People are staring. We’re in Montenegro, a rocky Balkan nation wedged between the Adriatic Sea and several countries of the former Yugoslavia, and the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace we’re driving looks like a glittering spaceship amid the hordes of shabby Yugos and Volkswagen Golf II hatches with which it’s sharing the road. Even fuzzy cattle pause their grazing as we charge by in the British crossover, the escalating whine of its supercharger cutting through the usual still pulse of this provincial hill country.
No doubt, a lot of Americans will be staring at the F-Pace as well when it arrives on our shores. As the storied brand’s first SUV, Jaguar is hoping it will be game-changing vehicle, one that will help it continue to move forward from a sales and overall brand perception standpoint.
While the sexy F-Type coupe and convertible rejuvenated interest and enthusiasm in Jaguar, the automaker sold just 14,446 units in the U.S. last year. The F-Pace is a big bet, carrying the weight of Jaguar’s lofty ambitions to expand quickly and to reach new, younger audience. (Some 90 percent of F-Pace buyers are expected to be new to the brand and on average 10 years younger than today’s demographic.) It’s already the fastest-selling Jaguar ever, and it’s not even officially on sale—2,000 of the crossover’s 10,000 global pre-orders are from North America. And after wheeling it through a gauntlet of Montenegro’s challenging mountain switchbacks and craggy off-road trails, we’d be shocked if the F-Pace is anything less than a runaway success.
Three Flavors to Choose From
When the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace arrives in showrooms this May, it will be sold with three powertrains, all with standard all-wheel drive. Atop the heap is the F-Pace S, packing the 380-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 we know from the Jaguar stable. That same engine is also offered in a lower state of tune, churning out 340 hp in the F-Pace 35t. In September, the entry-level F-Pace 20d will follow with a 180-hp, 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder Ingenium-family engine that makes a generous 318 lb-ft of torque. All 2017 Jaguar F-Pace variants use an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Base, Premium, Prestige, and R-Sport trims will be available for the 20d and 35t, while the F-Pace S stands above all except the limited-run First Edition models. The 20d is priced aggressively at $41,985 including delivery, while the F-Pace S starts at $57,695 before any options. Considering the U.S. market’s tepid taste for diesel especially in the wake of VW’s Dieselgate scandal, the volume mover is bound to be the F-Pace 35t Prestige. For $51,095, you get 19-inch wheels instead of the stock 18s, heated leather power seats and a heated steering wheel, keyless entry, navigation, and xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights.
If there’s one option to seriously consider on its own, it’s Jaguar’s new InControl Touch Pro with its 10.2-inch display screen. Not only does the larger screen integrate more neatly into the center stack than the smaller 8-inch screen, but the system’s lightning fast response time, sharp graphics, and range of ever-growing apps put the older system to shame. If you’re feeling frivolous, there’s a charming Activity Key that wraps around your wrist like a FitBit, allowing you to safely lock the key fob in the car while you go surfing, cycling, or rock climbing. It doesn’t need batteries, and all it takes to lock or unlock the car is placing the band on the “J” in Jaguar on the rear tailgate. It sounds gimmicky, but it actually works and solves a nagging problem for those with active lifestyles.
Definitely a looker
Although the sure-to-be-popular F-Pace 35t wasn’t available for us to sample, we got plenty of seat time exploring Montenegro in First Edition, S, and 20d R-Sport models. Across the model range, the F-Pace has a broad and low stance with unabashedly cherry-picked styling cues from the F-Type sports car. For one, the F-Pace’s bulging hood, rounded shoulders, and stretched taillights are familiar, but Jaguar production studio director Wayne Burgess stresses that 81 percent of the F-Pace’s parts are unique to the vehicle.
The wheels are pushed way out to the corners, helping emphasize the crossover’s long hood, cab-back proportions, and long wheelbase. The look is one of purpose and poise, but the practical reasons for the design are perhaps even more significant. Burgess seemed genuinely surprised and pleased to tell us that the F-Pace is class-leading in a number of packaging dimensions, including cargo capacity and knee room. Despite the generous space, the sensations you get from the driver’s seat are noticeably snug and sporty. The R-Sport steering wheel has great heft and a pleasant thickness, the A-pillars are somewhat large but intelligently swept backward out of the way, and the driving position is just low enough to feel connected to the road, without sacrificing the advantages of outward visibility and a higher, command seating position most crossover drivers want.
Running for the hills
We started off in the First Edition, of which only 275 units are coming to the U.S. The First Edition is essentially a fully loaded F-Pace S, complete with 22-inch wheels, a head-up display, 17-speaker Meridian sound system, reclining rear seats, and more. The real eye-catcher, though, is the unique Caesium Blue paint, which pairs with the ever-so-British houndstooth-patterned leather seating and matching door inserts.
