When Porsche unveiled the Cayenne back in the day, it made a fair few people wretch in disgust, unable to stomach its swollen frog styling. Fortunately, Jaguar’s debut SUV looks wholly embraceable and effective from all angles, blending the XF’s face with the F-Type’s derriere. The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are bland to behold and the Mercedes GLC isn’t much sexier. Only the subtly arresting Porsche Macan troubles the gorgeous British newcomer in the aesthetics stakes, although the Jag remains the most imposing in the fast lane thanks to its gaping grille that threatens to swallow other cars alive. The J-blade daytime running lights and slim-line taillights with the trademark crescent bring sophistication to the F-Pace’s muscular, dynamic silhouette, R-Sport body styling with Black Pack boosting its allure even further. Wheels are available in gangster black or more elegant silver all the way up to 22”, which unarguably fills the arches more amply than the 18” options.
The F-Pace is hunkered low to the road like its rivals and is similar in seat height to a wide range of cars from a Qashqai and X3 to a Grand Scenic and Galaxy. No stepladders are required to climb aboard, people of average height able to slide into it nicely. As one would expect, sitting in Jaguar’s new SUV feels suitably grandiose courtesy of visual prompts ranging from the logo on the steering wheel to the red contrast stitching and bulging bonnet.
External beauty isn’t quite echoed by internal luxury, the roof headlining not made from Outer Mongolian wolves’ eyebrows and the switchgear not hewn from precious metals from a distant planet, budgetary constraints apparently having led to a few cheap-feeling surfaces and controls slipping inside, such as the steering wheel adjustment lock, armrest storage lid and door handles. Everything’s relative, though, and although the F-Pace doesn’t ultimately give Audi and the other German rivals sleepless nights in terms of interior quality, car shoppers upgrading from mass-market brands will still no doubt fall in love, JLR’s gesture-controlled interior lights and rising rotary gear selector never failing to impress. Apart from the electric window switches being positioned out of the reach of anyone barring Mr Tickle, the F-Pace is ergonomically excellent, most of the controls easy to fathom and operate, and the chunky leather steering wheel a joy to hold.
The curvaceous mood lighting elements make the cabin relaxing at night and Jaguar’s latest infotainment system and InControl Touch apps work effectively, complemented by an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot and a 12V port and two USB charging sockets in the rear, which will keep kids and indeed gadget-loving adults entertained. Plenty of storage cubbies are dotted around the cabin, too.
Long journeys are despatched nothing but comfortably for both front and rear occupants and the cosseting seats’ two-tone leather adds some visual allure even if it feels slightly faux to the touch, just like in early XEs. Head, shoulder and legroom are abundant all round and the back doors open generously widely, which is a good job as the rear wheel arches would otherwise eat into the available access. The shallow rear window makes reversing slightly daunting at times, making it advisable to tick the reversing camera on the options list.
Offering a cavernous 650 litres of luggage space, the British SUV’s boot trounces those of rival cars, the floor can be flipped between carpet and rubber to meet any eventuality and a generous number of bag hooks and lashings are fitted, making it a highly practical proposition for families or tradespeople. There’s even hidden storage underneath the boot floor, next to the tyre inflation kit and battery, and the back seats are easy to fold, although a trip to IKEA to buy bulky flat-pack furniture illustrated that they don’t do so entirely flatly, which is a slight shame. Anyone into outdoor pursuits and technology such as wearable gadgets will probably enjoy Jaguar’s Activity Key, and the boot can be opened by gesturing if the right options-list item is ticked. In terms of comfort, space and practicality, the F-Pace excels and impresses in a competitive group.
The 2-litre, four-cylinder Ingenium engine up fires up with a distant diesel thrum, which becomes a clatter under hard acceleration, but it’s otherwise a remarkably refined and creamy unit. Lag is discernible in Eco mode and the torque exploitation window feels fairly narrow even in Normal mode, but this is unsurprisingly rectified by switching the handsome Jag’ into Dynamic mode and rotating the gear selector to ‘S’, the car’s steering and throttle sharpened noticeably as a result. Jaguar’s in-house 2.0d engine produces peaks of 430Nm and 180PS and is certainly no rocket-ship but its punch will satisfy the majority of drivers and the extensive use of aluminium having kept the weight down to just 1,775kg helps performance. Set to be the most popular engine choice for private and business purchasers and leasers alike, the Ingenium unit is likely to return mid-to-high 40s in the mpg stakes judging by the 600 miles covered on the test, which unsurprisingly falls short of the 53.3mpg figure on paper but is still pretty respectable for such a hefty SUV in AWD automatic guise.
On motorways and A-roads, the Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d is a remarkably effective cruiser and levels of wind, tyre and road noise are surprisingly low despite the reassuringly chunky wing mirrors et al. Its forte, though, is on twisty country roads, which it takes to like a pug to mud. The Electric Power Assisted Steering is weighted wonderfully and provides plenty of feedback and crisp responses, particularly in Dynamic mode, making the F-Pace a hoot to drive sportily. It corners with aplomb with relatively little body roll thanks to the advanced double-wishbone front suspension and an Integral Link setup at the back. Drivers of all abilities will end up with beaming smiles on their faces, impressed and engaged but never intimidated, the wraparound dashboard helping ease how wide this impressively planted and agile car feels. The 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox very occasionally behaves clumsily and can be felt shifting and hunting, but is pleasantly smooth on the whole and fuel economy is optimised by it holding onto higher gears impressively when cruising. The ride even on 20” alloys is remarkably supple on this along fabulous SUV for any occasion, from the office commute and family seaside holidays to cheeky hairpin thrills at the weekend, thanks owing to standard-fit torque vectoring control and the all-wheel drive system incorporating Intelligent Drivetime Dynamics, Adaptive Surface Response and All Surface Progress Control.
The 2-litre diesel, automatic, all-wheel drive F-Pace falls into road tax band E as it emits 139g/km CO2, meaning £130 as things currently stand, and it’s rated as 27% BIK for company fleet car drivers. In AWD R-Sport guise, the big cat’s environmental credentials are level with a BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport, but the Brit is greener than an Audi Q5 S line Plus 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic, which pumps out 157g/km.
F-Pace pricing kicks off at £40,360 on the road and business fleet leasing prices generally hover around the £415+VAT per month mark in the as-tested specification, making Jaguar’s debut SUV pricier than its main German rivals. However, its special blend of Britishness, gorgeous and breath-taking styling, a fabulous ride and handling, plus genuinely remarkable levels of comfort, space and practicality is worth the premium. In a crowded segment, Jaguar has created something rather splendid.
External photography: © Isabel Carter