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By Ron Sessions | Contributing Editor
Sometimes being late to a party gets one noticed. Now that virtually every car brand on the face of the Earth is in the business of selling sport-utility vehicles, Jaguar is finally joining the party. A Jaguar SUV? Enter the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE. Like a woman showing up to an event that’s wall-to-wall with little black dresses wearing a red number, it’s hard NOT to notice. We recently had the opportunity to drive Jaguar’s historic first SUV offering on the suitably elevated roads of Aspen, Colorado.
SUVs are what people are wearing, er, driving, and any company that doesn’t have some action in that space risks becoming irrelevant. Never mind that Jaguar already has a lineup of well-regarded luxury sport sedans and sports cars, or that its sister brand, Land Rover, has a full line of products that arguably define the luxury safari wing of the sport-utility segment.
Jaguar arrives at the 2017 F-PACE differently than most car companies that endeavor to add some sport to their utilities. It’s amping up the roominess and practicality to its line of sporty cars. Think of the F-PACE as a sports car with a slightly elevated view of the road, room for five and cargo space for active-lifestyle pursuits.
Its appeal is not just about the cargo space. Jaguar offered a roomy wagon version of the X-Type a few years back and it remained superglued to the showroom floor. Sales were dismal. What the F-PACE brings to the Jaguar lineup is space with attitude. Call it “cattitude.” From the wide-mouth grille and sleek shape to the sporty cockpit and the wonderfully responsive chassis, the F-PACE channels the awesome F-Type sports car. That’s an important distinction. Even though the F-PACE is a bit taller and heavier than the F-Type sports car, it doesn’t give up much, if any, of Jaguar’s sweet steering, cat-like quick reflexes and legendary handling.
The F-PACE is sized between Porsche’s Macan and Cayenne but offers more cargo space than the Cayenne and legitimate adult rear seat head and legroom. Yet it’s priced below the smaller Macan. This value-pricing strategy places it above similar offerings from other purveyors of premium SUVs such as Audi and Cadillac, but at a lower tariff than Porsche and Range Rover.
Jaguar will offer the F-PACE in a full model range: 20d and 35t in base, Premium, Prestige and R-Sport trims, plus range-topping S and (for 2017 models only) a limited-run First Edition model that checks all the option boxes.
Three engines will be offered. The 20d is powered by a 180-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder “Ingenium” turbodiesel that provides a robust 318 lb-ft of torque starting at a relaxed 1750 rpm Jaguar didn’t have one of the F-PACE oil burners for us to sample but we did spend a few hours with an Ingenium-powered XE sport sedan and found its responsive low- and midrange oomph provided in that 600-lb lighter car to be more than a match for the thin-air Alpine switchbacks of Colorado during our drive. The diesel-powered F-PACE does not yet have EPA fuel-economy estimates.
All F-PACE models come with a quick-shifting ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. Like other Jags, It features a rotary dial in lieu of a traditional shift lever. The shift dial rises phoenix-like out of the console when the engine push-button starter is depressed, a bit of drama that’s cool the first time you see it but otherwise steals precious space that could be used to store various electronic gizmos in the console. But the transmission itself swaps ratios deftly and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are ready and eager if you want to shift gears yourself.
And, being a premium SUV, the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE features standard on-demand all-wheel drive. It’s a rear-drive-biased system to preserve Jaguar’s traditional drive characteristics, diverting drive torque to the front wheels only as needed to exact maximum traction. Jaguar leveraged the 4WD knowhow of corporate sibling Land Rover to develop a system that automatically optimizes traction control, throttle response and shifts according to the surface being traversed: snow, sand, gravel, ice, tarmac and such.
Meanwhile, in high and dry Aspen we kept to twisty paved roads and a few serpentine dirt tracks. As a passenger, I could close my eyes and imagine myself in an XF or XJ sedan, the supportive seats, the absence of head toss and the well-mannered body control all contributing to sense of wellbeing. Eyes wide open behind the wheel, the F-PACE exceeded my expectations of how sporty and involving a roomy, 4000-lb, high h-point SUV could drive.
Sir William Lyons probably didn’t see this coming. But it was certainly worth the wait.
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