SVETI STEFAN, Montenegro – Jaguar is at a crossroads and its all-new F-Pace is in the crosshairs, but if our recent test drive is any indication, the British luxury brand’s first-ever CUV is right on target.
The ’17 F-Pace breaks with Jaguar’s long tradition of selling sports cars, coupes and sedans, many of which hold iconic status in the automotive pantheon for their styling if not their mechanical stoutness.
With the F-Pace, Jaguar seeks to rewrite that legacy by producing a sporty and utilitarian vehicle that, like the Porsche-saving Cayenne SUV that preceded it, can substantially grow the company’s portfolio and its revenue.
Joe Eberhardt, president and CEO-Jaguar Land Rover North America, says even with a $5 billion annual infusion of development funding since 2008 when Indian parent company Tata bought the brands from Ford, the automaker needs sales growth to be viable.
Jaguar hopes to double its full-year volume in the U.S. to about 30,000 units with the addition of the F-Pace and the XE entry-luxury sports sedan. Eberhardt says that number, combined with growth on the Land Rover side to 100,000 units annually (from 75,000), makes a strong business case for dealers.
“This is an incredibly important moment for Jaguar,” Eberhardt says during an interview with WardsAuto. “I don’t want to sound dramatic, but if we don’t turn this corner now, I don’t know what will happen.”
Thankfully for Eberhardt and Jaguar, the F-Pace is a strong entry in a market segment slated for substantial growth this year. Jaguar estimates the premium-medium SUV segment in which the F-Pace will sell will grow 50% in the next five years to about 1 million units annually.
WardsAuto data shows the middle-luxury CUV segment has been running at a 12% annual growth clip at least since 2006 and is on track for the same performance this year based on first-quarter results. While sales might soften with the overall automotive market, WardsAuto projects the segment will maintain a steady share of light-vehicle sales at least through 2020.
Joining a hot segment is nothing without a product that represents a good value, something Eberhardt has been working on for the past year in preparation for the F-Pace and XE launches. The F-Pace starts at $40,990, bumps to $43,390 for a midlevel version and tops out at $56,700, not including $995 destination and handling.
By lowering prices, adding standard equipment and providing a Jaguar Elite Care 5-year/60,000-mile (96,561-km) warranty and complimentary service/roadside assistance plan aimed at quelling negative perceptions about quality, the entire Jaguar lineup is more competitive than ever, he says.
“We have done the investment on the product side, so now we need to do everything we can to implement on the marketing side,” Eberhardt says.
Bring on the F-Pace
For Wayne Burgess, production studio design director, the F-Pace represents his first chance to design a Jaguar from a clean sheet rather than replace an existing model. Even then, he drew on the halo F-Type for inspiration, adopting its fast, sporty profile and bulging rear haunches along with the familiar Jaguar grille, the trademark “brow” over the headlamps and the hood’s power dome.
Carefully placed creases and a pinched rear greenhouse help break up height in the F-Pace’s profile view, while the crossbar taillight incorporates a signature element common across Jaguar’s car lineup.
Working in concert with longtime Jaguar development engineer Mike Cross, Burgess says the team was able to design a cockpit that provides the feel of “sitting in the car, rather than on it” without losing the advantages of height and good sightlines inherent in an SUV.
Inside, the F-Pace boasts best-in-class rear knee room and 33.5 cu.-ft. (949 L) of cargo space, and first-in-class power-reclining rear seats. The interior feels spacious and the cargo area cavernous, but the centerpiece of the well-appointed 5-seater is the all-new 10.2-in. (26-cm) InControl Touch Pro display screen and interface that also debuts on the ’17 XF sedan and Range Rover Evoque convertible.
Four years in development by Jaguar and partner Intel, the optional system draws on an Intel Quad-Core processor and a 60-GB solid-state hard drive to power an array of maps, information and entertainment.
Gone are the slow-responding interfaces of previous Jaguar touchscreens, replaced by instantly updating tiles and a touchscreen that can be controlled with tablet-like swipes and pinches to pan and zoom, versus the older system’s touch-specific buttons.
“We’ve been working the last several years to get this right,” says Mehul Shewakramani, senior product development engineer-connected car. “We wanted to get it right – not just put a Band-Aid on the problems. We were painfully aware of the problems.”
Guidance can be projected on the laser head-up display or maps can be transferred to the driver’s 12.3-in. (31-cm) instrument panel. En route to a destination, the system can automatically update others on your estimated arrival time via email or text message.
