2017 Jaguar F-Pace 3.5t R-Sport
This new entry into the SUV market is a much-needed game changer for the big cat.A decade and a half ago many questioned BMW’s reasoning for entering the SUV domain when it already owned Land Rover. It didn’t take long to see the wisdom in that choice with the X5 quickly outselling the entire LR division and immediately becoming one of the most popular vehicles in the German brand’s lineup as well as the luxury SUV sector overall. Now with hindsight as our ally we should question Tata group’s reasoning for waiting so long to do likewise with the Jaguar brand now that JLR is under the Indian automaker’s control, but we won’t have to wait much longer for F-Pace sales results to signal if it was a smart move or not.
Initial reaction to the SUV has been positive from both industry critics and prospective customers. Jaguar seems to have nailed F-Pace styling while its driving dynamics are easily up to the most capable in the class, although defining that class is a bit more difficult.
Jaguar seems to be following a more for less philosophy that has worked well for second-tier luxury brands so far. I hate to lump the storied marque into this lower category because its enviable heritage in both road car production and motorsport is the stuff of legend, Jaguar taking the checkered flag on the world’s most renowned racetracks when BMW was merely hawking rebranded Austin 7s and three-wheeled Iso Isettas to entry-level economy buyers and Lexus wasn’t even the foggiest thought in Eiji Toyoda’s mind, but the British luxury brand, which incidentally has often been the personal ride of choice by her majesty the queen of England, who actually just sold her 2009 Jaguar X-Type, the new XE’s spiritual predecessor, complete with heatable seats, parking sensors and a mere 7,600 miles on the odometer for £15,000 in February, has struggled through multiple parental owners with questionable business acumen in the luxury sector, plus limited investment over the years, to the point its model lineup has never been complete enough to fully compete and therefore overall sales couldn’t ever fully challenge the aforementioned German brand or many of its other rivals, hence its tier-two premium status.
Last year Jaguar sold just 14,466 cars across the country, making it dead last on the list of mainstream premium brands, only beating more upscale Maserati and recently reintroduced Alfa Romeo, which just jumpstarted its resurgence into our market with a single tiny sports car. Even all-electric Tesla sold more cars with just a single mid-size sedan, all of which means the F-Pace, and the new D-segment XE sport sedan it’s based upon, couldn’t come at a more critically important time.
Both the XE and F-Pace went on sale last month and already racked up 598 and 666 devilishly respective deliveries, which if expounded over a full year would lift last year’s total unit sales well past Tesla’s 26,608, albeit still a far cry from Porsche’s 51,756 and Volvo’s 70,047. Being our current collective love-in with SUVs the F-Pace has the most potential upside, so the question remains if this model alone will be able to match or exceed Land Rover’s 70,582 overall U.S. sales, replicating BMW’s feat in 2000. Only time will tell, but after a first drive in an R-Sport trimmed version I think Jaguar is on the right path.
First off we need to get back to that more for less strategy, the F-Pace riding on a longer wheelbase that reaches farther from side-to-side than any of its compact luxury SUV peers, which bumps it up into mid-size territory yet it’s priced within that more affordable compact segment. Then again, at $40,990 plus freight and dealer fees it starts at the higher end of compact SUV base models, only Buick’s new Chinese-made Envision and Porsche’s Macan costing more in base trim (yah you heard that right, Buick), but to be fair we need to remember that the F-Pace is sized more like a Porsche Cayenne and the base Jag is hardly a barebones prospect with most of its compact competitors costing more when upgraded to its level of standard luxury.
It comes in six levels of trim including self-titled F-Pace, $44,200 Premium, $48,700 Prestige, $53,900 R-Sport, $56,700 S and a $69,700 First Edition, plus two engines including the 20d and 35t, the latter in two states of tune, with the least of these loaded up with all the expected luxury features as well as approach illumination and follow-me-home lighting, metal treadplates with Jaguar script, an infrared reflective windshield, rain-sensing wipers, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, valet mode, an electromechanical parking brake, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with paddles, a 5.0-inch full-color TFT multi-info display within the primary gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a sunglasses holder in an overhead console, JaguarSense touch or proximity control for the overhead lights, glove box release and more, 8.0-inch InControl Touch full-color high-resolution infotainment with cool scenic graphics including a classic red British phone booth for (you guessed it) Bluetooth phone functions that include wireless connectivity for calls, text messaging and audio streaming, 380-watt Meridian audio, HD radio, a powered liftgate, a luxury carpet/rubber surface reversible cargo floor, metal tie-downs, ultra-versatile 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks expanding the already sizable 33.5 cubic-foot cargo compartment to a generous 63.5 cubic feet, hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring, a perimeter alarm, an immobilizer, and all the usual passive and active safety features.
