Let’s talk Concept Cars. First seen at Motor Shows in the 1950s, these were the opportunity for their creators’ imaginations to run riot, resulting in all sorts of spectacular ideas, many of them so futuristic or simply so impractical that the chance of any of them ever being built was about zero. But what a talking point they were then. And now. Manufacturers still produce concept cars, of course and again, mostly these premiere at a major world Motor Show, and sometimes go on to appear at a few more Shows around the world and then………….. well, that depends. Some are still very futuristic and these tend to disappear back from whence they came and gather dust in a corner somewhere, but others are almost impossible to tell apart from a production car that then appears a matter of weeks or months later and so they were just used as a teaser to generate column inches and web clicks. There are some which fall between these two categories, though. Cars which look production ready, or at least production capable, and whose purpose is to get some market reaction. Of course we all know that their creator probably has a plan so it is debatable what influence that reaction really has, but maybe, just maybe, it does make a difference. Sadly, Lancia’s gorgeous Fulvietta remained just a concept but were Fiat really going to show us the TrePiuno concept and then not build what emerged a couple of years later as the production 500? Probably not! But the car under review here just may have been one where the maker was bit unsure what people would say. After all, Jaguar was known for its sports cars and sports saloons and here at the 2013 Frankfurt Show they were exhibiting a concept called the C-X17 that was an SUV. The market swing towards SUVs was well underway but back in 2013 not all brands had decided to go down this route, so you can see how getting the public’s reaction was perhaps important, even more so when the same parent company sells Range Rover products which could be seen as in-house competitors. Although I am not wildly enthusiastic about the whole SUV and Crossover trend, I have to say that when I saw the C-X17, in a striking bright blue colour, it looked so right that my reaction was “Just Build It”. A lot of people agreed with me, and thankfully, Jaguar did just that. The production car, now christened the F-Pace, appeared a couple of years later with a launch in the summer of 2015, going on sale early in 2016 and looking at least externally very like that 2013 concept. It was even available in the same bright blue paint, which became a signature colour for the car. Not surprisingly, it became Jaguar’s best selling car by the end of 2016 and Jaguar’s hesitation about SUVs and in-house competition disappeared when the slightly smaller E-Pace was conceived and added to the range as a stablemate. Having driven most of its close rivals, I’ve been keen to drive an F-Pace ever since launch. Hertz in the US bought a batch of JLR cars in 2018 and this allowed me to test out the XE and XF saloons, both of which impressed, but they did not seem to have got either the F Type or the SUVs. On arrival in Los Angeles in March 2019, my friend Annie at Hertz LAX told me that for the 2019 season there would be F-Paces on fleet. I did not see any in LA, but my chance to test one out came when after a long chat with the Gold Manager at Hertz’ Phoenix Airport about a lack of cars on my arrival there, he promised to hold onto one for me for the next reservation. Sure enough, when I turned up, there was a recently plated F-Pace with my name on it and I had 24 hours to see what I thought.
Although the production F-Pace was indeed Jaguar’s first SUV, under the skin, it shares much with existing JLR products, in particular the XE and XF Saloons and the Range Rover Velar that arrived a few months after the Jaguar. Like those cars, it is based on JLR’s iQ-Al (D7a) modular platform. The design features double wishbone suspension at the front, with similarities to the system fitted to the XF and F-Type models, the rear features an entirely new subframe mounted multi-link suspension system, named by Jaguar as Integral Link. This system is a more costly combination to manufacture but allows for greater tuning to provide a good balance between handling and ride quality. Also adding cost, but having huge benefits in terms of weight saving is the fact that the body structure comprises 80 per cent aluminium, and additional weight savings come from the composite tailgate and magnesium for parts such as the cross-car beam. The body’s high torsional stiffness enables the F-Type-derived double-wishbone front suspension and sophisticated Integral Link rear suspension to perform even better. Together with Torque Vectoring as standard and an Electric Power Assisted Steering system tuned to give the best possible feel and response. Jaguar clearly felt that these were all important attributes to make their first ever SUV feel like a proper Jaguar. Question is: are they right? And is this a good car?
Slightly surprisingly, you can buy a 180 bhp four cylinder diesel engined F-Pace in America, known as the 20d, though I suspect that precious few people actually do so. There are three petrol engines if you include the top spec SVR. Volume sales are going to be of the 247 bhp four cylinder 25t and 296 bhp 30t, though both of these share the same 2.0 litre turbo Ingenium unit and it was the former of these that powered my test car. There is also a 380 bhp supercharged 3.0 litre six cylinder car offered as well and at the top of the range is the slightly bonkers 550 bhp 5.0 litre V8-engined SVR. Although Jaguar have worked hard on refining the Ingenium engines, they are still not quite there yet, and this one was a bit gruff on start up, and not in a good way. But there is no denying that in all other respects, it is a good engine, It is punchy so the F-Pace goes well and once underway, it is actually quite smooth, refined and yes, even quiet. Acceleration is strong, with a quoted 0 – 60 time of not a lot more than 6 seconds, which is good for a car of this size. There is a standard eight speed automatic gearbox. Jaguar have persisted with the cylindrical gearknob that rises up once you start the car up. It is easy enough to use, though you will probably only need it when going from forwards to backwards or to put the car into Park. Gear changes that the car makes are very smooth indeed. Needless to say, there is keyless starting. I took the car up to Sedona and so covered 350 miles in the day I had it, and it needed 14.18 US gallons to fill it up, which computes to 24.68 mpg US or 29.49 mpg Imperial, a good result for a car of this size, though it should be remembered that a lot of those miles were done at a steady freeway speed.
