Jaguar sets the pace

Not since the glory days of the E-Type has a Jaguar sold as fast as the F-Pace. Michael Ryan tests the feral new SUV.

It’s a thing AMONG Jaguar enthusiasts to constantly try to anoint a successor to the E-Type, considered by many — including Enzo Ferrari himself — the most beautiful car ever made. A complete break from the automotive stodginess of the early 1960s, the E-Type (left) came to symbolise the decade, becoming the car of choice of pop stars and footballers as well as the British upper classes.

In 1960’s parlance, the E-Type was the car that made Jaguar the hip, iconic British maker of luxury saloons and sports cars.

An early nomination for its successor was the XJS. But although it immediately followed the E-Type and reinforced Jaguar’s roots of making sporty luxury cruisers, it never quite repeated the success, and neither did the next two decades’ worth of XJ variants which followed.

Jaguar then went for something with a wider appeal when it produced the X-Type under new owners Ford in 2001, but it was a disaster. The New York Times called it the worst car of the decade, primarily because it had a retro shape that harked back to the old XJ saloons but was full of “commoner” Ford Mondeo parts, kind of like a faux Jaguar.

But just as things were getting desperate, Aston Martin’s former chief designer Ian Callum joined Jaguar as design director, and not long after the Indian corporation Tata bought the Jaguar Land Rover division from Ford and provided more development funds. The Jaguars that followed immediately started looking the part once again.

In 2013, Callum’s stunning F-Type sports coupe was declared the “spiritual successor” to the E-Type. We were so thrilled that we reviewed the convertible for the Fitness First mag, discovering that on the Hume Highway and Bowral streets, nothing turned heads like the F-Type.

But was it really the spiritual successor to the E-Type? Maybe as far as the design and desirability went, but not as far as nailing the zeitgeist or mood of the times. The Jaguar that’s managed to do that, instead, comes from a surprising quarter: the SUV division.

The F-Pace may not be a direct descendant of the E-Type, but the people and the critics love it. Not only has the F-Pace become Jaguar’s biggest selling car in Australia and around the world, it’s also just won the 2017 World Car of the Year and World Car Design Award. It’s the first British car to do so since the awards started in 2003.

Jaguar produced the F-Pace because it bowed to the inevitable. With competitors such as BMW and Mercedes raking in billions from sales of SUVs introduced a decade before, Jaguar knew it had to make an SUV eventually. Sure, it was going to be late to the market, but it had a secret weapon: Ian Callum.

As sales of the F-Pace now go through the roof, critics and buyers are saying the same thing: they love the car’s looks. The predator headlights, long bulging bonnet, swept back cabin and low roofline that drops into a gluteal but short rear hang suggest a wild animal, a cat gone feral — great for fast runs to the Yarra or Kangaroo Valley when not dropping the children off at school. The F-Pace’s appearance makes SUVs from Audi, BMW and Mercedes look more sedate, and buyers are responding.

The F-Pace’s size also breaks with convention. Although the cabin is that of a five seater like a mid-size SUV’s, the boot space is more like that of big 4WD, such as a BMW X5 or Audi Q7. In fact, Jaguar has created an in-between category, in which the long bonnet and length make the F-Pace feel bigger than it actually is, which leads it to look more dominant and imposing than, say, a Porsche Macan or BMW X3 or X4, which are its true competitors.

This serves it well in the performance and handling departments as well. At 1,775kg the big Jag is nearly 300kgs lighter than a BMW X5. Throw in an all-wheel drive system and it just doesn’t feel heavy under acceleration or cornering, like you’d expect of an SUV of its size.

The only place where you feel the F-Pace’s weight is under braking, where physics stipulate that you can’t make an SUV’s mass disappear easily unless you have humongous brakes (the Jag has ventilated 350mm front discs with four piston fixed calipers and 325mm rear solid discs with single piston floating calipers but for the look and feel we would have preferred larger 6 piston calipers).

We tested the F-Pace S (30d) 3L turbo-diesel version. This is one of the F-Pace’s top-selling models because it combines the economy of a diesel with plenty of power (221kW) and class-leading torque (700Nm) that deliver surging acceleration in the mid and top ranges. It makes the SUV feel fast in a kind of effortless, elegant way, like a big Jag should. We were also delighted that it exhibits very little turbo lag off the line, its 0-100km/h of 6.2 seconds putting it among the quicker SUVs.

When we unleashed the F-Pace on a driver training track in St Ives, Sydney, our experience and that of a former Aston Martin test driver’s who also pushed the Jag hard around the circuit, was that the F-Pace showed excellent behaviour in sharp corners and bends. That’s largely because its all-wheel drive, which normally feeds 90% of the torque to the back wheels, distributes it more evenly in corners, meaning you can accelerate nicely out of one without the drama of too much power going to the back wheels.

Jaguar calls this Intelligent Driveline Dynamics (IDD). What’s unusual about IDD is that it’s predictive rather than reactive. If it calculates that grip will be lost, it preemptively shifts torque to the wheels that have better traction to help you retain control of the car.

In terms of roadholding and handling, the F-Pace is surprisingly in a similar league to the Porsche Cayenne we reviewed in the last issue.

But if we’re going to use the Cayenne as a yardstick, then there’s a couple of places in which the F-Pace lags behind. One is in the brakes, which feel soft at first until they heat up and start to bite more. The second is the minimalist nature of the cabin, which almost every critic has griped about.

In the F-Pace, the cockpit seems Spartan compared to anything in the Cayenne or BMW X5, for instance. Realistically you would never expect a Jaguar to have the tech-bling of the Germans, but the general expectation was for a bit more old English opulence. While there’s plenty of leather and suede, there’s quite a bit of plastic. Overall, the F-Pace’s cabin is more functional than luxurious. There’s no Apple Play or Android Auto either.

The theory is that the no-fuss cockpit is partly the result of Jaguar keeping many features that would sex it up on the options list, to keep the RRP down.

In the F-Pace S that we tested, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning come as standard, but other little luxuries such as keyless entry, sliding panoramic roof, reverse traffic detection blind spot and monitor, lane keep assist and driver condition monitor — and configurable mood lighting — are options.

While the base price is $103,135, our test car was $130,875 with all the options included.

The F-Pace is on track to become the fastest-selling Jaguar ever, in all markets. People aren’t bothered about the lack of cabin bling; they’re being won over by the overall package: a fast, muscular, practical machine that matches expectations of what a Jaguar should look and feel like.

Photography by Gino Campagnaro
Videography by Matt Grech and Nathan Ford