Jaguar may be new to the SUV segment, but there are no allowances for tardiness: the 2017 F-PACE has to land a knock-out punch to heavyweight rivals and prove the famed British marque is about more than just coupes and heritage.
Falling somewhere in-between competitors like the BMW X3 and X5, and Audi Q3 and Q5, in size, the F-PACE doesn’t take the easy route of raiding Land Rover’s parts bin but instead forges its own path on both the highway and in the rough stuff.
With one of the prettiest cars on the road today, the F-TYPE, in its portfolio, you can’t fault Jaguar for taking inspiration from the sports car for its crossover. That could still have been a recipe for disaster, but happily design director Ian Callum has pulled another rabbit out of the hat, and the F-PACE looks tremendous. We’re in Port Elizabeth (South Africa) for its media launch and first drive.
First Impressions Count
At the front, the big meaty grill and glaring headlamps lead back into a deeply sculpted hood and beefy fenders. The shoulder line rises dramatically as you get to the rear three-quarters, leaving the rear glass – as on the Range Rover Evoque – a narrow sliver. As with its brand cousin that leaves the F-PACE looking planted and solid, but unlike the Evoque rear visibility isn’t unduly impacted, and headroom in the rear seats is still comfortable.
Open the power tailgate and you’ll find 463 litres of boot space, which rises to about 200 litres more if you drop the 40/20/40 split rear seats. Higher spec cars get power-folding rear seats.
The detailing is sharp, too, with the F-TYPE lending its minimalistic tail-lamps among other things, and that continues inside. The optional Luxury Interior Upgrade Package brings, for about R30 000, suede headliners, 4-zone climate control, adjustable ambient lighting, and other niceties. Prestige trim level and above gets leather seats.
Below that, though, the faux-leather is a noticeable dip in quality, It’s still a decent place to be, but it doesn’t have quite as premium a feel. There’s still some hard plastic to be found in the lower door trim and elsewhere, and I’m not convinced by the swathe of shiny black plastic across the – admittedly easy to use – HVAC controls.
Jaguar’s sports seats, fitted on the F-PACE R-Sport and on the F-PACE S, have 14-way electric adjustment, including side-bolsters which squeeze in pleasantly to keep you in place in the corners.
Jaguar has three engine options for the F-PACE, kicking off with a 2.0-litre diesel “20d” with 132KW of power from R776 800, followed by a 221KW 3.0-liter diesel at R1 218 100 finishing off with a 3.0 supercharged V6 petrol in either 250KW or 280KW “S” forms, from R982 700 and R1 191 1000 respectively. The turbodiesel and V6 versions come in normal, Premium, Prestige, or R-Sport form. I had the opportunity to test both petrol engines, both of which come with all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard.
It takes driving the two engines back-to-back to really notice any difference in power, and for most people I suspect the F-PACE 35t will be more than sufficient. All versions share the same predominantly aluminum chassis with the F-TYPE, as well as getting double-wishbone suspension at the front and Integral Link at the back.
The electric power steering has a variable steering ratio as standard, and there are monotube dampers as standard together with brake-based torque vectoring. The F-PACE S gets adaptive dynamics which adjusts the damping based on body and wheel movement for a smoother and more agile ride.
With either engine, power delivery is immediate, though the F-PACE is more eager when the 8-speed is set to Sport mode and the chassis switched to Dynamic. The transmission does a great job of slicking through the gears itself, but there are paddles behind the wheel if you prefer; happily, in paddle mode, even when you hit the redline the F-PACE won’t overrule you and upshift, and it doesn’t automatically nudge you back into automatic mode either.
The F-TYPE DNA shows itself again when you hit the corners. There’s none of the typical SUV understeer unless you’re pushing to foolhardy extremes, the steering weighting up nicely and the car staying flat and stable. It’s worth snatching for the paddles at times like these, because they provoke a wonderful growl from the engine, swiftly followed by a sonorous back-pressure roar from the supercharger.
Click here for part 2 of this First Drive