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Jaguar F-PACEJaguar's first SUV snarls like a beast - and drives like a Jag

By Jim Bray
November 17, 2016

Jaguar's first entry into the popular SUV/Crossover market is a really nice vehicle, if my brief test drive recently is any indication.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

The new for 2017 vehicle came into my possession for three days a couple of weeks ago; it would have been a full week but family emergencies cut short my time with it, much to my chagrin because I really liked the new Jag. The F-PACE goes head to with such competitors as the Porsche Macan, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC, Lexus RX, etc. etc. etc.

It's a crowded niche made up of very nice machines but I have a feeling Jaguar will do just fine. This is one of the sportiest-looking and feeling of the vehicles I've driven in the niche, and it emits the greatest sound from its twin exhausts. I kid not you; if an F-PACE pulls away from you, you'll know it's there - and gone!

Jaguar Canada's sample F-PACE, a vehicle the company's website says starts at $50,900 Canadian, was the R Sport version, which starts at $59,900.

Two engine choices are available. There's a two litre, four cylinder diesel Jaguar says puts out 180 hp @ 4,000 rpm and 318 lb.-ft. of torque that I suspect will be more than sufficient and will also return good fuel economy. The engine of choice for the lead-footed who don't mind paying for premium petrol is the three litre supercharged V6 that puts out 340 hp @ 6,500 rpm and 332 lb.-ft. from 3,550-5,000 rpm; another version puts out 380/332 horses/torque.

The Jaguar sample had the 340 horse version - the same engine I tried earlier in the year when I drove the XF to the Indy 500 - and it's a peach. Power is available the instant you slap the fun pedal floorward and it doesn't let up until prudence prods its presence into your psyche.

All of the F-PACE's in Canada get their power to all four wheels through an eight speed ZF automatic with paddles. It's a wonderful transmission, with quick and smooth shifts that seem nearly psychic.

Part of the vehicle's sporty demeanour is undoubtedly due to Jaguar's extensive use of aluminum to help keep weight down. It's still no Miata, of course, but the vehicle is very eager to leap at your commands. And despite it being an SUV, it's definitely a driver's vehicle. The steering, which is powered electrically, feels fine and the all-wheel drive handling on the roads I tried (which, alas, were mostly straight and level, though I found a few interesting asphalt areas) was exemplary.

I'm no Jag expert, but the F-PACE drives and feels like I imagine a Jaguar should. And isn't that just how it should be? I preferred dynamic mode, which tightens things up nicely, but even in its "wallow mode" it's pretty tight, definitely falling on the sporty side of the ledger - but not without giving you a wonderfully classy place to be.

The exterior is terrific. It takes the front end treatment that's shared across the Jaguar line (except for the gorgeous F-Type), adds about the sexiest flanks on an SUV today (except for, perhaps, the Macan), and ends in the rear with a treatment that's also reminiscent of the current Jag line - including, this time, the gorgeous F-Type. My tester was in "Ultimate Black" ($650) and it looked very classy, but another journalist attending the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest had one painted in Italian Red ($650), and like the XE I saw at its Calgary debut a few months ago (and fell in love with instantly), that red does something really special for the vehicle's look.

Of course it's also a lot less subtle, so if you opt for the red, you might want to check out radar detector prices and legality in your area.

There's also a really nice Dark Sapphire Blue and even British Racing Green!

The interior also continues current Jaguar design themes, which means it's luxurious, classy, comfortable, and mostly efficient. I missed the cool LCD instrument panel the sample XF had, but the conventional panel is laid out well and is clear and efficient - it just doesn't have the customization or "gee whiz" coolness of the LCD.

It might take North American drivers a bit to get onto the right-mounted audio system volume control on the centre stack - undoubtedly a tip of the hat (or lazy design) to its right hand drive British origins. Fortunately, the steering wheel has all the usual controls, including volume, so this isn't really an issue (though the wheel's kind of busy and might take a bit to get onto).

Jaguars' centre stack infotainment system has been berated elsewhere but up until this F-PACE I'd never had an issue with it. This one may have had a gremlin in it, however; oh, it worked fine most of the time, except for one instance, and it's easy to fathom if you're at all up to speed with such systems. And the Meridian audio system is also a fine one.

But the navigation system took forever to load and its performance was a tad weird. I was commuting from Ajax, Ontario to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park north of Bowmanville, about a 40 minute drive each way. Someone had already programmed the destination into the nav system, so I just selected that and it guided me there without issue, along the same route I'd used last year.

The next day, I repeated the process - entering the same destination into the same nav system from the same starting point - yet the Jag wanted to take me off the highway far earlier than it did the previous day. I gave it its head and let it guide me (maybe it had found a quicker route?), but after a few minutes it was clear that the system was lost (it had taken me into the middle of construction) so I shut it off and followed my own nose which, fortunately, was running - just slightly ahead of the F-PACE.

I've never had a nav system do that to me before, even when I've tried deliberately to confuse them. Usually, they either recalculate the route based on where I'm going or they freak out and demand I make a legal U turn as soon as possible. But I've never had one deliberately take me off its own route!

Weird. At least it gave me an opportunity to gaze at strange new lands through its lovely sliding panoramic sunroof.

And that was my only issue with the F-PACE other than the fact I had to give it back.

Jaguar's sample also came with nearly 10 grand worth of options, some of which I could live without. Chief among these is the heated windshield, which inflicts a screen of tiny wires on the view outside. You may not notice it right off the bat, but once it gets dark you'll notice how it adds a diffused effect to other vehicles' lights, streetlights, etc., that I find very annoying. And once you notice the wires, they're always there in the corner of your eye, which is distracting.

Perhaps I have a strange attention span, but I've noticed this with each such heated windshield that I've experienced. It's a relatively cheap option - only 400 bucks, which is chicken feed at this level of the market - but 400 bucks would buy several cases of beer instead. Or a few tanks of premium gasoline!

The sample also had the $1,900 Comfort & Convenience Package, which gives you heated/cooled front seats and heated rear seats, electrically reclining rear seats, rear seat remote release levers (for folding them down from the tailgate) and a tailgate that opens at your gesture. Well, not every gesture. I had a gesture for it after it tried getting me lost but it ignored it completely.

Maybe it was a defense mechanism.

Gloss black roof rails added $250 to the tally, while the driver assistance package (Surround Camera System, Park Assist, 360 degree Parking Aid, Traffic Sign Recognition and Adaptive Speed Limiter, Adaptive Cruise Control) added $3,100. The lovely 20 inch Blade five spoke grey wheels cost $500, and the SD card for the "navigation" system wasted another $800.

There are also Luxury Interior ($2,150), Adaptive Dynamics (only $1,000!), Black R Sport ($500) and Technology ($3,100) packages available.

Jaguar's F-PACE is a very worthy entry into this marketplace niche. I'm not sure why Jaguar thought it necessary to jump in, since as a stablemate of Land Rover and Range Rover they already make a number of honoured SUV/Crossovers, but I'm glad they did: if it were my money I'd probably choose the F-PACE over the Land/Ranger Rovers if only for its sexier design and more sporting mien.

I guess maybe the folks at Jaguar know what they're doing.

Copyright 2016 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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