Cool cat enters SUV dogfight with Pace-setter
Mid-sized Jaguar ready to mix it up with premium rivals as contender to BMW X4, Audi Q5 and Lexus
Our appetite for SUVs shows no signs of diminishing anytime soon and an onslaught of new models - particularly from the more premium and luxurious brands - is on the way. Queues are already forming for Maserati's Levant and Bentley's Bentayga and new arrivals are planned from Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce.
Jaguar is also hoping to improve its fortunes with the new F-Pace.
With advance orders pouring in from all over the world, hopes that this will become Jaguar's fastest-selling car ever seem well founded. There is however, no shortage of rivals to the F-Pace including BMW's X4, Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lexus NX, and Audi's Q5 but the Porsche Macan is the benchmark with its emphasis on stylish looks and sporty driving.
The F-Pace certainly stands out from the crowd and the influence of the XE and XF is evident, but there are also hints of the F-Type sports car from the LED tail lights and the muscular rear haunches. This is a car for the urban jungle rather than for scaling peaks and fording rivers.
Inside, the cabin is spacious and airy; all the controls are easy to find and use and the quality throughout is good. The F-Pace is also the most practical Jaguar ever with a class-leading luggage capacity of 650 litres. The space is made all the more usable by its 1,255mm width - more than enough to accommodate two full-size golf bags or four large suitcases, plus the boot has a low loading height and a flat floor.
Irish buyers will get a choice of three different engines: the 3.0-litre supercharged 380bhp V6 petrol engine, found in the F-Type, a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel that produces 300bhp and then the one most likely to appeal to buyers - the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with 180bhp. There is an option of rear wheel drive or four wheel drive depending on model.
On the road we had the chance to sample all three engine options. The 2.0 litre diesel is the better of the three and the F-Pace feels lighter and sharper than it does with the bigger engines. The steering is also accurate and well weighted. Similar to the XF and the XE, the F-Pace is built on Jaguar's new Lightweight Aluminium Architecture and as a result it handles with the agility of a much smaller car
The location of the international press launch was Montenegro, a country that was once part of former Yugoslavia. This small Balkan country is a mountainous one, with more than 50pc of its land in excess of 1000m above sea level and was the setting for the James Bond film Casino Royale.
It proved a good test for any car as the roads were so badly surfaced and maintained that they made even the worst back roads of Ireland seem positively smooth. Montenegro is also home to some of the most spectacular and dangerous mountain roads, with infamous hair pin bends.
While set up primarily for on-road dynamics, on an off-road trail the F-pace was more than capable of rock-straddling. An All Surface Progress Control system allows the car to ascend or descend steep hills by simply pressing a button - all the driver has to do is steer.
There is also a host of safety features, including an Autonomous Emergency Braking system that is capable of detecting pedestrians, a Jaguar-first. Another interesting first for Jaguar is the Activity Key, a waterproof, shockproof wristband with an integrated transponder which allows the key fob to be securely locked inside the vehicle, so if you're going to the beach you can return and simply unlock the car by tapping the "J" on the Jaguar tailgate logo with the wristband.
Prices for the F-Pace start at €44,100 for 2-litre 4-cyliner diesel rear-wheel-drive (129g/km, €270 road tax). The F-Pace versions with the extra grip and traction AWD start at €47,800 and €50,910 (€280 road tax for both).
There are four trim grades: entry-level SE, Prestige, R-Sport and Portfolio. Standard spec includes cruise control, two-zone climate control, Jaguar's excellent sound system, 18ins alloys, space-saver wheel, heated door mirrors, front fogs, 5ins TFT display, rear parking aid, Hill launch assist, trailer stability assist, Drive Control, electric parking brake and folding rear seats.
There was a conspicuous hole in the Jaguar line-up that the F-Pace fills nicely - but is it good enough to steal sales away from the established leaders in the premium SUV market?
Compared with its rivals it is competitively priced - more expensive than Audi's Q5 but cheaper than BMW's X4. The F-Pace may be Jaguar's first SUV but it is a very good all-round package and those smouldering good looks are likely to turn more than a few heads in a segment that is as much about style as it is performance.