It’s not just the engine which makes this car good to drive, but it is also the steering and handling that mean that this feels as near to a well-engineered sports saloon as any SUV can. The steering weighting is well-judged, and although not particularly heavy there is plenty of feel and it means that the car can be hustled down a twisty road with confidence, especially as the roadholding and grip is excellent and the car just feels like it wants more bends and a bit more daring from the driver to go a little faster. The test car had the 19″ wheels, which are one inch up on the smallest available, and 3″ down on the largest, and they probably give the best compromise for ride comfort, which was also very good, even though at times it did feel on the firm side, but never venturing into the realms of uncomfortable, a trick that the Germans have not quite mastered yet. The brakes were powerful, with plenty of evident stopping power. There is an electronic handbrake. Visibility is good and the huge sunroof on the test car made the cabin feel airy, even if that does not actually help you to see out of it or manoeuvre it. Rear parking sensors and the camera do help, though. The F-Pace features a long list of driver assistance and safety features, which are detailed along with the standard spec later in this report.
Some have complained about the interior quality, but I thought all was pretty good, if not quite at Audi or Volvo level. The materials are well chosen, with a lot of leather and the inevitable gloss black inlays, and the design is cohesive and everything felt substantial enough to the touch. The leather wrapped steering wheel is just the right sort of chunky and nice to hold. The dash has a decided Jaguar family feel to it. The instrument cluster comprises two large dials, for speed and rev counter, both of which are chrome ringed and with clear but quite small markings and there is a space between them for the water temperature and fuel level inbetween, with trip display data also shown. There are two column stalks and the lights are operated by twisting the end of the left hand stalk. The steering wheel boss contains audio repeaters and cruise control as is so often the case these days. Jaguar did upgrade the infotainment system for 2019 with a larger screen and new graphics but although the test car was billed as 2019 model year car, it seemed to feature the previous set up. You need to head up the range to get navigation, so this unit was largely there for audio functions. It is mostly operated only by the touch screen as there is a distinct lack of buttons for anything other radio volume, but it was easy enough to use and decently responsive. There is an 11-speaker Meridian sound system and audio quality was good. Beneath this unit are a row of switches for the dual zone climate control. There are a few ergonomic niggles, though: not all the switches are lit at night, the left hand air vent is mounted too low and the electric window switches are set too high.
Seat trim on the test car appeared to be leather, which seems fitting for a car of this type and price, but in fact this was a form of synthetic material, called Luxtec, which looked like the real deal, but if you want something which did come off a cow, then real leather is only a standard feature of the Prestige model. Seat adjustment is all-electric, with the usual ability to alter position in 8 ways, fore/aft, height and backrest angle and there is a memory function when you’ve found the optimum position to suit. The steering column telescopes in/out and up/down, so it was easy to get a good driving position. You are not really aware of the extra height when getting in and out and even from the driver’s seat whilst this does not feel as low-slung as a Jaguar saloon, it does not feel that imposing either in the way that you get such a sensation from a Range Rover.
There is a decent amount of space for those in the rear, though the centre console unit does come back a long way which might trouble the knees of a middle seat occupant. Even with the front seats set well back, there should be ample legroom even for those with long legs and the SUV body style means that headroom is generous. There is no drop-down central armrest and surprisingly, there are no map pockets on the seat backs, meaning that oddments space is confined to the rather small door pockets, which is a little at odds with the practical nature of a car like this. There are rear air vents and USB ports, but if you want rear climate, you have to upgrade to a posher model.
The tailgate is electrically assisted which is useful as it is large and heavy. The boot is generous in overall cubic capacity, one of the largest in volume terms in it class, but the central area is raised compared to the side portions, presumably a consequence of needing to clear the full-size spare, but not having a flat load bay will prove to be a nuisance at times. There are the usual hooks to help secure loads and there is a net across the side to provide a small area of bits and pieces. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split 40:20:40 and simply drop down onto the seat cushions to create a long load bay. Inside the cabin, there is a good-sized glove box, a central armrest cubby, door bins and lidded cupholders in the console.
