First drive: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace in Montenegro
There’s something oddly incongruous about sitting up this high in something with a leaping cat logo on the steering wheel. That’s the first thought that comes to mind on sliding into the cabin of the all-new Jaguar F-Pace and motoring a few kilometres down the road in Montenegro.
Jaguar is by no means the first prestige manufacturer to join the luxo-SUV ranks -– Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been there for the past decade and a half, and now Bentley and Maserati have joined the fray –- but somehow Jaguar’s identity as a purveyor solely of saloons, coupes and convertibles seemed even more set in stone than its premium rivals.
Yet, current market demands meant it was vital for the company to add a crossover to its line-up, and proof that it was the right move has already been delivered as pre-orders alone have earned the F-Pace status as the fastest-selling Jaguar of all time.
According to company execs, the F-Pace won’t adversely impact sales of the saloon models either, as 90% of buyers for the former are conquests from other brands. The newbie is on the verge of landing in UAE dealerships, with prices starting at Dhs 232,600 for the entry-level 340 hp model, rising to Dhs 322,000 for the 380 hp First Edition, of which just 2000 examples will be sold worldwide. The F-Pace’s pricing and dimensions will pitch it against the likes of the Porsche Macan, all-new Maserati Levante, BMW X3 and high-spec versions of the Audi Q5.
Although Jaguar’s labcoats say 81% of the F-Pace’s components are unique to it, economies of scale were reaped by using as its basis the Lightweight Aluminium Architecture that also underpins the XE and XF. This hardware is stiff without being excessively lardy, which means even the range-topping model with all the bells and whistles tips the scales at 1861 kg -– undercutting the Porsche Macan Turbo by 64 kg, despite being appreciably longer, wider and taller than the German.
In the eyes of this humble motoring hack, the F-Pace is by far the best visually resolved SUV on the market, somehow managing to retain a strong sense of ‘Jaguarness’, even though its 1652mm summit distinguishes it as a much loftier entity than any other leaping cat offering. Among the design elements that help distance it from its frumpier rivals are cab-rearward proportions (to mimic a GT car), a roofline that tapers downward (a la Range Rover Sport) and a rising beltline that culminates in F-Type coupe-esque haunches.
It all gels together nicely. Take a walk around the car, study it from every vantage point, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a jarring crease, curve or detail. The interior, too, has a suitably premium feel, with a lot of carryover elements from the latest XF. The difference, as alluded to earlier, is that you sit much higher in the F-Pace.
What’s it like on the road? Our first introduction took place in Montenegro – not exactly a country where you’d ever find yourself in transit –- and, fittingly, we were mounted up in the 380 hp First Edition, resplendent in its eyeball-grabbing Caesium Blue paintwork. Also standard in this version are charcoal-coloured 22-inch Double Helix rims, Adaptive Dynamics, full-LED headlights, Gloss Black fender vents and a sliding panoramic roof.
Our first impressions during the initial thrash across Montenegrin mountain roads centred on the crisp exhaust note and supple ride (even on its huge 22-inch rims), but arriving at the first intersection revealed a spongy brake pedal and lacklustre stopping power. It clearly wasn’t a case of worn pads on our car, as other journos also commented on the same issue in their vehicles. Be that as it may, the remedy was simply to apply greater pedal pressure or start braking a tad earlier than before.
The 380 hp supercharged 3.0-litre V6 is familiar from the F-Type and XF but, of course, it has a greater workload in hauling the 1861 kg F-Pace around. As a result, performance is respectable rather than electrifying. Jaguar quotes a 5.5-second 0-100 kph split but, out in the real world, it doesn’t feel that quick.
Overtaking, too, requires pre-planning as there isn’t the instant surge of power one might have hoped for. It’s necessary to take charge of the transmission manually when you need to quickly surge past other cars on tight mountain roads as the 8-speed auto shows a reluctance to readily kick-down even in Sport mode.
Other than these minor gripes, the F-Pace is an immensely comfortable and pleasurable device in which to carve up all manner of roads. It’s not as dynamic as a Macan Turbo (the F-Pace serves up more body roll and slightly less grip), but it’s sporty enough to easily satisfy its target market. Speaking of which, Jaguar execs say the crossover will lower the average age of the brand’s customers –- currently in the early 50s bracket -– by about 10 years.
Although I don’t expect to see any F-Paces trundling around the Empty Quarter, it certainly isn’t a dunce in the rough stuff, and the fact it offers 213mm of ground clearance gives it a bit of off-road cred, particularly as its armoury also includes an Adaptive Surface Response (ASR) system, plus All Surface Progress Control (ASPC). Put simply, these latter two electronic aids are somewhat similar in conception to the Terrain Response tech you’d find in a Land Rover or Range Rover, tailoring the traction and stability control systems to deliver the best possible purchase on a range of surfaces.
Basic proof of the F-Pace’s all-terrain prowess was provided by a drama-free ascent and descent on a steep, wet, muddy hill, followed by a 15 km route across a rutted trail littered with large, jagged rocks. The Jag (we were using a vehicle shod with 20-inch rims and taller tyres for this exercise) traversed it all effortlessly enough, but the fact remains that most F-Pace owners will never venture beyond the tarmac.
Given the type of use the F-Pace will be subjected to by the typical buyer (many of whom will be females), our first impression is that the vehicle strikes a good balance between form and functionality. The roofline is low enough for a sporty stance, yet high enough to ensure ample headroom in the rear, as well as providing 650 litres of luggage capacity with all seats in place.
All in all, the F-Pace’s sharp looks are complemented by comfort levels and driving dynamics that are a match for its Teutonic competitors. The clincher for the Brit is its much greater sense of style, and this alone should ensure that Jaguar’s Middle East subsidiary has no trouble whatsoever in shifting every vehicle it can get into dealerships here, at least initially right after the UAE launch next week.
Photos by Jaguar.