Gareth Butterfield discovers Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV remains true to the marque’s sporting heritage
IF my dear old Dad was still alive, he would have been a bit angry about Jaguar’s new F-Pace.
The Jaguar brand as far as he, and many other people, are concerned, represents a pedigree filled with sports cars, racing successes and luxury saloons which attract a “better class of person”
The idea that Jaguar might dip its toe into the SUV market, once the preserve of brands such as Land Rover and some of his least favourite Japanese makers would fill him with dread.
But the fact is Jaguar has changed. Gone are the days of doe-skin leather and acres of walnut veneer. The curvaceous twin-headlight saloons we both coveted are long-gone and Jaguar has evolved. And it’s been hugely successful.
Having said that, Jaguar really hasn’t strayed far from its roots. It’s still very much a sporting brand. The F-Type rekindles some of the magic of the legendary E-Type and, now that the iffy Ford-influenced X-Type days are behind it the only nod it’s made towards a practical family car was the XF Sportbrake – which was more of a sporty saloon with a big boot than a load-lugging estate car.
The truth is, Jaguar needed the F-Pace. The buying public – for reasons I’m still not entirely clear on – is hungry for SUVs with raised ground clearance, all-wheel-drive and loftier driving positions.
But rather than focus on making the ultimate go-anywhere Chelsea tractor, I’m thrilled to report that the F-Pace is still very much a sporty car.
As a matter of fact, from behind the wheel, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in a jacked-up, off-road capable machine because it handles almost as well as any good Jaguar saloon should do.
The vast majority of the buying public won’t care that sticking a Jaguar badge on a mud-plugger is like Prada launching a new running shoe; but they will care whether it’s any good or not. And, I won’t beat around the bush here, it’s absolutely brilliant.
It’s so good, it’s now won both the World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year titles and sales have been booming since it was launched. Jaguar is currently struggling to keep up with the order book.
And rightly so. Even in the relatively modest R-Sport trim of my test car, I’ve got a dizzying array of technology bundled in to what is a fairly-priced, £45,000 car.
It has the two-litre diesel, 180bhp engine, which would be chosen for its economy rather than its sporting credentials but it still delivers decent performance and fine fuel economy.
And, it’s fair to say, it’s quite a looker. It’s an obvious evolution – call it a mish-mash if you will – of the XE and XF saloon, with a smattering of F-Type thrown in, but the mix is perfect. It’s a handsome beast and looks imposing and elegant without being ostentatious and crude.
And its interior is also lovely. Anyone who’s sat in a current Jaguar saloon will feel right at home, it’s changed very little from the family norm. But that’s certainly no bad thing.
Prices start at a shade under £35,000 and get up to some reasonably dizzy heights, especially if you opt for the supercharged V6 petrol engine – which is the same as you’d find in the F-Type.
But in any spec and with any engine, the F-Pace remains a true sports car. It might look like it can tackle rocks and rivers with ease (and it probably can) but on the tarmac is where it truly impresses.
Even with my slightly raucous four-pot diesel providing propulsion, it delivers a drive unlike any other SUV I’ve ever been in. Corners are lapped up with ease and it responds with slick, balanced handling that rewards a sporty driver.
Let’s not be under any illusions that this will out-handle an actual sports car, physics are physics after all, but no SUV this side of a Porsche Macan handles quite so well.
And it mustn’t be forgotten that, at the end of the twisty mountain road you’ve just devoured, you’ll be able to unload bikes, surfboards, Ikea furniture or anything else you care to throw in. It’s still a big car and it’s still very practical.
It’s also got some clever tricks up its sleeve. It can be had with on-board wi-fi, there’s plenty of charging points for phones and tablets and it comes with the latest version of Jaguar’s constantly-improving infotainment system.
It even has a clever gadget in the glovebox called an “Activity Key” which is basically a fully-waterproof wristband you wear while you head off swimming, surfing, and the like and it will enable you to lock your usual key in the car.
When you get back, dripping wet in your wetsuit, you simply hold the wristband against the “J” on the Jaguar badge and the car will let you in. Time will tell whether this will catch on, but kudos to Jaguar for what is officially a world-first.
So in all honesty there’s little to dislike about the F-Pace. The diesel engine might be a bit noisy when you press on, but it’s not unforgivable and it’s still a very flexible and economical powerplant.
It might have my Dad spinning in his grave, and I’m sure there are still a few purists who spat out their coffee when they learned Jaguar was dipping its toe into the SUV market but, frankly, the world has changed.
Jaguar has also changed, not beyond recognition, but importantly, it’s changed in a good way. But change is important and the F-Pace is a shining example of that. Bravo, Jaguar.