Sunday 17 December 2017

'I want more F-PACE from Jaguar's first SUV'

Fine drive, but small things let it down, writes our Motoring Editor

Jaguar crossover: the F-PACE.
Jaguar crossover: the F-PACE.
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Driving a Jaguar crossover can be a strange experience - partly good, partly not so great. For a start, you've got to get over the fact you are driving the first SUV bearing the famous name. I never thought I'd see the day but everyone, and I mean everyone, is turned onto the crossover waveband now.

So how do you translate what I love about modern Jags - the mix of prestige, power and driving edge - into a large SUV-like vehicle? With difficulty in some areas, I found, and with success in others. It is not a sure-fire fit or hit, but there is something there.

I remain one of the few who still has reservations about the looks at the front. I love the rear. No doubt when the looks overall attain classic status, I'll get fond of them. It has happened me before. For now, I'm sticking to my guns and saying the front is too blunt for my taste.

But the shape embraces a wonderful cabin. It has so much room. I liked the way they have integrated elements such as the control/interface/screen, how they have dipped and curved the shape of the dashboard and given drivers a special overview.

But while the materials at eye and hand level have the look and touch of quality (soft-touch fascia), I was disappointed at the thin and tinny plastic surrounds of the seat bottoms and how poor the seat adjustment levels felt. The switch/knob to adjust the steering wheel does not belong in a Jaguar I'd drive. I love Jags; I felt let down by that one item alone.

I loved the seating in my R-SPORT spec model, especially with the blend of red and black leather - I'm a sucker for that combination (if I had money, I'd buy the Range Rover Sport decked out that way).

And we had wonderful comfort because even with our front seats back to our long-legged ease, there was loads of space for anyone behind.

I had the 180bhp new Ingenium 2-litre turbodiesel and it worked with an eight-speed automatic (ZF torque convertor). There was a choice of driving modes from Eco to Dynamic to Snow etc.

The driving combination was okay; no more than that. I'm probably spoilt because I've driven the 3-litre diesel in this and while I recognise the financial imperatives of the 2-litre, I have no doubt the extra significant outlay would pay rich dividends.

A combination of slower-than-expected reaction time from the gearbox and more throatiness than I anticipated from the engine didn't win too many brownie points. As well as that, there was a fair bit of tyre and road noise.

I got through a huge range of drives in this (from slugging it out on a 90-minute, stop-start, wet-morning commute to a swift return from the midlands to watch a Euro match).

As an urban commute, the automatic stop/start wasn't the quietest or smoothest. As a cruiser on the open road, the F-PACE was an excellent drive.

Over bad, and I mean bad, bog roads its rather softer springing manifested itself, while on twisty, tight spurts it was exceptional for such a large vehicle. The brilliant Jaguar dynamics were there alright - and I had the additional benefit of all-wheel drive - but I wanted more.

Again, maybe I'm spoilt as I was among the first to drive this in proper (atrocious) off-road conditions in Wales where I could not believe its performance (admittedly larger engines) and exceptional ability to cope with rock, mud, slime and gravel.

And that's the thing, really. This has so much potential. The bits and pieces are in place. They just need better mixing and access to them for less extreme/ordinary driving: to convey the feel of the energy and dynamics that lies beneath. That, to me, is what driving a Jaguar is, and has been, all about. That's why I love so many of their cars.

Jaguar pitch this against the Porsche Macan - but the latter doesn't have a 2-litre diesel, as far as I know - so direct comparisons are not possible. But against other rivals, such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Volvo XC60, there are areas where it outscores and areas where it doesn't.

I don't think anyone can beat it for space - my huge boot had a 19ins spare that intruded a bit but I still had plenty - and there is no doubt it was a real powerhouse under certain conditions.

I came away, however, without pulses racing madly or sinfully envious of those who can afford one - as I often do when I drive a Jag. I think it is a fine piece of work. I just happen to feel, and I'm probably alone on this, that it can be so, so much better.

Facts & figures

Jaguar F-PACE 2-litre diesel AWD, R-Sport auto, 180bhp, 139g/km, €280 tax. From €44,100, car tested (with options) €66,200.

Standard spec includes two-zone climate control, cruise control, 18ins alloys, front fogs, 5ins TFT display, rear parking aid, Hill assist, trailer stability assist, Drive Control, electric parking brake, folding rear seats.

Options on test car (leather sports perforation, electric tailgate, 19ins space saver wheel, panoramic roof, soft-feel facia).

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