Jaguar F-PACE (2016) First Drive

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Jaguar has launched what it calls a performance SUV. It features some strong powerplants, intuitive technology and promises an enthralling, hands-on driving experience. Let’s get under the skin of the new Jaguar F-PACE.

While looks are subjective and one man’s rose is another’s weed, the common consensus on the launch was that this Jaguar is an exceptionally graceful and striking newcomer. In an era where cars closely resemble each other, there is no mistaking the Jaguar for a product made by any other brand.

Yes, this is a Jaguar through and through, and you can see design cues from the brand's F-Type sports car have been transferred and adapted into the lines of this imposing SUV. We say imposing because it’s a big vehicle. However, despite Jaguar’s marketing spin, we don’t quite buy the "SUV tag". Think of this as a raised body variant of the Jaguar XF or XJ and whereas the F-PACE's not a dedicated offroader, its all-wheel drive abilities are better than expected.

The F-PACE is unique in its assembly. Jaguar could have taken the easy route and based the newcomer on the Discovery Sport's underpinnings, but Jaguar built its own platform (based on that of the XE, XF and F-Type) instead and this means it has car-like driving manners. Good work Jaguar!

Powertrains and outputs

At launch there are three engines to choose from, all with varying states of output. Kicking off the range is the 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel motor that delivers a healthy 132 kW and 430 Nm. However, the turbodiesel engine that you really want to stretch your budget for is the 3.0-litre V6. It produces 220 kW, which is not insignificant in itself, but a whopping 700 Nm of torque. In terms of the turbopetrol line-up, the venerable 3.0-litre V6 supercharged engine makes an appearance. You can opt for 250 kW and 450Nm of torque, or in top-spec S trim, you have 280 kW and 460 Nm at your right foot's disposal.

On paper, the 2.0d has the smallest outputs, but despite its diminutive size, the baby turbodiesel punches well above its weight and is, unsurprisingly, the most frugal of the bunch. The numbers are respectable; it’ll hit 100 kph from standstill in 8.7 seconds and return a claimed consumption figure of 5.3 L/100 km. The bigger diesel, in turn, is substantially faster from zero to 100 kph at 6.2 seconds, and it is said to consume 6.0 L/100 km. Onto the potent petrol engine and the eager motor will propel the F-PACE to 100 kph in 5.8 seconds (5.5 for the S). The petrol engines are both claimed to return 9 L/100 km.

All F-PACEs come with an 8-speed automatic transmission that directs power to all 4 wheels, but with a rear-wheel-drive bias (the front wheels come into play in low-traction conditions). Meanwhile, a torque vectoring system enhances the handling by sending braking power to the inside wheels while cornering.

 

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Trim and features

The F-PACE comes in 3 trim levels, but you can request a 4th called First Edition, which is virtually full house, but at a substantial premium. Pure starts off the range and you progress up to R-Sport and then the range topper is the S model. With each jump in trim level, wheel size increases accordingly and you can specify wheels up to 22-inch in size. Pure models have 18-inch alloys, R-Sport moves up to 19-inch items, while S models have 20-inch rims.

Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, push-button start, electronic parking brake, large touchscreen infotainment, reverse-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and electrically adjustable seats are just some of the features available, but be mindful that if you select the bottom-of-the-range trim level, you will have to spec the F-PACE up at extra cost. The options list is vast: items such as a blind-spot monitor, cross traffic alert, satnav, heated seats and wifi are available. The First Editions come fully loaded and are available in some limited edition colours. The Caesium Blue you see here is a First Edition option.

The cabin is extraordinarily spacious and, on top of that the luggage space is generously large. The Jaguar F-PACE is going to make families very happy as the rear legroom is ample, even for tall people. The dashboard features elements from the XF and XE, and combines them all into a high-riding package, which is to say the visibility out the front is excellent. Our units came equipped with digital instrument clusters, which was clear and intuitive to operate.

 

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The driving experience

The launch took us to the Eastern Cape where we put the F-PACE through its… er…. paces on different surfaces. We drove on a combination of surfaces: open national highway, back roads and gravel routes through a game reserve. Our first impression of the range was with the baby turbodiesel and we came away impressed with its on-road refinement and comfort. Despite riding on big 19-inch wheels, the ride quality was pliant and supple, and it was only on an imperfect (pockmarked) surface that any coarseness translated to the cabin. Wind and engine noises are well-damped thanks to good cabin insulation; it's only on the open road (and around the national speed limit) that the big wheels and tyres generate substantial road noise.