Despite the F-Pace’s sizable footprint, it does an impressive job of getting out of its own way, even on narrow, twisting mountain roads that seem plucked from “Gran Turismo” or “Forza.” The benefits of Jaguar’s aluminum architecture (first used to underpin the new XF) quickly become apparent through the first set of long sweepers and hairpins, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic below. The F-Pace feels rather light on its feet, with excellent road-holding and satisfyingly quick responses to sudden inputs, all communicated to your hands with delightful, naturally weighted steering feel.
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It comes as no surprise to us that Jaguar ripped apart a Porsche Macan to benchmark its agile driving dynamics, particularly while developing the F-Pace’s front double-wishbone suspension and rear integral link suspension. The Macan still handles more like an honest-to-goodness sports car, but the Jaguar’s ride is a bit more compliant. (All versions of the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace we drove came equipped with adaptive dampers.) On top of that, we easily fit a 6-foot-4 Jaguar PR guy in the back seat of the F-Pace, which would have been a fool’s errand with the Macan’s sharply raked roof over the second row.
The brakes are adequate at best, which we discovered after rounding a corner to discover a family of unimpressed goats crossing the road. There’s a bit of pedal travel before the F-Pace really dives down to stop, and it could definitely use a sharper bite. A Jaguar engineer tells us it’s possible to opt for more aggressive brake pads for your F-Pace, but you’ll have to deal with additional dust. Heaven forbid.
Turn-in is nice and sharp thanks in part to the First Edition’s 22-inch wheels, and the front end dives into corners without hesitation while the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system effectively avoids understeer. You do get the feeling that the F-Pace could use quite a bit more power, though—380 hp feels just about right here, and the gratuitous noise and power we love from the F-Type are somewhat missing in car that Jaguar claims is “the practical sports car.” We leaned on Jaguar’s engineers hard for any details on the possibility of a V-8 coming to the F-Pace for R or SVR variants, and although nobody would confirm anything outright, the question was met with a lot of optimistic smiles and advice to just wait and see.
The F-Pace S feels almost identical to the First Edition, although the ride is perhaps a bit less busy over rough roads on its smaller 20-inch tires. And don’t be fooled by the entry-level price for the 20d, either, which is about 100 pounds lighter and feels every bit the performer as its more powerful brethren. It uses the same suspension and adaptive dampers, albeit with specific tuning, and the bullish torque from 1,750 to 2,500 rpm easily makes up for the lack of top-end power and exhaust soundtrack.
The 20d was also a fearsome companion on a long stretch of harrowing rocky paths leading to gorgeous views at the summit of Montenegro’s coastal mountains. Jaguar wisely cribbed the F-Pace’s Adaptive Surface Response and All-Surface Progress Control from its buddies at Land Rover, although everyone and their brother knows a laughably low percentage of F-Pace buyers will ever have cause to use these features. Nonetheless, Adaptive Surface Response worked like a charm over jagged rocks and steep approach angles, its watchful eye monitoring the conditions and adjusting the throttle, braking, transmission, and stability control as we were climbing. For major ascents and descents we sampled the All-Surface Progress Control, which is essentially a low-speed cruise control that takes care of everything except the steering at speeds up to 12 mph. We managed the whole off-road extravaganza on Pirelli P Zero summer tires, and we’re more than a little surprised none of them popped, especially after Jaguar field operations warned that might happen, and we should just keep driving if it did.
A clear path ahead
By every measure we can think up, the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace hits its mark right on the nose. The style and design straddle the border between sportiness and luxury, and its performance adheres to the same balance. Perhaps more important, the new aluminum platform is poised to handle an upcoming generation of new Ingenium gas powertrains. It’s likely the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder currently used in the European market Jaguar XE will soon find its way to the F-Pace, and we’d be surprised that if and when the V-6 is eventually phased out the rumored Ingenium inline-six mill doesn’t fit perfectly under crossover’s swelling hood bulge.
Luxury German automakers paved the way, proving that crossovers such as the Macan, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and BMW X3/X4 could be luxurious, sporty, and most of all true to the ethos of their brands. Yet in doing so they’ve cleared the path for what will likely prove their toughest competition in years. If they’re smart, they’ll fall in right behind the Montenegrins and watch closely.
2017 Jaguar F-Pace Specifications
|On Sale:||May 2016|
|Price:||$41,985 (base)-$57,695 (F-Pace S)|
|Engine:||2.0L turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4/180 hp @ 4,000 rpm, 318 lb-ft @ 1,750-2,500 rpm; 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/340 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm; 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|L x W x H:||186.3 in x 85.6 in x 65.6 in|
|Weight:||3,913 lb (20d); 4,015 lb (35t and S)|
|0-60 MPH:||8.2 sec (20d); 5.4 sec (35t); 5.1 sec (S)|
|Top Speed:||129 mph (20d); 155 mph (35t and S)|