounted separately and precisely positioned to better deal with the dynamic forces. The aim is superior stiffness without compromising on refinement, but the pleasant side effect is a design that is space-efficient and that doesn't intrude into the substantial – and maybe best-in-class – luggage space.
Stiffness is a recurring theme. The double wishbone is notably stiffer than other designs in camber, allowing the front tyres the stability to develop more lateral force more quickly. This means you can turn in harder while carrying greater speeds with a reduced risk of skidding.
When those front suspension developments are tied to the variable steering ratio – achieved through changing the steering contact point with the variable pitch gears on the rack bar from the valleys on-centre and the peaks at lock – your driver confidence skyrockets from all the real-time responsiveness. The F-pace has by far the best steering feel among SUVS, which usually err on the side of lightness.
When those clever engineering touches are pushed to the limit, torque vectoring is on-hand to distribute power through finely metered braking to the inside rear wheel when cornering and help reduce understeer. These systems specifically focus on that inside rear wheel to retain steering integrity.
Eyes on the road
If you leave the driving dynamics settings in the default mode, the Adaptive Dynamics system comes into its own. The car monitors body movement 100 times a second and wheel movement 500 times a second to provide continuous variable damping to suit the detected conditions. It must be said that this isn't new technology at all and Jaguar has mastered passing off being late to the technology party as innovation, but the F-pace does handle as well as they say it does.
There are just a ton of tiny things, like the addition of a fifth mounting point for the steering rack and increased rotational stiffness where the subframe meets the body. The rear axle also has high lateral stiffness to help the tyres stay in contact with the road on initial turn-in; the less you have to rely on torque vectoring through the differential and the electronic stability systems, the better. Electronic nannies can make handling unpredictable.
F-pace aerodynamics resemble that of a saloon more than an SUV to improve high speed cruising. Further enhancing ride quality is the bushes, which can now be made softer than on standard multilink suspensions to absorb more energy because of the greater lateral stiffness. There's also greater caster stiffness, which results in better body control under braking.
Where the F-pace lags behind in autonomous drive features, it more than makes up with regard to confidence-inspiring handling. That it can easily accommodate a family of four and all their luggage or shopping is a bonus. There is method to the International Car of the Year accolade and it can inspire madness behind the wheel.
From R1 069 400, jaguar.co.za
The Jaguar F-pace’s dual purpose of competent rough-roader and agile asphalt sprinter was an ambitious undertaking, but something that was ultimately achieved in S guise.