The audio system paired with the Touch Pro option is an 825-watt, 17-speaker Meridian unit. Jaguar uses its own unique application menu; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support is planned for future integration.
The coup de grace? On the F-Pace, Jaguar introduces Activity Key, a waterproof, shockproof wristband that serves as a key fob to lock and unlock the car to allow an owner to lock the standard key fob inside the car while enjoying outdoor activities.
Attack of the Cat
Credit Cross and the chassis engineers for making sure this out-of-formula Jaguar is true to its sports-car heritage. From the driver’s seat, one feels directly integrated with the machinery and solidly in control, while the front passenger appreciates the cut-out in the side of the center console that provides a perfect knee brace during spirited driving.
Building on the Lightweight Aluminum Architecture developed for the F-Type, the F-Pace uses double-wishbone front and integral-link rear suspension to assure composed handling while maintaining ride comfort. Electrically assisted power steering is predictable and responsive, and especially is sharp in dialed-up Dynamic mode, which also amps up throttle response, transmission and AWD mapping and suspension settings.
Handling is stunning for a tall-riding vehicle. In our drives through the Montenegrin backcountry (including a one-lane, 26-hairpin-turn descent), we toss the CUV into corner after corner without any significant understeer and just a touch of expected oversteer as the F-Pace’s active torque vectoring (borrowed from the F-Type) touches the inner rear brake to transparently correct for any understeer.
The suspension allows very little body roll and dive – frankly, the F-Pace might handle better than the lighter XF sedan. The CUV seems glued to the road and soaks up even the biggest dips and bumps without losing composure, due in part to automatically adjusting shocks. Through it all, the ride is compliant without being too soft and never seems harsh except on rough gravel and in off-road driving.
Brakes are strong and linear in response, without fade at any point in our daylong drive that requires multiple hard stomps to peel off speed into corners.
We drove both the base 2.0L turbodiesel I-4 and the 380-hp supercharged 3.0L gasoline V-6; a 340-hp version of the V-6 also is available. All three engines are mated to 8-speed ZF automatic transmissions driving the wheels through an all-wheel-drive control system borrowed from Land Rover but without some of the sister brand’s more-capable off-road hardware.
Not that the F-Pace is an off-road slouch by any stretch. Drives through varying terrain of this Balkans country – steep inclines, rocky mountain paths and even deep water – are handled with ease. The F-Pace offers 8.4 ins. (213 mm) of ground clearance and can ford water up to 20.7-in. (52- mm) deep.
Power from the uplevel 3.0L V-6 is more than ample to haul this vehicle up to speed (0-60 mph [97 km/h] in 5.1 seconds), but also proves very handy in many tight passing situations where launch in the 50-80 mph (80-129 km/h) range is crucial. Engine noise is minimal with a pleasing exhaust accompaniment on heavy acceleration.
The Ingenium diesel, the base powerplant available later this year, is quiet and equally capable, but gives the F-Pace a more stoic character versus the V-6’s sportier tone.
So now that Britain’s bastion of sports cars is in the utility-vehicle business, where does Jaguar go from here?
Eberhardt won’t discuss the possibility of additional CUV offshoots for the marque, but he dismisses worries that utility vehicles like the F-Pace compromise the prestige of the Jaguar brand.
“It (the F-Pace) still maintains the driving feel of a Jaguar, but with the practicality of an SUV,” Eberhardt says. “We have an opportunity to transform the brand for good. I can see where Jaguar will be 50% SUV/CUV at some point.”
'17 Jaguar F-Pace S Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, 5-door CUV|
|Engine||3.0L DOHC gasoline direct injected supercharged V-6, all-aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||380 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque||332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||84.5 x 89.0|
|Wheelbase||113.1 ins. (2,874 mm)|
|Overall length||186.3 ins. (4,731 mm)|
|Overall width||76.2 ins. (1,936 mm)|
|Overall height||65.6 ins. (1,641 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,015 lbs. (1,821 kg)|
|Base price||$56,700 (not including $995 destination and handling charge)|
|Competition||Audi Q5, BMW X3/X4, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60|
|Sporty Jaguar CUV entry||Another sports-car-only brand lost|
|Should steal a share of lux-CUV sales||Might steal Land Rover sales too|
|Impressive new HMI||Took four years to develop|