As for the handling, the F-PACE suppresses body roll as well as any big SUVs and there’s some truth to the marketing spin from Jaguar: the newcomer is definitely a driving machine. The steering is nicely weighted, provides solid feedback and the sure-footedness of the Jaguar encourages enthusiastic cornering. There’s plenty of grip available and unlike some of its competitors, the F-PACE doesn’t feel unsettled unless you deliberately manhandle it. 

Jaguar incorporated a track session at the Aldo Scribante circuit to underline the sportiness of its new SUV and while we still maintain that it’s just weird to coax a 1.8-tonne SUV around this twisty circuit at heady speeds, the F-Pace performed better than expected. Admittedly our expectations were a little low and we feared the laws of physics would overwhelm the Jaguar, but it’s surprisingly poised. 

It may be road-orientated and lack a low-range transfer case, but the Jaguar acquits itself well when you take it off the beaten track. If you want the proper bundu basher experience, then look to products from the Land Rover stable, but F-Pace can tackle gravel with ease. We suspect it’ll be effective on slippery surfaces thanks to its smart all-wheel drive system which shifts power between axles and wheels.

The baby turbodiesel Jaguar F-PACE was a pleasant surprise as the motor didn't feel overwhelmed by the task of lugging the big body around: it's still brisk and has plenty of overtaking grunt. At first glance, this looks to be the sensible option for buyers. Then you get the bigger diesel and that proved an eye-opener to drive. The brawny V6's torque is, in a word, stupendous and allows the F-PACE to thunder down the road not unlike a runaway freight train. The best part of this performance is that the motor's claimed fuel consumption is fair; it's a really strong performer.

On the second day, we got to grips with the supercharged V6 petrol unit. Having been teased the previous day by petrol F-PACE launch units overtaking us and hearing the beautiful roar of that supercharged V6 motor, we were itching to have a go. The reality is that the range-topping model is an indulgence: its abundant power delivery is matched with a monstrous thirst as leaning on the throttle will send the consumption rocketing skywards. The instantaneous power delivery and delightful roar of the engine are addictive, and it feels like the soul of an F-Type sportscar has been transplanted into this SUV. 

 

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Quick Summary

Has Jaguar done enough to ensure sales success with the F-PACE? Based on our first impression, absolutely. Is it a quality product that moves the Jaguar brand further? Definitely! So it’s a great-looking vehicle that boasts some very smart technology and the cabin is spacious. The boot is cavernous and you’ll just love the way it drives. If we were to select our favourite from the launch, we’d head straight for the mighty 3.0 V6 diesel. It thunders along, riding a 700 Nm wave of torque that makes overtaking on the open road effortless.

Is it value for money? Er, no. As good as the Jaguar F-PACE is, the competition around the R1-million mark is tight. Rivals are everywhere and unfortunately for Jaguar, one of them is a blood relative. For an extraordinarily similar amount of money, a Range Rover Sport can be purchased. It has an off-road pedigree, something this newcomer cannot offer. In the premium SUV market, Volvo has done a sterling job with its new 7-seat XC90 and its flagship T8 TwinEngine is cheaper, lighter on fuel and just as quick as the Jaguar F-PACE.

Jaguar has its sights on the Porsche Macan, BMW X3 and Audi Q5, and the F-PACE knocks them for 6 in the space department. It has most of its rivals licked in terms of drive quality too. Tough competition aside, Jaguar has done extraordinarily well with its first attempt at a full-sized SUV/crossover. It is road-biased, but you’ll appreciate the extra bit of ground clearance and intelligent all-wheel drive when you head onto gravel roads. It’s more capable than we give it credit for and once you’re familiar with the Jaguar's electronic aids, you can tackle roads you wouldn’t feel comfortable travelling on in an executive sedan.

The technology and digital integration into the car is exceptional and we're very keen to try the iWatch and waterproof Activity Key out.

 

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Jaguar F-PACE prices in South Africa

2.0 I4D Diesel 132 kW Pure R778 966
2.0 I4D Diesel 132 kW R-Sport R871 226  
3.0 TDV6 Diesel 220 kW Pure R942 646 
3.0 TDV6 Diesel 220 kW R-Sport R1 034 846
3.0 TDV6 Diesel 220 kW S R1 099 646
3.0 TDV6 Diesel 220 kW First Edition R1 222 546
3.0 S/C Petrol 250 kW Pure R992 846
3.0 S/C Petrol 250 kW R-Sport R1 085 046  
3.0 S/C Petrol 280 kW S R1 201 426
3.0 S/C Petrol 280 kW First Edition R1 331 146  

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