The joke goes that if you drive an ugly car, you aren’t aware of it because you can’t see its exterior from behind the steering wheel. So what should be said about the interior?
For me, an inadequate-quality interior is totally off-putting. To be clear, I enjoy the absolute frugality of the Dacia Duster interior, a low-cost SUV that has been successful around the world, but unfortunately hasn’t been made available in the U.S. through partner Nissan. That vehicle’s hard plastics and simple but robust shapes are perfectly adequate for a tough and new little truck priced at around $12,000.
However, it’s a completely different story for premium cars. Interior quality is one of the most critical differentiating factors when it comes to high-priced automobiles. Audi, for example, really gets this. Its standard-setting interiors utilize excellent materials and their top-notch fit and finish have been crucial to Audi’s transformation into a top-ranked premium brand.
Volvo appears to be taking the same path, with the high-tech and very Scandinavian interior for its new 90 series sedan, wagon and CUV. Looking at the sales numbers and the rave reviews, it appears to be paying off.
That trend makes Jaguar’s design decisions all the more puzzling. The British luxury brand is doing many things right: The cars drive very well, the engines make the right type of growl and the design language is sporty and sensual. The F-Type is one of the most beautiful cars on the road today. And while a little more courage was needed for the shapes of the XE and second-generation XF, they still are pretty sleek.
The Jaguar F-Pace CUV follows a similar recipe: a gorgeous exterior, with delightful proportions and detailing, precise handling, a great engine with a fierce sound and a spacious interior.
So, what is not to like? The F-Pace interior’s is filled with cheap-looking black plastic. The inner door panels and handles look as if they were made from the same hard and black material used in the Dacia Duster. The dashboard fascia, created from a combination of soft and very hard plastics, suffers from low detailing and simplistic shapes.
What is totally adequate for a less-expensive car becomes annoying in a luxury automobile. While pricier versions of the F-Pace, such as the R Sport and S offer upscale interiors with stitched-leather on the dash, console and doors and custom-color trim, more midlevel editions feel cheap.
Even in some of the high-line versions, you will see some of the same hard, cheap plastics for the door handles, as well as on the lower doors and around the bins. My experience is with a midlevel Prestige 2.0 D F-Pace, which retails in the European market for about €55,000 ($62,000). In this version, there was no stitched leather and plenty of hard plastic. For that kind of money it is very disappointing.
These material and detailing decisions can become such a turnoff it affects consumer buying decisions. I know, because it affected mine, and it is a shame because the car looks awesome from the outside and drives very well, at least in the European versions I’ve tried.
Jaguar is banking on the great exterior design and sporty growl to sell a lot of F-Paces, and indeed it probably will. But what if the automaker spent just a little more on the interior design, materials and electronics to make the F-Pace adhere to the standards of its class? I think the car might have landed at the top of the sales charts, right where it belongs.
I still have hope Jaguar will step up F-Pace interior quality at some point in its lifecycle, but I still wish it could have gotten it right the first time.
Theo Nissim is CEO at Silicon Valley-based software consulting company Gemini Solutions and an avid auto enthusiast.