The Feral Cat with Brawn
Jaguar is making a bold move with the F-Pace. It enters territory that is seen as the natural space of Range Rover, but it is trying to do this without treading on claws. We drive the F-Pace on the roads of Montenegro
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Supplied
It isn’t as if the place is unknown. We’re of course referring to Montenegro, the venue for the latest global launch from Jaguar. From our school days we knew that the new republic was one of the footnote constituents of the old Yugoslavia. And landing in a small airfield near Kotor bay, the kick-off point for our drive, did nothing to change our perception of the country. After all, in how many places in the world can you walk off an aircraft into a limousine and drive off without the smallest customs formalities or indeed of immigration – only our passports were needed, not us.
But that’s not to put down Montenegro. If anything, we rather liked the quaintness and lack of suspicion and definitely fell in love with the scenery. For reference, remember the newer of James Bond’s Casino Royale movies? It was filmed here.
So what were we doing in the grand film set of the Bond movie, with a brand that prefers to be seen as the bad guy’s choice?
The vehicle in question is the new Jaguar F-Pace, a move into the premium crossover segment that has been built up over the past year, with events including a loop-the-loop on the shores of the Thames with the car.
The Jaguar F-Pace does use a lot of the synergies of having the expert 4WD team inhouse. But the story begins a little before that. For one, it is the ideal move into the crossover territory for the brand, building on the floorpan and platform of the brand new XE and XF, a platform that had been designed for this move in the first place. Body construction is solidly aluminium and alloy based, although, as engineers inform us the door panels are still steel (purportedly for weight balance although we do think that it may also have something to do with side intrusion requirements).
“We designed the all-new F-PACE to be first and foremost a Jaguar. That’s why it has exciting proportions, a dynamic stance, pure surfaces and a beautiful sensuality about it. Its progressive, purposeful appearance has clearly been influenced by the F-TYPE.
“Every Jaguar should draw your eye from 200 metres away and I believe the all-new F-PACE’s presence on the road is second to none in this class. The Lightweight Aluminium Architecture gave us the design freedom to create a car with latent poise – a svelte car with attitude.
“It looks assertive yet not aggressive. But it’s also versatile and equipped with real-world answers to everyday questions. The all-new F-PACE is an all-weather, all-surface Jaguar sports car, life-proofed for five people and their belongings.”
This quote was voiced to us at the event and is part of the press kit and is attributed to Ian Callum, Director of Design, Jaguar.
It serves as a good nodal point to analyse what’s happened to the design story. There are large sweeping references to the broader Jaguar visual identity, including the air intake on the fenders and the grille treatment. Even the lights look very familiar from the sedans and the F-type does serve as the inspiration for some of the styling. But it’s very much a story of getting the basic proportions right in the first place.
So the F-Pace carries the aggressive grille, longish bonnet, A-pillar that sits well back of the front axle and a good match up of front and rear overhangs, while offering a profile that is almost shooting brake like along with a beltline that rises towards the rear. You aren’t going to mistake the F-Pace for any Land Rover or Range Rover.
As for the interiors, there has been a huge move towards making the car a tech hub, which we will see migrating to other Jaguar models too. The transmission controller is still the rotary knob, but the crossover doesn’t get the terrain selector of the hardcore SUVs. Instead, all the dirty work is done through a rather simple toggle of Normal, Dynamic or Adaptive Surface Response settings from a transom mounted selector. The 3.0-litre supercharged engines that the car gets for the region are no slouches.
Rated in at either 340 or 380PS, the 90 degree V6 arrangement accommodates a Roots type supercharger in the V. Pick up is rather dramatic on the straights with the more powerful unit claimed to hit 100km/h in only 5.1 seconds. But that does not mean that you’ll feel it right when you need it as we found out a few times when overtaking on the small two lane roads that Montenegro uses instead of highways. You are forced to dip in to the paddle shift and moved down to add to the boost and the engine responds nicely. It’s at times like this that you have to remind yourself this is a Jaguar crossover, not a car.
Of course, with the powerful engine, torque distribution becomes an artform. The movement of power between the axles begins with the standard mode of all power to the rear. Jaguar tells us that their reaction time for a shift is as low as 165 milliseconds. That is the time it takes to change from all to the rear axle to a 50:50 distribution. That’s how long it takes some performance gearboxes to shift a gear up or down. That’s quick!
Now, combine that ability to move power and torque around with the controller behind Adaptive Surface Response.
What this does is move the logic behind Terrain response with its fixed and selectable settings for power delivery to something that’s a lot more analogue in the way it reacts. The whole idea is to let the car feel its way across poor terrain. To add to the pleasure and to make sure that the driver doesn’t spoil the show by unnecessarily giving some power when he shouldn’t, the system allows the driver to select a crawl speed (linked rather oddly to first triggering the hill descent control and then toggling ahead). It’s called All Surface Progress Control. Once set, the car can comfortably climb a rather muddy and slippery hill slope, even moving itself over obstacles like stones and small bushes, all the while ensuring that wheel spin is minimised and torque delivery maximised. We are rather curious to find out how the vehicle will do in deep sand. While ride response is controlled dynamically as well, there is no ride height control aka air springs.
Again, we will put that down to the rather conscious decision of keeping the F-Pace distinct from the Range Rover goodies.
In many respects, we believe that it will be the technology package that will differentiate this crossover from anything else in the market. And the fact that it is a Jaguar. At the heart of the tech package is a system called InControl that quite literally puts you in control.
What it has done is migrate the ownership and control of your car almost into the ‘cloud’ as the tech guys like to say. For instance, you can download the relevant apps to your phone that allow you to plot a driving route in advance and send it to your car. Once you are in the car, the navigation takes you on the route and your system allows you to inform people of not only where you are, but whether you will be delayed for any reason. That’s just one of the examples. The other is an available activity band that doubles up as the key for the car. It’s very handy when you go swimming or surfing – just leave your key in the car along with all your other valuables and then lock the car by tapping the band against the J of Jaguar on the tailgate. When you come back, press the boot release and tap it on J once again and lo presto the car unlocks. We don’t yet have an answer for what happens if the band shorts out or gets lost in the surf. The system also offers almost natural voice control if you don’t want to use Siri and learns your usage patterns.
Jaguar like in its growl and pick up, the car’s combination of 380PS on tap, a very rev happy engine and the ZF 8HP70 8-speed gearbox makes for one happy driver. With dry weight starting off at just above 1820kgs for the 3.0-litre petrol engine car, pick up is nifty though not overly dramatic, while steering feel is very direct, using a traditional electromechanical system. That helped a lot on the really twisty sections of the two-lane road we drove over, with the car responding well to the Dynamic mode setting. Weight balance is good, although under braking the car feels like it understeers just a little. The engineers have done a good job of minimising the unsprung mass.
The car offers torque vectoring and you feel the car actually adding in to your effort to hold the path. In fact the path was so tight on occasion that we had to switch on the 360 degree view cameras to figure out if we had any leeway. Perfect choice of driving environment, although not helped by the presence of inclement weather.
It’s not a tough call at all. If you look at the premium Crossover market, you already know what the competition is like for a 5-seater highly agile unit with the right badge and features. And then look at the engines on offer, with either of the 3.0-litre supercharged units putting out more power than most competition. It is pegged directly against the Audi A5 and Porsche Macan, although is is slightly larger than the two. And it comes with a price tag that makes for a really compelling argument in its favour.
But it is the technological package that combines with the performance one to really set the F-Pace apart. The car’s systems integrate well with your lifestyle and offer a means to carry it over into the automotive sphere. Nerdy driving at its best.