Don't ask why; that’s not the point of this exercise. Just appreciate that the world we live in now is nothing like the one many of us who can currently afford a new Jaguar grew up in. Then again, we’re the ones demanding SUV versions of pretty much everything under the sun.
BMW arguably led the car-only luxury brand charge into the realm of SUVs with its X5 more than a decade and a half ago, with Porsche being the most notable follower and more recent heretics including Maserati and even Bentley. Jaguar is merely the latest and it won’t be the last, although few luxury brands have yet to join the fold.
Jaguar’s first-ever SUV
Fortunately, Jaguar nailed F-PACE styling while driving dynamics are easily among the best in the class. Defining that class is a bit more difficult, however. Jaguar appears to be following a more-for-less philosophy that’s worked well for less popular luxury brands so far. One thing’s for sure: The F-PACE ― and the new XE sport sedan it’s based upon ― couldn’t come at a more critically important time.
The 2017 Jaguar F-PACE rides on a longer wheelbase that reaches farther from side-to-side than any of its compact luxury SUV peers, which bumps it up to midsize territory, yet it’s priced within that more affordable compact segment. Then again, at $49,900 it starts at the higher end of compact SUV base models; only the Porsche Macan costs more in base trim. To be fair, we need to remember the F-PACE is sized more like a Porsche Cayenne, and the base Jag is hardly a barebones prospect with most of its compact competitors costing more when upgraded to its level of standard luxury.
Five trim levels, two engines
It comes in five levels of trim including base Premium, $54,400 Prestige, $59,900 R-Sport, $66,400 S, and a $78,900 First Edition. Two engines are available including the 20d and 35t, the latter in two states of tune, with the least of those loaded up with every expected luxury feature as well as adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, proximity access with push-button ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, paddle shifters, a 5.0” colour TFT multi-info display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, JaguarSense touch or proximity control for the glove box release and more, a highly graphical 8.0” infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth phone functions that include wireless connectivity, text messaging and audio streaming, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, navigation, an impressive 380W Meridian audio system, HD radio, a power liftgate, ultra-versatile 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks expanding the already sizable 948-litre cargo compartment to a generous 1,798 litres, and much, much more.
Another standard bonus is a fuel-efficient, 180-horsepower, 2.0L turbo-diesel with 318 lb-ft of torque, plus an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission and AWD that includes Jaguar’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software to improve handling by minimizing understeer, All Surface Progress Control (ASPC) developed from Land Rover’s Terrain Response system for tackling slippery situations, torque vectoring, Jaguar Drive Control with Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow modes, trailer stability assist that helps the F-PACE achieve its impressive 2,400kg (5,290lb) maximum tow rating, although most will be more interested to know this base model is good for a reasonably quick 8.7-second sprint from 0-100km/h and a top speed of 208 km/h. No doubt this model is stingy on fuel, too, but we’ll need to wait in order to find out its official rating.
All hail aluminum!
What impresses me most is the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE’s aluminum-intensive construction, the brand’s first SUV benefiting from the same high-tech approach to lightweight manufacture as its full-size XJ luxury sedan, the fabulous F-Type sports car, and the new XE. The F-PACE body structure enters the compact segment as the only model mostly constructed from bonded and riveted aluminum rather than steel. More than a third of the vehicle is aluminum alloy, 75% of which is sourced from recycled materials. Of course, this reduces weight, but more so it strengthens the body to improve handling, NVH levels, and crash worthiness.
It’s all part of Jaguar Land Rover’s iQ modular platform, an architecture that will soon underpin the second-generation XF and a new Range Rover planned between the Evoque and Sport.
The chassis incorporates a similar aluminum double-wishbone setup to the XF and F-Type up front and an entirely new subframe-mounted, multi-link system in the rear dubbed Integral Link. According to Jaguar, this design is more expensive to build, yet allows for greater tuning versatility. After a short stint behind the wheel, I immediately realized the advanced suspension and lightweight, ultra-rigid body shell were money well spent.
F-PACE drives like a sports car
Ultimately, the result is an SUV that drives like a sports car beyond its impressively compliant ride. While the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE is thoroughly comfortable on the road, it attacks corners with shocking ability, right up there with the Macan and Cayenne. Factor in the fabulous snarl its 3.0L supercharged V6 makes at full throttle with Dynamic sport mode engaged, and the even more delectable gurgle caused by backpressure at liftoff, and you might reconsider anything from Germany.
