The world of performance SUVs is rather hotly contested right now so it makes sense for manufacturers to build something special for the segment. A heap of manufacturers have been at it for a while now and so they know what works and what doesn't, they've had time to beef up the spec list and the styling to be more in line with what people want. Then there's the new Jaguar F-PACE, the manufacturer's first attempt at this fast-growing segment.
A first attempt at anything is usually a practice run of sorts, a way to gauge if you're on the right track and if you actually know what you're doing. It rarely happens that the first try at anything is a resounding success, but the folk at Jaguar have done it. The new F-PACE is just brilliant. Brilliant! I know that looks are subjective, but come on, just look at this thing! Have you ever seen a sexier slice of awesomeness? I haven't. In every trim level on offer the F-PACE just looks good, not many other manufacturers have managed that, well not to me anyway. The way the F-PACE has been styled, it looks like a bigger, beefier twin of the F-Type, the family genes are there for all to see. Of course in every model range there's a favourite and that's usually the range-topper, but with the F-PACE it's a hard choice between the 3.0 V6 turbodiesel and the supercharged 3.0 V6 petrol. That said, I think if my numbers lined up and lotto win came my way, the supercharged F-PACE would parked among my planned collection in my newly built 15 car garage...
I kicked off my sampling of the range in the 4-pot 2.0 turbodiesel. Sure it's at the bottom of the rung, but the model was very well specced with just about all of the options ticked. This put it a lot closer to the two V6 models, but of course power-wise it wasn't near what they make. The two variants on offer (Pure and R-Sport) produce 132kW and 430Nm and have a brilliant 8-speed auto 'box. The drive is typically Jaguar, smooth and comfortable. The 2.0 turbodiesel is a little noisier than the bigger brother version but not so much so that it's a distraction. Power is delivered nice and linear and it has more than enough go. To enter the F-Pace family you'll need to budget R778 996 for the Pure and R871 226 for the R-Sport.
The next F-PACE driven was the 3.0 V6 turbodiesel. Interior trim levels were the same - just brilliant, but the drive, well that was something else. It has the same 8-speed 'box in the mix, which is again, flawless and was never found hunting for gears, it was always on point. The engine used is my new favourite turbodiesel, but you can't blame me. It produces a pretty healthy 221kW which is par for the course with turbodiesel lumps of this capacity, but it's the torque on tap that is a revelation. Jaguar have fettled with the motor to give it a monstrous 700Nm. SEVEN HUNDRED! On a few steep uphills I mashed the accelerator flat and the F-PACE kicked down a few gears and proceeded to accelerate as if it was a downhill. I then found a hill and used the manual mode on the 'box to get it into 8th. I slowly added throttle to see how the 700Nm managed without making the 'box kick down a gear or two. Again, the large SUV started racking up the numbers on the speedo. You could tow a boat, a caravan and 5 trailers behind the F-PACE and all you'd notice is heavier fuel consumption. There's four spec options for the 3.0 turbodiesel if you'd like to own the best diesel lump I've ever had the pleasure or using. The Pure will set you back R942 646, the R-Sport is R1 034 846, the S is R1 099 646 and the limited edition First Edition is priced at R1 222 546.
Stepping up to the top rung (depending on if you're a petrol or diesel fan - I'm the former) you'll find the supercharged 3.0 V6 petrol version. On a spec level, with all the options ticked, the petrol version is on par with the daddy turbodiesel. Inside the cabin it's the same - amazing fit and finish with all the tech gadgets a modern range-topper should have, but under the hood there are two power options running over four models. There's the 250kW Pure at R992 846, the 250kW R-Sport at R1 085 046, the 280kW S at R1 201 426 and lastly the limited edition First Edition at R1 331 146. I was lucky enough to spend a day in the S with a growling, angry 280kW to play with. It does feel more rapid than the 700Nm diesel, but having that insane exhaust note helps a lot to give the impression of a much more powerful drive. The 250kW version makes 450Nm and the 280kW version makes 460Nm.
Driving the petrol S was a pleasure. Even at just shy of two tons, the power available allows the F-PACE to hit the benchmark 100km/h speed in just 5.5-seconds, that's pretty damn quick. Incidentally, the performance specs are the same for the V6 turbodiesel and it also feels pretty damn good, which is why choosing between the two is not easy. For me the petrol is the winner because at the peak revs of 6500, the soundtrack from the twin exhausts is pure aural pleasure. I found myself mashing the loud pedal over and over with the windows down so that I could hear the Jaguar growl. I'm sure that's not good for consumption, but the smile you get is well worth it.
Something else that Jaguar have managed to do is make the F-PACE feel like a car and not a large SUV. If I chucked you in the car blindfolded and took you around a racetrack for a few laps you'd swear you were in a sportscar made for the task at hand. This is down to the F-PACE being an all-new car from the ground up instead of sharing a platform with other Jaguars in the range. It doesn't simply do what it's capable of, it's been purposely built to do the things it does. Being an SUV you also expect the F-PACE to be able to work off the tarmac, and it does. It soaks up corrugated sand roads with ease and has enough ground clearance to traverse minor objects. The four-wheel drive system in the F-PACE is amazing, the tests we did to show how well the system works to transfer power to a single wheel really boggled the mind. The F-PACE doesn't pretend to be an offroader though, it's not made for that task, but can if it has to. For those that want something more dedicated to that lifestyle there are plenty options available from sister brand Land Rover.
On the tech front, the F-PACE is quite literally jam-packed. From the different driving modes to the stellar infotainment system and screens (some options, some not) there is enough to get keep you busy setting up the car to your liking for a week. The Jaguar InControl Touch and InControl Touch Pro systems don't leave anything to be desired, of course those with the former will wish they optioned the latter, but that doesn't mean the system won't cater for most of your needs.
On all the models I drove, the InControl Touch Pro was present. It's the most advanced infotainment system to be offered up by the manufacturer to date. It features a quadcore processor, a high-speed 60GB solid-state drive (with the nav pre-loaded) and an ultra-fast Ethernet network - all headed up by a large (the largest in segment), button-free 10.2-inch touchscreen. Everything can be customised to your specific taste. For audiophiles, InControl Touch Pro offers a choice of two digital audio systems developed by Meridian, one of which is a brilliant 825w, 17-speaker surround sound system. It bangs! With 60GB of storage you can have loads (all) of your music with you on every drive. Functions like ‘Play more like this’ automatically compiles playlists and Music Queue, that makes searching through your library a breeze give it some great functionality.
The best part about the new Jaguar F-PACE is that it's the first SUV from the brand and that means future models will be even better - if that's possible. It ticks all the right boxes for someone buying in this segment - Styling, options, engine choice and feature-rich. At the pricing versus the competition, it's a great offering from Jaguar, but one thing the other brands don't have is that perception that when you drive a Jaguar, you've officially made it. This really is the best of British.
For more info head on over to the Jaguar SA website.