The move up to Premium trim adds 19-inch alloys, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, front seat and mirror memory, and a garage door opener, while Prestige trim includes higher grade Taurus leather upholstery, powered lumbar support, a heatable steering wheel and front seats, navigation with 3D mapping, interior mood lighting, front and rear parking sonar and more.
A standard bonus not yet mentioned is a fuel-efficient 180 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-diesel with 318 lb-ft of torque available from as low as 1,750 rpm, plus an eight-speed ZF automatic and AWD that includes Jaguar’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software to improve handling by minimizing understeer, All Surface Progress Control (ASPC) developed from Land Rover’s Terrain Response system for tackling slippery situations, torque vectoring AWD, Jaguar Drive Control for Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport) or Rain/Ice/Snow modes, plus trailer stability assist that helps the F-Pace achieve its impressive 5,290-lb maximum tow rating, although most will be more interested to know this base model is good for a reasonably quick 8.2-second sprint to 60 mph and 130 mph top speed. No doubt it’s stingy on fuel, but we’ll need to wait in order to find out its official rating.
What impresses me most is the F-Pace’ aluminum-intensive construction, Jaguar’s first SUV benefiting from the same high-tech approach to lightweight manufacture as its full-size XJ luxury sedan, the fabulous F-Type sports car and the new XE. Rather than steel, the F-Pace body structure enters the compact market segment as the only model mostly constructed from bonded and riveted aluminum. More than one third of the SUV is aluminum alloy, 75 percent sourced from recycled materials. Of course this reduces weight, but more so it strengthens the body to improve handling, NVH levels and crash worthiness.
On that note the F-Pace’ front and rear crash structures plus key body panels are bolted on to reduce repair time and costs (Jaguar even built sacrificial slipping fixings into the suspension to prevent pricey components from getting bent or broken if hit by curbs). It’s all part of JLR’s iQ modular platform (no it has nothing with the diminutive and now departed Toyota/Scion iQ), an architecture that will soon underpin the second-generation XF as well, not to mention a new Range Rover set to slot in above the Evoque and below the Sport.
The chassis incorporates a similar aluminum double wishbone setup to the XF and F-Type in front and an entirely new subframe-mounted multi-link system in the rear, dubbed Integral Link. According to Jaguar this design is more expensive to build yet allows for greater tuning versatility, and after a short stint at the wheel I immediately knew the advanced suspension and lightweight, ultra-rigid body shell was money well spent.
The result is an SUV that drives like a sports car, other than its impressively compliant ride. True it’s thoroughly comfortable, but it takes to corners with shocking capability, the F-Pace right up there with the Macan and Cayenne, although the fabulous snarl its 3.0-liter supercharged V6 makes under full throttle with Dynamic sport mode engaged, and even more delectable gurgle caused by backpressure at liftoff might make you reconsider anything from das vaterland. This SUV’s got soul, yet my tester was only fitted with the model’s mid-grade 3.5t engine making 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque; I can’t wait to test the S with its 380 horsepower mill. As driven it’s good for 5.4 seconds from standstill to 60 mph and a 155-mph top speed, whereas the more powerful version will scoot the F-Pace to 60 in just 5.1 seconds.
The eight-speed autobox provides rapid yet smoothly applied shifts via aforementioned paddles, a good thing being that the F-Pace comes standard with Jaguar’s brilliantly dramatic rotating drive selector that powers up out of the lower console like a reenactment of Yes “In the Round” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about go listen to Roundabout and appreciate some particularly talented London musicians). A fitting song when you think about it, and not only because of its mention of something fun to enter at high speed and even more enjoyable to exit at higher speeds, but also due to the song’s ultimately calm and relaxed intro, bridge and outro, and hectic pace in between, the ideally balanced F-Pace seeming like the mechanical manifestation of an ultimately memorable 8:29 minutes of progressive art rock. Reaching? Probably.
