Car Reviews First Tests

2017 Jaguar F-Pace First Test: The Sports Car of SUVs

An SUV That's True to the Jaguar Brand Promise

An SUV That's True to the Jaguar Brand Promise

The 2017 Jaguar F-Pace has been a long time coming. Rumors of a Jaguar SUV first surfaced back in the early 1990s when the brand was owned by Ford, but the powers that be could never quite summon the courage to pull the trigger (and given that the original Jaguar SUV concept was based on a Ford Explorer chassis, that’s a bullet we all dodged, thankfully). A quarter century later, the Jaguar F-Pace proves that good things come to those who wait. This is an SUV that is true to the Jaguar brand promise: It looks sexy and is sensational to drive.

A quick technical recap: The F-Pace is built using Jaguar Land Rover‘s aluminum-intensive D7a vehicle architecture, which also underpins the new XE and XF sedans, although JLR engineers point out 81 percent of its parts are unique. About 80 percent of the body structure is aluminum. The rear floor is steel to improve front-to-rear weight distribution, and the doors are steel, but the tailgate is made of composites. The core body-in-white weighs less than 660 pounds (299.4 kg); the body side is a single structure that weighs less than 13 pounds (5.9 kg). At 186.3 inches long, 76.2 inches wide, and 65.6 inches tall and with a 113.1-inch wheelbase, the F-Pace sits dimensionally between a Porsche Cayenne and Porsche Macan. It has 8.4 inches of ground clearance and more load-carrying capacity than any Jaguar in history.

The F-Pace shares engines and transmissions with a host of JLR vehicles, from XE, XF and XJ Jaguars to Land Rovers and Range Rovers. Entry-level models are powered by JLR’s new home-brewed turbocharged 2.0-liter Ingenium four-cylinder diesel. The F-Pace models tested here—the $47,495 35t USD Premium, which is expected to be the volume seller in the North America, and the top-of-the-range, fully loaded, $70,695 USD S First Edition—are respectively powered by 340-hp and 380-hp versions of JLR’s long-serving supercharged 3.0-liter V-6.

Those extra 40 horses in the S make themselves scarce on the test track. The less expensive 35t is a tenth of a second quicker to 60 mph—5.3 seconds versus 5.4 seconds—and a tenth quicker over the quarter mile—13.8 seconds versus 13.9 seconds. The 45–60-mph acceleration number is identical—2.7 seconds—as is the MT figure-eight time—25.9 seconds. A slightly higher trap speed—99.7 mph (160.5 km/h) versus 99.6 mph (160.3 km/h)—is the only clue to the S model’s higher output. Mass plays a part here, as the more lavishly equipped S weighs 176 pounds (79.8 kg) more than the 35t.

The other performance differentiator is the tires, and here the balance tips in favor of the S, which rolls on massive 22-inch alloys shod with 265/40 tires compared with 255/55R19s on the 35t. So despite its extra weight, the S stops from 60 mph in just 107 feet compared with the 35t’s 121 feet. And although the peak of 0.86 g recorded on the skidpad is the same for both, the S deals better with the more complex transient loads induced on the MT figure-eight test, recording an average 0.72 g compared with 0.69 g for the 35t.

On the road in the real world, that means the S model has marginally sharper turn-in response and better mid-corner grip than the 35t. Oh, and a worse ride. Those big wheels and ultra-low-profile tires look great in the parking lot, but on the road they deliver jittery impacts and a lot of noise. The 35t is much quieter, and although the ride is still firm, there’s less intensity to the impacts transmitted into the cabin. On the F-Pace launch program in Montenegro earlier this year, Jaguar engineers confirmed the chassis had been optimized around 20-inch wheels with 255/50 tires. They are a $1,500 USD option on the 35t Premium, and they’re worth the money if you want the best all-round combination of style and performance.

