Why Jaguar are hoping to set the F-Pace in bitter battle for luxury Crossover buyers
First drive in Montenegro: Jaguar F-Pace
I've already driven the new Jaguar F-PACE crossover off-road (a gruelling session up in the hills near Swansea you might remember) so it was more than intriguing to see how it fared on the tarmac.
More precisely, I suppose, I wanted to see how it handled and responded over routes here in Montenegro that think nothing of stringing 25 or so hairpin bends one after another.
Not to mention the intrusion of rock on twisty, mountain roads.
Nothing sorts out a car's dynamic credentials better than a zig-zag, off-camber road at pace. And there are plenty of them here.
But you can try for yourself in Ireland now because a few have already made their way to Irish dealers so that potential buyers can get a look and drive.
Prices start with the 2-litre 4cyl diesel rear-wheel-drive (2WD, 6spd manual, 129g/km, €270 road tax) for €44,100. I think that is quite a bit down on the 'under €50,000' they were talking about initially.
I have no doubt that pricing is critical for this car to get a foot in the mid-size executive crossover market.
Targeted buyers are owners, of Audi Q5s, BMW X4s and Porsche Macans to name but three. Interesting that they expect 30pc of buyers to be female while overall the car is expected to lower current owner-age by 10 years. That says a lot for its profile. Jaguar expects 200 or so buyers of this first Jag SUV, in a full year.
As we know there is soaring demand for all Crossovers. There is growing demand too for them to have all-wheel-drive (as rival marques will testify).
The F-PACE versions with the extra grip and traction AWD bestows start at €47,800 (6spd manual) and €50,910 (8spd automatic). Road tax on those is €280.
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, folding rear seats, several airbags etc.
As you go up the trims and price range you get some serious additions in terms of comfort (leather perforated seats), driving/chassis technology (it draws heavily on current and next-generation Land Rover advances), connectivity and infotainment interfaces (there's a suite of services from anti-theft to climate control all via a tablet). There is quite a selection. But even I found it easy to use them so they must be intuitive.
The main engine for Irish buyers is going to be the 2-litre Ingenium diesel already mentioned. But there is also an interesting 300PS 3-litre diesel - I expect this is to compete at the upper end against the likes of the Macan. However, I doubt too many will be interested in the 3-litre V6 petrol (340PS, 380PS). Overall, my guess is the principal seller will be the 2WD Prestige 2-litre diesel. Just a hunch.
From a purely practical point of view, and setting aside the driving for a moment, the outstanding impression is the size of, and room and comfort in, the cabin. Loads of space for a family of five (smallest in the middle of the back, of course). And the boot - 650 litres is huge. Biggest in class they say.
I like the simple layout of dash, instruments and cabin generally. Great driving position.
However, I'm so-so on the F-PACE look itself but most definitely dislike the plastic slot spanning the tailpipes. I think it cheapens the look of the car from the back.
After my gruelling and grilling in Wales it was hardly surprising I encountered nothing on the roads here to dispel the notion that this lives up to its billing as a driver's car (it is not based on the F-TYPE sports car, but they do draw heavily on its driving set-up).
I found it did a lot of things right without setting the pulses madly racing. There was a good, true feel back from the steering, I found it so easy to place and drive out of bends and forgiving on sharper tight corners. I'll need a longer Irish-road drive for a definitive verdict but there's real promise here.