I never had opportunity to experience anything close to that song or close to the edge on my tester’s base stereo, which was superb despite being 445 watts short of the optional Meridian system, improvements made to the 3.5t R-Sport being more performance and styling, with the former benefiting from full LED headlamps with adaptive cornering capability and auto high beams, 20-inch rims on 255/50R20 rubber and uprated 350-mm front brake rotors for shorter stops, along with autonomous emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, and driver fatigue alert to make sure you’re not falling asleep at the wheel, plus the latter including a unique R-Sport front bumper, satin-chrome front fender “power vents” with R-Sport badges, body-color R-Sport door claddings with grained matte black finishers and more outside, plus metal treadplates with R-Sport branding, an R-Sport steering wheel, and bright sport pedals, while added features include a powered steering column with memory, 14-way powered front seats, satellite radio, and more.
It’s all packaged into a cabin that’s a visual delight if not a tactility tapper’s dream, Jaguar cutting a few corners in its quest to achieve less weight, better recyclability and lower costs. I was a bit surprised that the shroud over the primary instruments was hard plastic, as was the entire lower dash and glove box lid as well as the bottom of each door panel, with most of the F-Pace’ key rivals doing a better job of soft touch pampering. Likewise those door panels felt a bit hollow, which might have something to do with their aluminum outer skins, although the XJ doesn’t suffer similarly. Of course I can look over all of this in the same manner I would any given Lotus, another British brand that delves heavily into weight savings in the name of performance, whereas the rest of the Solihull-assembled cabin is beyond anything Hethel has ever produced, at least since its V8-powered Esprit.
Most of my F-Pace tester’s dash top was in red-stitched black leather, which also ran down each side of the center stack and across the majority of the lower console’s edges, taking things to a level of luxury most competitors don’t, while the door uppers and inserts were suitably soft touch as well. Nice padded leather armrests wrap up and over in an elegant curve to follow the forearm, my loaner’s done out in red to match the seat inserts that are perforated leather and wonderfully comfortable with superb side bolstering. Additional interior details include motorcycle-style aluminum gauge binnacles boasting the wonderfully large full-color multi-information display at center noted earlier, all framed by a thickly padded leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with eye-catching satin aluminum around the edges of its spokes, not to mention beautifully detailed high-quality switchgear at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions.
Piano black lacquer covered the outside of the infotainment and HVAC interfaces, plus along the center section of the lower console. Key highlights on these surfaces as well as the vents, door handles and other trim bits are nicely detailed in satin silver, while an elegantly sculpted bit of buffed metal displays the Jaguar name across the top of the glove box lid. There’s a sense of occasion in the F-Pace that few others in the segment can match, followed up by class-leading utility.
It’s an SUV after all, so it’d better be utile. Along with a larger and more accommodating than average front seating area the second row is spacious and extremely comfortable, mine outfitted with outboard seat heaters and an open, airy panoramic sunroof above, whereas the cargo compartment is appropriately finished in high-grade carpeting plus the chrome tie-downs and reversible floor noted earlier (mine even accessorized with a useful cargo tray), while even more importantly it features handles at each side of the cargo wall for lowering the 40/20/40 split seatbacks without having to walk all the way around to the side doors. It opens up a large, flat area for hauling a lot more than the average compact can handle, even overstepping its boundaries into the mid-size class as noted earlier—how terribly impolite and very un-British.
Of course, Jaguar had a boisterous American parent for many years, some Michigan-sourced brashness evidently rubbing off. While some UK loyalists may have turned their noses up, Ford should be commended for helping make Jaguar one of the most reliable brands in the luxury sector. It has regularly been near the top of J.D. Power’s various studies for years while the new owner has continued the focus on quality with Jaguar currently rated second amongst premium brands in the third-party analytical firm’s most recent Initial Quality Study.
All of this is good news, but the number one reason this F-Pace will surely brighten Jaguar’s prospects is styling, the new SUV one of the more attractive SUVs in the compact and mid-size premium segments. Yes, the F-Pace is a winner in every respect, and I for one expect it to perform as well on the sales charts as it does on the street. Don’t consider a five-passenger luxury SUV without first driving the F-Pace.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press