0-62MPH: 5.8 secs
Top Speed: 150mph
CO2 G/KM: 159g/km
MPG Combined: 47.1mpg
★★★★☆ | Design
★★★★☆ | Performance
★★★☆☆ | Practicality
★★★★☆ | Value
A Jaguar really shouldn’t be doing this. I’m driving a distant relative of the E-type down what feels like a near-vertical drop, splashing up a crater-laden gravel road and roaring back up a rocky mountainside. Welcome, Jaguar, to 2016, where SUVs rule and everyone’s at it. What kept you?
The F-Pace is the car doing all this, Jaguar’s new mid-size SUV that’s going after the Porsche Macan, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC (but not the Range Rover Evoque. Oh, no. “What Evoque?”, you imagine executives shrugging, mindful of inter-family ‘king of the SUV’ sensitivities).
It’s a tricky proposition. SUVs are what buyers want these days, not the sports cars and luxury saloons Jaguar’s traditionally specialised in. It may have broadened its range with the successful new XE ‘baby Jag’, and a new XF also helps, but more is needed to help stop Jaguar dealers losing money and make the company sustainable.
So it swallowed its pride and made an SUV, the first one in its history. It sounds like a tricky birth but design director Ian Callum explained it all to me before my test drive and it actually wasn’t all that painful. By trying to create a Jaguar that happens to be an SUV, rather than the other way around, he’s ended up with something very convincing indeed. Dare I call it the best-looking new Jaguar on sale? I just have.
All clean, elegant but muscular surfaces and a convincingly sporty roofline, it’s a far-cry from the boxy 4x4s of old. That’s Land Rover’s patch – even the Range Rover Evoque has more obvious “off-roader” styling than this – meaning Jaguar has found clear air to make an SUV that won’t upset the JLR money-maker. In Callum’s favourite blue, on Jaguar’s biggest-ever 22-inch wheels, it looks brilliant.
It’s also good on the inside, something I’ve been hesitant to applaud on the XE and XF. Unlike those cars, this interior feels fully-formed, cohesive and convincing, almost as if Jaguar was still finding its interior design feet with the other two – and the feeling of quality here also beats those two. Sitting so high is unusual for a Jaguar; having so much adult-friendly space in the rear is also unusual for a Jag, but not unwelcome. Even the boot is commodious, in compete contrast to the F-Type.
Jaguar knew it had to get all this right – it had to make the F-Pace roomy, could not fail to make it family-friendly. It’s now on track to be the best-selling Jaguar in history. That’s not me getting all over-excited either – it’s what Jaguar’s factoring into its production plans.
And so onto the Montenegro roads – a country where motorways don’t exist and even dual carriageways are like four-leaf clovers. You won’t be surprised when I tell you it’s a great steer. Jaguars always are, even SUV Jaguars. Yes, it’s taller, perhaps rolls a bit more, has more front-end push when pressing on than a sports saloon.
But, for an SUV, it’s an extremely satisfying and engaging drive, particularly in the raspy range-topping S, which shares a 380hp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 with the F-Type. There’s a swift V6 diesel too, but even the 2.0-litre diesel’s strong – again, stronger than any other Jaguar using this new engine.
A Jaguar SUV sounds wrong; it’s anything but. It’s good enough to provide stern competition to the Porsche Macan – with both better looks and better space for a lower list price – and is set to sell by the buckletload. And even if you just can’t stomach it, just remember that the money this’ll make will finance the Jaguar sports cars of tomorrow.