Test Drive: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Congratulations Jaguar, you finally took the leap into SUV-hood, and sales have been paying off handsomely ever since. The market was clearly ready for a raised Jaguar with standard all-wheel drive and a practical hatchback body – in a way the market certainly wasn’t a decade ago for the Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon, which also featured all-wheel drive and a practical hatchback, but crashed and burned in the marketplace, along with my upscale Jaguar wagon desires back then.

Pays homage to the beautiful Jaguars of generations past, without straying into outlandishness for simple eyebrow-raising gawk-factor.

Clearly, size matters, and not necessarily only height, but market size as well.

Ten years after the Sportwagon, I found myself ensconced in the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace, a totally dissimilar wagon on stilts, though the tugs I felt on the heartstrings were entirely familiar. Wow, does this cat ever look good, with its slinky cat-eye headlights and impeccably tailored fender curves.

The grille and extra-large air intakes that flank it add a boldness that’s reinforced by its huge 22-inch wheels, while the steeply sloped roof and rear window suggests that sexy styling landed much higher up the priority list for Jaguar (and perhaps F-Type buyers) than cubic-meter-maximizing boxiness.

It tastefully draws attention to itself, whispering in an aristocratic style that pays homage to the beautiful Jaguars of generations past, without straying into outlandishness for simple eyebrow-raising gawk-factor.

Exterior whispers in your ear, interior (almost) sticks a tongue in it

If the seductive styling whispers sweet nothings into your ear, the interior almost sticks a tongue in it – okay, not quite wet and sloppy, but without the romance and artistic panache that one may have expected in a Jaguar interior. Long known for classically styled wood and leather-lined interiors, the inside of an F-Pace is certainly more high-tech business than wood-lined sybaritic pleasure.

Yes, there’s a welcoming heartbeat flash to its lower centre-stack-mounted Start button, the press of which raises the circular gear shifter up to prominence, while powering open the vents. It’s a dramatic effect, and certainly lends to a blue-blooded air of refined luxury inside, but there’s a lot of black in here still, and doesn’t bowl you over with varying colours or textures either.

Unlike most luxury vehicles these days, there’s no central mouse-like controller that spins you into various menus, so most of the main audio, navigation and phone functions are laid out with simple, large hard buttons on the centre console, with the remainder on the touchscreen. There are also many hard buttons on the steering wheel, which thankfully makes it easy to keep your hands on the wheel once all your preferences are set up.

The shifter actually looks and feels like many of these controllers, so if you’re in the market for an F-Pace, be careful if you’re continually switching between this and another German luxury vehicle, or you may find yourself continually reaching unintentionally for the shifter. Some may prefer this lack of interior spinner for mostly touchscreen operations; and even with no controller, it doesn’t look like an explosion at the local car button factory inside.

Gaining access to this interior is also a high-tech adventure if you order the optional “Activity Key”. It resembles a black, Jaguar logo-embossed activity tracker wristband, meant for folks who don’t want to carry their bulky Jag (or other) keys with them if they’re heading out for a hike, or bike ride, or swim – or basically any time you don’t want to carry a large key fob, which is often. It wraps around your wrist, and for a couple hours I walked around with it looking like I was wearing two identical black Fitbits.

With the window open, and the key fob placed inside the door jamb, it took a while for me to figure out the sequence of what had to be done in order to unlock the F-Pace – it doesn’t work in the same way as the key fob. It needs to be placed against the rear badge of the F-Pace, and then it will lock and unlock all the doors. It’s apparently waterproof, so you can go swimming with it as well. Jaguar says the interior key fob is deactivated when the Activity Key is used, so a thief who saw you place the fob in the car can’t just smash a window and take off with it, though presumably they could take the fob.

Some F-Pace owners in their forums love it, but there are also lots of online mentions of it not quite working as planned – perhaps newer owners unused to such unique tech. Without access to a second key fob, I wasn’t one to tempt fate.

Performance a close second to F-Pace appeal; comfort and practicality, not so much

Reflecting the business-like interior, once the F-Pace starts moving, there’s snappy acceleration at the tickle of the accelerator from this particular supercharged V6 S model. This is especially true if you twist that dial one click over to Sport mode, with a checkered flag under the button raising the volume of engine revs and delaying transmission shifts to longer and louder levels.

The 380 hp engine is truly a marvel of fun, helped along by shift paddles that help you finely tune your desired engine note and acceleration – hello, tiny highway merge lanes. But it’s the controlled handling in curves and off-ramps which will truly surprise and impress the enthusiast driver. The F-Pace’s tall body stays resolutely flat until you arrive at bonehead speeds, with enough bolstering in the leather seats that you realize Jaguar engineers paid close attention to driving feel and handling as well.

Comfort, well, that was obviously lower on the priority list. Not space-wise, as there’s plenty of room up front for the driver and passenger, with 14-way adjustability on these front sport seats. But the lovely optional 22-inch turbine wheels came with low-profile performance rubber on them that certainly would not be endorsed by any chiropractic practitioner, though it’s tough to say where the low-pro tires’ harshness starts and the stiff suspension ends.

The ride quality in a second F-Pace I had a chance to briefly drive later with 20-inch tires felt a little less harsh, but Lexus RX customers still wouldn’t call it a creamy ride.

This F-Pace’s supercharged V6 was also hard on the wallet, with fuel efficiency lining up close to the BMW X5 35i, but still at the lower end of the luxury SUV spectrum. Officially, it averages a combined 11.8 L/100km, but in reality the computer reported that I achieved an average much closer to its 13.3 L/100km city figure than its 10.0 highway figure.

For folks looking for more fuel efficiency, the base F-Pace now offers a diesel four-cylinder engine, which is officially rated at a combined 8.1 L/100km, and much closer to best in class. True, this doesn’t offer buyers the same green cred as plug-in versions available from rivals from BMW, Volvo and Porsche, but those rivals are all much pricier than the base F-Pace’s $50,250 starting MSRP, even after provincial green car government rebates.

Practicality-wise, cargo and rear seat space are decent, but much tighter than some rivals, especially in the second row. This was brought home when I tried to fold the rear seats forward, and realized the fronts had to be well up to provide the room for them to fold flat. Taller front seat occupants may wish to bring tall teenagers along for the test drive, just in case.

Much of that room has gone to the cargo hold, which is flat and relatively unobstructed, but still smaller than its Mercedes-Benz GLE and X5 rivals. There’s a practicality price to be paid for beauty, whether you’re talking high-fashion shoes or SUVs.

Beauty and beast, not minivan

In the end, then, Jaguar F-Pace buyers better love its looks, because there are some practicality and comfort penalties involved – some which may be mitigated by careful option picking, but penalties nonetheless. You’re not buying a minivan here, especially in the sportier S – you’re buying a powerful, refined and stylish crossover – but it may be practical enough to consider trading in that beloved X-Type Sportwagon.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace S AWD
Engine Displacement: 3.0L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 380 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Fuel Economy: 13.3/10.0/11.8 L/100km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 508 L
2017 Jaguar F-Pace S AWD
Base Price $66,400
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,375
Price as Tested $79,325
Optional Equipment $11,450 – Comfort and Convenience Package $1,900; Gloss Black Roof Rails $250; Driver Assist Package $3,100; 22-in Turbine 9 Spoke Chrome Wheels $4,000; Heated Front Windscreen $400; Navigation SD Card $800; Metallic Paint $600; Activity Key $400
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
9 Quality
7 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value