Jaguar offer a number of different versions of the F-Pace in the US market. The base model F-Pace has a 247 bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, known as the 25t. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, keyless entry, a push button start, rear privacy glass, a panoramic sunroof, heated mirrors, automatic wipers, selectable drive modes, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, simulated-leather (Luxtec) upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. For technology, new for 2019 there’s a 10-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port, and an 11-speaker Meridian sound system with HD radio. Active driver aids include a rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, a drowsy driver monitoring system, and front and rear parking sensors. Jaguar’s InControl remote vehicle controls and emergency communication services are also included. The Premium trim, which was the spec of the test car, adds 19-inch wheels, power-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, and driver-seat memory settings. This trim comes standard with the 25t engine, though it’s available with the 30t petrol and 20d diesel engines. An optional Drive package includes stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and higher-speed emergency braking, Both base and Premium F-Pace models can be optioned with a Cold Climate package that adds heated front and rear seats, a heated windshield, heated washer jets and a heated steering wheel. They can also be equipped with a number of technology upgrades: a navigation system, Jaguar’s InControl apps (smartphone-linked apps accessible from the F-Pace touchscreen), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The F-Pace Prestige is also available with the 25t, 30t, and 20d engines and includes most of the above equipment plus a different 19-inch wheel design, xenon headlights, headlight washers, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated power-adjustable steering wheel, Luxtec-wrapped dash panel, a folding rear armrest, ambient cabin lighting, and the Premium’s technology upgrade options listed including navigation, Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Options for the Prestige trim include the Comfort and Convenience package, which adds ventilated front seats, heated and power-reclining rear seats, and a hands-free liftgate. The Drive package is also available, but the Driver Assist package does one better, adding adaptive cruise control with steering assist, a surround-view camera, rear cross-traffic alert, 360-degree parking sensors, and an automated parking system. Other packages include the Technology package, which brings a customizable driver display, a CD player and a 17-speaker surround-sound system, and the Adaptive Dynamics package, which adds an adaptive suspension and a special drive mode to optimize grip in challenging road conditions. An optional Black Exterior package available for both Premium and Prestige trims adds a gloss black finish to the exterior side vents, window surrounds and front grille. Moving up to the R-Sport builds on Prestige features with 20-inch wheels, special R-Sport bumpers and styling elements, foglights, adaptive LED headlights (optional Prestige), automatic high beams, more aggressively bolstered front seats with power-adjustable thigh support, a soft-grain leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle shifters and satellite radio. The S trim is similarly equipped to the R-Sport but switches to the 380 bhp V6 engine. It also includes the features from the Adaptive Dynamics package and adds a black headliner and red brake calipers as finishing garnishes. Both R-Sport and S trims can tack on the Comfort and Convenience package, the Technology package, and a sport seat package with 14-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front sport seats and heated rear seats. The new-for-2019 SVR trim includes the 5.0 litre 550 bhp V8 engine, stronger brakes, active exhaust, 21-inch wheels, quilted leather upholstery, the sport seat package, the Comfort and Convenience package items, a customizable driver display, and a 360-degree parking camera system. R-Sport, S and SVR trims can opt for the Luxury Interior package, which offers four-zone automatic climate control with an air quality sensor, additional rear-seat air vents and power sockets, upgraded carpets and headliner, 10-colour interior ambient lighting and a cooled glove compartment. All three trims can also opt for the Drive and Driver Assist packages. The Portfolio is something of a side path on the F-Pace trim ladder. It’s not the highest performance trim — that would be the SVR — but it might be the most luxurious. The Portfolio is only available with the 25t engine and offers other exclusive features, including 20-way adjustable seats, Windsor leather upholstery, unique trim details (aluminium accent plates, silver roof rails), and the contents of the Luxury Interior package. There are also a handful of stand-alone options for various F-Pace trims, including roof rails, a tow hitch receiver, wood veneers and an Activity Key, which is a waterproof bracelet that allows you to unlock the car with the key still inside. You can also order 22-inch wheels, although received wisdom suggest not to, in the interests of ride quality.
It is often said that if a car looks right, then it probably will be. Sadly there are plenty of exceptions where the appearance is the best thing and things are not so good when you get to drive it, or live with the car over time. That is not the case with the F-Pace. Not only does it look good, but it is among the best cars of its type to drive, and it has enough space in it to meet most people’s needs, is nicely finished and with no significant weaknesses at all. I liked it a lot. Were I in the market for a car of this class, it would be on a short list of two, along with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Sadly, whilst many would agree with me, the reality when it comes to finance deals – and almost all cars of this type and price will be financed – mean that the three German rivals (Q5, X3 and GLC) will end up massively cheaper per month than either the Alfa or the Jaguar. And that is a pity as having driven them all, I would prefer either of the non-Germans cars to the German ones. The crunch is just how much of a premium anyone would be prepared to pay for that. It would seem that for most people, the monthly price tag is just too high and the Audi, BMW and Mercedes sell in vast numbers and the Alfa and Jaguar do not. You could say that these two truly are the premium product, with a premium price and the others are just volume models with a perceived prestige badge and that would not be unfair. Premium does have its price!