- Updated 06 August 2020
- 7 minute read
- By Richard Aucock
Jaguar is a car brand made famous by low, long and curvaceous sports cars like the E-Type, plus classic saloons such as the XJ. It thought long and hard about making a tall SUV, putting the project off for years. Eventually, though, market pressures saw it succumb, and it produced a concept car called the F-Pace to test the water. The response to it was so overwhelmingly positive, it arrived in showrooms barely 12 months later.
That was a few years ago. Today, Jaguar has three SUV-style models in its range, and it’s hard to remember a time when the idea of a Jaguar SUV was at all controversial. They now easily outsell the company’s saloons and sports cars, with the F-Pace going down in history as the car that finally changed Jaguar’s fortunes for the better.
The secret was making an SUV that had curves. There are any number of boxy 4x4 alternatives, but only the Jaguar is able to trace its design cues back to the F-Type. It remains almost as alluring today as that original concept did. It’s easy to see why it appeals alongside rivals such as the Audi Q5.
Jaguar bosses are commendably fierce in their insistence that any new model has to drive like a true sporting Jaguar – even tall SUVs such as the F-Pace. It delivers here too, and is one of the most enjoyable cars in its class. Much more than simply ticking the SUV box, the F-Pace is a car that’s been carefully crafted to be a genuinely competitive model in an ever-growing sector. It should certainly be on the shopping list of those in the market for a premium SUV.
Looks, tech and design
The Jaguar F-Pace is all about elegance and simplicity. It’s easy to make a boxy 4x4 with straight lines and sharp angles, but much harder to make one with a touch of purity. The F-Pace is that rare thing, an SUV that could almost be considered beautiful.
It has a sporty, confident front end, with slim headlights and a big open grille wearing the Jaguar badge proudly in its centre. The greater the performance, the bigger the air intakes below the headlights (the racy SVR version even gets vents on the bonnet, like an F-Type).
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The sides are smooth and beautifully shaped, with a curve at the top of the doors running front to rear that subtly hints at that iconic E-Type. The muscular rear haunches wouldn’t be out of place on a sports car, either. Choose a bright metallic colour and a set of large alloy wheels, and the F-Pace really will turn heads, in the way the more generic Mercedes-Benz GLE will not.
After all this excitement, the interior is a bit disappointing. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but it just seems a little plain and slightly downmarket when compared to the classy exterior. Some of the materials aren’t to the same high standards as an Audi, and the refined design you get in a Mercedes-Benz is missing.
Still, the F-Pace does have a bright 10.0-inch centre touchscreen that, belatedly, comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Jaguar’s Touch Pro infotainment tech feels modern and contemporary, and there are some clever ‘InControl’ online functions built in. A full-screen instrument panel is also available, as is a detail-packed head-up display.
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There’s some other interesting tech available on the F-Pace too, such as the Activity Key. This is a waterproof rubber bracelet you wear to lock and unlock the car. It helps avoid losing or damaging the ‘real’ key and is great for those who enjoy sports such as windsurfing and cycling. Every F-Pace also has a built-in sim card, with a 500Mb per month data plan free for three years. You can stream audio to the fully-integrated Spotify app, or utilise the car’s wi-fi hotspot functionality. Jaguar dealers also offer top-up data plans.
The F-Pace is the large SUV alternative to the Jaguar XF saloon, which is a rival to the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. This means space inside is generous, with ample legroom for adults in the rear, and a commodious boot that extends to 1,740 litres with the rear seats folded. That’s as much space as a large estate car.
I thought the reversible load floor was neat; it has posh carpet on one side and a tough rubber surface on the other. It also has one of those electric tailgates with gesture control, where you wave your foot under the bumper and it’s meant to auto-open. Although if you're like me, you'll worry too much about looking like an idiot kicking the back of their car to try and use this feature very often.
The Jaguar F-Pace is made entirely from lightweight aluminium. This enabled the development boffins to hone it in the precise way they would with a sports car. This is unusual for SUVs, which normally have more of a heavy-duty feel, and it’s key to the F-Pace’s more tactile and enjoyable drive.
Despite being sat up high, with a commanding view of the road, the F-Pace still manages to feel pleasingly sporting. The driving position helps, with supportive seats, a chunky steering wheel and high centre console giving a cocooned feel. And within the first few yards, the lively agility you feel through the steering, and poised way it goes around corners, make the F-Pace feel different to the rest.
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Don’t think comfort has been compromised, though. Most models come with high-tech adaptive suspension, serving up a pliant feel over bumps that only becomes more impressive as roads get rougher and more undulating. The F-Pace is brilliant at isolating occupants from the most abysmal British roads, and I found the way it deals with high-speed A- and B-roads genuinely exhilarating.
You might not believe it, but the F-Pace will also go off-road – and take in its stride far tougher terrain than you’d ever think possible. Jaguar has been able to call upon clever 4x4 tech from sister brand Land Rover, which I put to the test by driving up, across and then down a mountainside in Montenegro. My heart-rate rocketed, yet the car never missed a beat.
Most F-Paces come with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, either a petrol or diesel. Both are a bit too vocal, and the diesel is rather clattery at low speeds, but they do smooth out once up to speed. The V6 diesel alternative is really creamy, and the high-performance V8 SVR, with its mammoth 5.0-litre supercharged petrol engine, is a loud and outlandish spectacle that’s instantly addictive. You can’t yet buy a plug-in hybrid Jaguar F-Pace, but they are coming.
Cost and economy
The core Jaguar F-Pace model line comprises Prestige, Portfolio and R-Sport variants, with S and SVR as the range-toppers. Most buyers prefer to take the R-Sport, as this combines sportier exterior styling and interior trim with the more mainstream petrol and diesel engines. Portfolio is for those who like to spend extra on the plushest leather and most bespoke options.
Despite being a large SUV, the F-Pace isn’t too bad on fuel if you pick the right engine. The most economical diesel averages between 42.3 and 46.8 miles per gallon, although this is the basic 163hp version, so doesn’t quite deliver Jaguar-like performance. Most buyers prefer the D180 diesel, which is just fractionally less economical.
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Basic F-Paces come in rear-wheel-drive guise. If you want the extra traction of an ‘AWD’ four-wheel drive variant, there is a fuel economy penalty: the D180 drops to between 38.3 and 41.9mpg. All more powerful versions come with AWD, and even the lowliest variant has an eight-speed automatic gearbox (complete with pop-up rotary gearshifter).
I don’t need to tell you how much the SVR will cost to run. It drains a tank of fuel in no time at all and, at well over £70,000, has a suitably exotic price tag. Regular F-Paces are more affordable, and you can even get an R-Sport for under £40,000. Because the F-Pace is more popular second-hand than Jaguar’s saloon cars, monthly payments are not actually much more expensive than regular models.
The F-Pace has been a real success story for Jaguar. The firm initially refused to dive into the SUV arena, through fear of diluting its brand. But the F-Pace shows how convincing design and careful attention to detail has been able to expand Jaguar into a new (and very profitable) arena with tremendous success.
It is an eye-catching car to look at, with some beautiful lines and a more socially acceptable appearance than some other SUVs. The interior can’t quite match the elegance of the exterior, but it’s still up to scratch in terms of space and tech, and nevertheless feels good to sit in, thanks to its sporty seats and layout.
The F-Pace really delivers on the road, too, with a high-quality precise feel. It’s not perfect, with the noisy engines losing marks compared to rivals, but it manages to inject that all-important enthusiasm into the everyday drive. This, coupled with its appealing design, has been key to Jaguar’s first SUV being a success straight out of the box.
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