Porsche has done it. Maserati has done it. Even Bentley has recently done it. Now Jaguar becomes the latest premium brand to add a much-needed luxury SUV to its ranks.
In economic terms, it’s what’s technically called a ‘no-brainer’. SUVs have never been so popular, and although the British brand has no direct experience building anything even remotely high riding, it’s been able to pick the brains of sister company Land Rover, which has plenty. However, the new F-Pace is no rebadged Range Rover Evoque or Land Rover Discovery; its underpinnings actually have more in common with Jaguar’s XE and XF saloons. That means the body is super-stiff and there’s lots of aluminium and other lightweight materials to keep weight down. This is very much a road-focused SUV, even though four-wheel drive versions have some clever offroading technology.
The F-Pace is available with a choice of three engines. The most popular is expected to be the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel, which is a close rival for the BMW X3. It is easily the most efficient model, with CO2 emissions from 129g/km if you opt for rear-wheel drive. More powerful V6 diesel and supercharged V6 petrol versions are four-wheel drive only and are aimed squarely at the Porsche Macan.
What's the 2016 Jaguar F-Pace like to drive?
That said, the Macan wasn’t on Jaguar’s radar when the F-Pace project began a few years back. Even midway through the car’s development, the British brand was confident it was on course to build the best-driving SUV on the planet. Then along came Porsche and moved the goalposts.
As demoralising as that must have been at the time, having the Macan as a benchmark has helped Jaguar produce a car that’s truly great to drive. The caveat is that we’ve only tried the range-topping V6 petrol, which sits on adaptive suspension rather than the regular ‘passive’ dampers that feature on the 2.0-litre diesel. However, you can add adaptive suspension as an option to any F-Pace and it delivers superb handling and a surprisingly composed ride.
It’s the way the F-Pace flows through fast bends that impresses most. It may be lighter than most of its rivals, but this is still a 1.8-tonne SUV and yet it genuinely feels as agile as most hatchbacks. It’s only through really tight corners and sudden direction changes that you remember you’re driving something a bit taller. Even then the steering is always precise, building weight at just the right time and with the right consistency to reward you for your efforts.
Stick with Normal mode, as opposed to Dynamic, and the V6 rides well on its standard 20in alloys – the optional 22in rims may well tell a different story. There’s just enough pliancy to smooth over nasty, sharp-edged bumps without allowing even a hint of wallow along rolling country stretches. Okay, the F-Pace isn’t really any more comfortable around town than, say, an Audi Q5, but given its handling feats that’s quite some achievement.
As for the supercharged engine, it’s a fitting companion to the Jaguar’s handling. It needs plenty of revs in the way the V6 diesel version almost certainly won’t, but it’s properly quick – 0-62mph takes just 5.5sec – and it howls away like a slightly less rebellious F-Type. The 31.7mpg official fuel economy figure is likely to be rather less welcome, especially given that you’ll be lucky to get anywhere near that. We certainly didn’t during our test route around Montenegro.
What's the 2016 Jaguar F-Pace like inside?
Jaguar’s recent saloons, particularly the XE, have been a little cramped inside, but the F-Pace is easily big enough for most families. It’s certainly roomier than a Porsche Macan because a couple of six-footers won’t just fit in the back seats, they’ll have space to spare.
Jaguar claims the F-Pace has a much bigger boot than any of its rivals, too – an enormous 650 litres with the rear seats in place. That figure seems rather optimistic to us, but there’s certainly more space for luggage than in a Porsche Macan. Conveniently positioned handles on the walls of the boot allow you to drop the rear seats easily, leaving a virtually flat extended load bay to slide in longer loads.
Interior quality is probably the least impressive thing about the new F-Pace. Lined up against the Q5 and Mercedes GLC, let alone the Macan, the Jaguar is mildly disappointing inside. The leather wrapped centre console in the range-topping S trim model we tried certainly helps lift the cabin, but the cover for the instrument binnacle is hard and scratchy and the buttons on the steering wheel feel a bit low-rent.
On the upside, our test car was kitted out with Jaguar’s latest InControl Touch Pro infotainment system – and it’s one of the best touchscreens we’ve tried. It’s more intuitive and quicker to respond to prods than the entry-level InControl system we’ve tried in other Jaguars, even though we’d still prefer a rotary controller like the one you get with BMW’s rival iDrive system.
Should I buy one?
That depends on which engine you’re interested in. If it’s the V6 petrol, and you’re not remotely fussed about fuel economy, then we’d wholeheartedly recommend you do. Whether or not the F-Pace pips a Macan as the world’s best driver’s SUV will need to wait for a back-to-back test on UK roads, but it’s a close enough call that you won’t be at all disappointed if you decide not to wait.
The V6 diesel is perhaps an even more enticing proposition because what it loses in ultimate straight line pace compared with the petrol, it’s likely to make up for with stronger low-rev pulling power. It’ll also deliver suitably better fuel economy and probably hold on to its value better, too. Yes, it’s more expensive than a diesel Macan, but it also comes with lots of kit you have to pay for on the Porsche.
The 2.0-litre diesel is a harder call. Many of the F-Pace’s virtues will surely shine just as brightly in the entry-level version, but we worry the engine might not have what it takes to make the most of the Jaguar’s brilliant chassis. That’s unlikely to worry you if you’re buying the F-Pace for its looks and practicality, but it might do if you’re looking for a truly entertaining drive.
Whichever F-Pace you choose you may want to get your order in sharpish. Some dealers are already reporting waiting lists, and those are only going to grow as word gets out about just how good Jaguar’s maiden SUV is.
What Car? says...
Jaguar F-Pace 3.0 V6 380 Engine size 3.0-litre V6 petrol Price from £51,450 Power 375bhp Torque 332lb ft 0-62mph 5.5sec Top speed 155mph Fuel economy 31.7mpg CO2 209g/km