GAME-changing new cars are few and far between but the Jaguar F-PACE is one of them
Jaguar has never had an SUV until now despite its long association with Land Rover when the familiar off-road brand was left to concentrate on the luxury 4x4 market while Jaguar made the luxury saloon, sports and estate models.
Now the gloves are off and the Jaguar F-PACE will not only be competing with its familiar cousins behind the Land Rover badge but a host of more established SUVs from German rivals.
The outcome is going to be very interesting.
Jaguar has carefully pitched the F-PACE against alternatives with 12 models, 2WD or 4WD powertrains and four trim levels from about £40,500 to £65,800 and using 180ps 2.0-litre and 300ps 3.0 turbo-diesel or a 380ps 3.0-litre petrol engine and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.
Options on our car came in at more than £4,000 and included 20-inch alloys, fixed panoramic roof, privacy glass and Jaguar's activity key - a weatherproof fob which can be used to secure the vehicle while out in the wilds.
Careful design and engineering has kept down the weight to under 1,800 KG and the 180ps 2.0 engine and eight speed auto box actually pull it along very well once it's underway although it's acceleration from standstill is not that sharp.
It is through the gears and when cruising that you appreciate the choice of gear ratios, with very smooth changes through the box, up or down, and a particularly composed character at motorway speed.
This also means it is economical for big five-seater car with a cargo capacity of 650 litres and rising to 1740 litres maximum. We never went below 40mpg and even touched 45mpg at times.
The refinement of the powertrain was matched with the powerful brakes and feedback through the steering.
The adjustment on the front seats was good in contrast but I and a couple of passengers found their shape not good as well as being hard and not what we expected in a Jaguar.
There was a lot of room for five inside the F-PACE with good access throughout and the large fifth-door and sensible loadspace with its 40/20/40 split backrest was versatile.
Up front the driver has a compact instruments' pod with multi-function display available and a larger screen for infotainment sources and navigation, on the centre console which also carried minor switchgear. Buttons on the spokes and stalks were all well placed to use.
Heating and ventilation was comprehensive, simple and effective and I liked the very long panoramic roof with its electric blind which transformed to give the closed car an ‘open' feel.
Oddments room was reasonable but not exceptional for a family car with rear seat pockets, a small bin on the console, trays to the front and sides of the console and in the doors, as well as a traditional a glovebox.
For the driver, forward and side vision was very good because you sit up high but over the shoulder and reversing was very different with large blindspots which would have been helped by a camera at this price and not just reversing sensors.
Wipers were very effective front and on the slim back window and headlights were far reaching but did not seem to have a very broad-spread beam.
Thanks to the high driving position you get a good view of the road ahead and can anticipate traffic and overtaking opportunities to make the most of the available power.
The Jaguar F-PACE was a responsive car with a choice of economy, normal or dynamic driving modes easily selected from the console buttons producing noticeable differences in performance, and you have up and down shift paddles on the column for convenience.
Initially, the F-PACE did not feel agile but with familiarity my impression changed and it was sharper than I first thought, with excellent feedback and roadholding through the AWD transmission.
The optional big wheels and tyres looked fantastic but the ride was very jiggly at times, even bumpy sometimes, and always very noisy on all but the smoothest new Tarmac. If thinking of an F-PACE, it would be worth test driving a model with standard rubberware.
The Jaguar F-PACE embodies what you expect from the marque, stunning looks, sophistication and room with easy power delivery, but it is a new-boy in an established class and it is always going to be difficult to make an impression.