Montenegro – Until now Jaguar has stuck to its knitting as a producer of premium road cars, leaving its cousin Land Rover to the business of building offroad vehicles.
But if you’re a carmaker chasing sales volumes you have to be in the SUV game nowadays, and the ever-growing popularity of this market segment has finally moved Jaguar, for the first time in its long history, to stick its feline badge onto a vehicle with a raised ride height and the ability to tackle dirt.
The result is the new F-Pace, which was presented to the world’s media in eastern Europe last week and will go on sale in South Africa in July. Rather than being a Discovery in drag, the F-Pace is on the sporty end of the SUV spectrum, pitched against nimble-handling rivals such as the BMW X4 and Porsche Macan.
NIPPY HANDLING, LIVELY V6
In this mountainous country’s meandering passes, on some of the twistiest roads I’ve ever driven, Jaguar’s new dual-terrain car proved itself worthy of being compared against those surefooted Germans.
Rear-biased all-wheel-drive handling, along with a torque-vectoring system which gives finely metered braking to the inner wheels in bends, gives the F-Pace a nippy nature, allowing a driver to lay down the power nice and early without encountering dreaded understeer. With double wishbone front suspension and integral link rear at the back, the raised Jaguar also changes direction without any pudding-like feel, staying reassuringly planted without any top-heaviness.
Jaguar has employed fairly firm springs and low-profile tyres to achieve this agility, along with an aluminium-intensive body to deliver the required lightness and rigidity. The electric power steering, which can be adapted to suit the driving situation, imparts as much feel as an enthusiast driver needs. Dynamically this SUV hits a sweet spot, and the engineers have succeeded in their quest to make their SUV drive like a proper Jaguar.
For now the top petrol model (until a 5-litre supercharged V8 eventually comes along) is a 3-litre supercharged petrol which thrusts a lively 250kW and 450Nm to the F-Pace’s two axles via an eight-speed automatic transmission. With its ability to scoot from 0-96km/h in 5.1 seconds, combined with a rowdy roar, this version will be the pick of the bunch for Jaguar’s most enthusiastic customers.
For those watching their fuel budgets the more frugal 3-litre turbodiesel is difficult to fault with its easy-cruising, effortless-overtaking 221kW and 700Nm of punch.
There’s also a 2-litre four-cylinder Ingenium turbodiesel with outputs of 132kW and 430Nm. It’s somewhat gruff sounding but hauls the sizeable SUV with little effort.
CAN IT HANDLE THE BUSH?
The primarily road-biased F-Pace is capable of offroad jaunts even if Jaguar admits only a small minority of customers will likely want to take it cross-country. A 213mm ride height made for decent rock-straddling ability on Jaguar’s offroad trail in Montenegro, although the low-profile 20” wheels (up to 22” optionally) necessitated a slow approach. All Surface Progress Control allows steep hills to be ascended or descended without having to touch either the throttle or brake; the driver’s life is simplified by just having to steer.
The F-Pace continues Jaguar’s efforts to attract younger customers to a brand which was formerly the preserve of white-whiskered gents with elbow patches on their blazers. Along with its typically Jaguar driving characteristics, the F-Pace looks the part with styling that’s heavily influenced by the XF sedan and F-Type coupé – cars that in recent years have turned over a sexy new leaf for this once staid brand. It’s a sleek-looking thing with its raked windscreen and slit-eyed LED headlamps and tail lights, and has a suave aggression that carries a lot of road presence.
PREMIUM CABIN FINISHES
The cabin is decked out with Jaguar’s typically premium finishes. Finely stitched leather surfaces are paired with one of the more user-friendly touchscreen infotainment systems in the business, and an all-digital instrument panel. There’s space aplenty under the sleek roof, with what Jaguar says is best-in-class knee room for rear passengers as well as the biggest boot in the mid-sized premium SUV segment at 650 litres.
Forming part of the F-Pace’s safety offering is adaptive cruise control and the ability to automatically brake to avoid collisions with vehicles or pedestrians, along with stability control and a full complement of airbags. A novel Activity Key allows you to leave the keys inside the vehicle when you’re out surfing or white water rafting; locking and unlocking is done by a waterproof wristband with an inbuilt transponder.
Initially South Africa will get three versions of the F-Pace when it arrives in July, all of them with all-wheel-drive. Prices are subject to change depending on the exchange rate but the 2-litre turbodiesel base model will have an estimated starting price of R776 800, the 3.0 turbodiesel will sell for R1.2-million and the supercharged 3-litre petrol, available in high-spec First Edition trim, will be priced at about R1.3-million. Later on the F-Pace will also be available with a new-generation 2-litre Ingenium turbo petrol, and two-wheel-drive.