Although all-wheel drive, the F-Pace’s handling is clearly rear-biased, more so than in any other SUV, including the Porsche Macan. That, combined with the brilliantly concise steering, makes the F-Pace the enthusiast driver’s choice in the SUV segment. Twist the shifter on the center console to S, and the eight-speed ZF automatic sharpens its responses, delivering quicker upshifts and smoothly matching revs on the downshifts. The F-Pace is effortlessly quick on a winding two-lane and remarkably poised and precise for a tall wagon.

As we noted on the launch drive in Montenegro, the F-Pace is among the more accomplished of the current generation of soft-roaders. A lot of the capability comes from electronics, of course, including the Adaptive Surface Response system, which automatically adapts the maps of the throttle, transmission, and stability control system to maximize traction under a variety of conditions. All Surface Progress Control is a Land Rover–developed system that acts like a low-speed cruise control to allow a driver to select a speed between 2.2 mph (3.5 km/h) and 19 mph (30.6 km/h) and let the vehicle figure out throttle and brake to maintain optimal traction. It works, but the 35t is the better of the two off-road because of its tires.

It looks like a Jaguar and drives like a Jaguar. So what’s not to like about the F-Pace? Mostly, the interior. The packaging is pretty good. The rear seat, which has a 40/20/40 split-fold backrest to cater for long, thin loads such as skis, offers excellent seating position and comfort for adults, and there are two USB ports and one 12-volt port within easy reach. The load space is ginormous despite the rakish D-pillars, with another 12-volt outlet available. The cargo cover is a two-piece rigid unit that helps reduce noise from the rear axle.

But the overall interior ambience of the F-Pace is disappointingly cheap, especially in the 35t Premium, where a surprising number of surfaces, most notably the door panels and instrument binnacle, are swathed in hard black plastic. The steering wheel tilt/reach adjust is DIY, not electric, with the mechanism unlocked via a bizarre twist device on the right side of the steering column rather than the simple lever most everyone else uses. And although improved, Jaguar’s baseline infotainment system, a $500 USD option on the 35t Premium, is still not state-of-the-art in terms of user friendliness.

With its white leather seats, embossed with a houndstooth pattern, the S First Edition’s interior is a little less somber and austere than the 35t’s, but what appears to be a screen-printed houndstooth pattern on the aluminum trim elements seems oddly contrived and low-rent. The S First Edition gets a 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument cluster and JLR’s premium InControl Touch Pro infotainment system with upgraded functionality and a larger 10.2-inch screen. The center console on both cars features a lot of shiny black plastic that won’t take long to accumulate a thousand tiny scratches. And sorry, but the only time a piano-black finish looks expensive—even when it’s on real wood—is when it’s wrapped around a Steinway.

Jaguar insiders call the F-Pace “the practical sports car,” and if that was the design brief, they’ve succeeded. The F-Pace combines the sporty look and feel of a modern Jaguar with a degree of all-round practicality and usability no car in the company’s history has ever been able to deliver. The interior lacks the overtly luxurious feel many potential buyers are going to expect of a Jaguar. But we’d live with that to enjoy those stunning looks and that superb chassis.

Of the two F-Pace models tested here, we’re more impressed with the 35t Premium. Other than the $500 USD for the nav system, we’d maybe spend another $1,500 USD on 20-inch wheels and tires: Call it just under 50 grand for an SUV that’s better looking and better to drive than a BMW X4 and better value than a Porsche Macan.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace 35t AWD (Premium) 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S AWD (First Edition)
BASE PRICE $46,595 $70,695
PRICE AS TESTED $48,145 $71,645
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/340-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.0L/380-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,305 lb (51/49%) 4,481 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 113.1 in 113.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 186.3 x 76.2 x 65.1 in 186.3 x 76.2 x 65.1 in
0-60 MPH 5.3 sec 5.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.8 sec @ 99.6 mph 13.9 sec @ 99.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft 107 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86 g (avg) 0.86 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 25.9 sec @ 0.69 g (avg) 25.9 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18/23/20 mpg 18/23/20 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 187/147 kW-hrs/100 miles 187/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.97 lb/mile 0.97 lb/mile