Review: Jaguar's first SUV is a classy contender

F-Pace is Jaguar's first SUV and has been getting rave reviews and other clichés. Its other established rivals are the Land Rover Discovery Sport, BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5, Porsche Macan and, the only one I haven't driven, the Mercedes-Benz GLC. It is a tough field.

From outside the 2-litre engine sounded coarse and a car as good looking as the Jaguar F-Pace deserves better
From outside the 2-litre engine sounded coarse and a car as good looking as the Jaguar F-Pace deserves better

The Discovery Sport comes from the same stable as the Jaguar but the Jag is based on the brand’s saloon cars, with plenty of aluminium and the all-wheel-drive system fitted to most versions is bespoke. The other versions are rear-wheel-drive and the platform will be used for a new medium-sized Range Rover.

Prices start at £34,170 for the Prestige with the 2-litre four-cylinder 178bhp JLR four-cylinder diesel and manual gears. The AWD version is £36,110, or £37,860 with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. At the top of the tree are the supercharged 375bhp petrol model and a 296bhp high-torque V6 diesel, both 3-litre V6 AWD automatics, both from £51,450.

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By the time my invitation to the launch in Montenegro arrived I’d made other plans. I gather the hotel was to die for and the hairpins never-ending and the car acquitted itself on unsurfaced tracks. So to now, and the dark blue F-Pace has just been collected. From outside the 2-litre diesel sounded coarse. A car this good looking deserves better.

Those looks are why you’ll want to buy this car. It is better than the XF estate, which it replaces and was not quite “right” at the back. The F-Pace hits every mark, from the big fat face to an elegant sloping tail with F-Type lights and references to Evoque, Macan and Disco Sport.

Inside the car is a Jaguar, well made, neatly stitched, almost free of hard synthetics. It seats five, with a cabin width of 59 inches allowing three adults to be reasonably comfy in the back. Behind, there’s adequate space for luggage, on a false floor over storage compartments and, in the depths, the battery. A space saver spare wheel is an option. The seats fold away almost flat but without the convenience of trip levers inside the boot. You do get a powered tailgate, powered leather seats, navigation with smart apps, wi-fi – all on the entry-level Prestige model.

I have read that the F-Pace corners like a cat (I paraphrase) and it does handle well in the bends, suiting the “I’m in front” male characters who buy such cars. Women drivers are more restrained, enjoying the cruise.

Well, trying to wear both hats, so to speak, I did a bit of this and a bit of that with the Jag. I carried half a dozen bags of logs which made it less than cat-like and affected its composure. Self-levelling suspension is not offered.

My test car was the 2-litre diesel in Portfolio trim which brings AWD and auto gears and costs £42,860. Check the opposition and you’ll see such prices are par for the breed. For reasons I would not choose, it had 20 inch wheels (£800) instead of the standard 19s and appropriate wide 50 aspect tyres which may have had something to do with the travel comfort, which was disappointing. It was far from quiet, rather too firm, took more than its share of jolts and left me wanting more refinement.

This is an offset for the sporty handling which is de rigueur in SUV land and will be more vital for the V6 models. The bulk of the range uses the four-cylinder diesel and you can have the tailgate badges removed – but the single pair of exhaust pipes are tell-tales under scrutiny at the Camshaft Arms.

Performance is not at all shabby and it combines decent acceleration and economy. You can select engine response – from hot to normal to snow. It also has surface sensing (only with the automatic gears) which is a low-speed traction control system for slippery conditions.

The official 0-62mph time is 8.7 seconds (0-60 in 8.2) with a 129mph max. Combined MPG is 53.3 with 139g of C02. It’s a decent set of figures. In real life these things change and a gentle trip returned 39mpg while my standard commuter drive over mixed routes showed 43mpg. Even I could afford to run one.

Life with it would be fine but it’s bigger than I need and takes up most of the typical parking bay. A 360-degree parking “aid” (£780) and auto-parking (£450) can help these judgments.

Storage areas include a large locking gloves box, large door pockets, a flip-top box between the seats and handy trays each side of the gearshift housing.

The latest navigation system has improved graphics but I am not a fan of touchscreen when driving: however, the voice control recognised my commands every time.

Verdict: Class contender, classy full stop.