Simply put, this British SUV’s got soul, yet my tester was only fitted with the mid-grade 35t engine that produces 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque; I can’t wait to test the S variant with its 380-horsepower mill. The former rushes from 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds and tops out at 250 km/h, whereas the more powerful version will reach 100 km/h in just 5.5 seconds.
The 8-speed autobox provides rapid, yet smoothly applied shifts via the aforementioned paddles. I like the fact that the F-PACE comes standard with Jaguar’s brilliantly dramatic, rotating drive selector that powers up out of the lower console. Meanwhile, at-the-limit braking is breathtaking.
R-Sport cranks things up even higher
The R-Sport model benefits from 20” rims on 255/50R20 rubber and uprated 350mm front brake rotors for shorter stops, along with autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and a driver condition monitor to make sure you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
Let’s not forget the unique R-Sport front bumper, satin chrome “power vents” with R-Sport badges on the front fenders, body-coloured R-Sport door claddings with grained matte black finishers, metal treadplates with R-Sport branding, bright sport pedals, headlight washers, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated side mirrors with approach lights and memory, a power-adjustable steering column, interior mood lighting, a universal garage door opener, satellite radio, a front and rear parking sonar, and more.
Luxurious cabin is not perfect
It’s all packaged into a cabin that’s a visual delight if not a tactility tapper’s dream, Jaguar cutting a few corners in its quest to achieve less weight, better recyclability, and lower costs. I was a bit surprised that the shroud over the primary instruments was hard plastic, as was the entire lower dash and glove box lid, not to mention the bottom of each door panel ― most of the Jaguar F-PACE’s key rivals do a better job of soft-touch pampering.
Likewise, those door panels felt a bit hollow, which might have something to do with their aluminum outer skins, although the XJ doesn’t suffer similarly. Of course, I can overlook all of this in the same manner I would any given Lotus, another British brand that delves heavily into weight savings for the sake of performance.
Most of my F-PACE tester’s dash top was covered in red-stitched black leather, which also ran down each side of the centre stack and across the majority of the lower console’s edges, taking things to a level of luxury many competitors don’t. Nicely padded leather armrests wrap up and over in an elegant curve to follow the forearm, with mine finished in red to match the seat inserts that are perforated leather and wonderfully comfortable with superb side bolstering.
Additional interior details include motorcycle-style aluminum gauge binnacles housing the fantastically large, full-colour, multi-information display at centre, all framed by a thickly padded, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with eye-catching satin aluminum around the edges of its spokes, not to mention beautifully detailed, high-quality switchgear at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions.
Piano black lacquer covered the outside of the infotainment and HVAC interfaces, plus along the centre section of the lower console. Key highlights on these surfaces as well as the vents, door handles, and other trim bits are nicely detailed in satin silver, while an elegantly sculpted piece of buffed metal displays the Jaguar name across the top of the glove box lid. There’s a sense of occasion in the Jaguar F-PACE that few others in the segment can match, followed up by class-leading utility.
Speaking of utility…
It’s an SUV, after all, so it’d better be useful. Along with a larger and more accommodating than average front seating area, the second row is spacious and extremely comfortable, mine outfitted with outboard seat heaters and a panoramic sunroof above.
Right behind, the cargo compartment is appropriately finished in high-grade carpeting and offers chrome tie-downs and a reversible floor. Even more importantly, it features handles on each side of the cargo wall for lowering the 40/20/40-split seatbacks without having to walk around to the side doors. It creates a large, flat area for hauling a lot more stuff than the average compact SUV can handle.
All of this is good news, but what about reliability? Well, Jaguar ranked second among premium brands in J.D. Power’s most recent Initial Quality Study, while the F-PACE with its optional front crash prevention features should likely earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating when tested.
Certainly, though, the number one reason the new 2017 Jaguar F-PACE will enjoy success is styling as it’s one of the more attractive models in both compact and midsize premium SUV categories. Yes, the F-PACE might be hard to classify when it comes to size, but that more-for-less strategy is just one of many attributes that make it a clear winner deserving your attention.