Building SUVs is now what car companies do, at least if they want to make money, so don't judge Jaguar harshly for creating a car so divorced from its sports car and sports saloon roots. Judge it well, instead, for creating a car so handsome, so practical and so good to drive. Just beware the V6 engine's effects on the dynamic front...
In the Metal:
As Jaguar designer Julian Thompson put it to us over dinner, SUVs aren't supposed to look elegant, that's not normally their job. Well, clearly Thompson, Jaguar head of design Ian Callum and their team wrote that thought down on a piece of paper and threw it very hard out of the window, because the F-Pace looks right. Really right. Handsome and subtle, yet still striking and it makes you wonder why Jaguar took so long to get around to doing a car like this. With the staggering growth of SUV sales across the world, though, and even with Land Rover as a conjoined sister brand, Jag could no longer do without the F-Pace.
Of course, in spite of it being very much an SUV in style, what it really is is a replacement for the XF Sportbrake estate. We loved the XF estate, but buyers across the world stayed away, so the decision to go taller for its replacement must have, in the end, been a relatively easy one.
Inside the F-Pace, there's much to like, but there is a slight sense of the cabin being a bit under-designed. It's a problem that afflicts the new XF and XE (and the F-Type sports car) too - nothing wrong with the quality (which seems uniformly excellent), but equally nothing that distinctively shouts 'Jaguar' at you.
Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here too. The front seats are just wonderfully comfortable, the new InControl Touch Pro touchscreen is a revelation in how good it is, as is the new all-digital instrument pack, which, Audi-like, can be replaced by a full-screen view of the satnav.
There's also plenty of space. Knee room and headroom are really generous in the back, and the boot holds 650 big, square and uninterrupted litres of luggage. Families are going to love the F-Pace.
Most of all, they're going to love driving it. Jaguar has long been the home of the handling and steering masterclass and if you don't believe me, take an XF saloon for a spin. Here in the F-Pace that feeling is replicated - the steering weight is perfectly matched to its speed across the locks and while it's not the last word in feel and feedback, there's sufficient there to make cornering accurate, safe and, above all, enjoyable.
The suspension allows a touch of body roll, but it's very good at keeping things steady during fast direction changes. Settle on your cornering line and wait for the weight to settle on the outside rear wheel and off the F-Pace goes again, hungry for another apex. Best car in the class to drive right now? Perhaps, if we leave the Porsche Macan out of the equation, as that's very much a niche model in Ireland.
There are some caveats though. While the 2.0-litre 180hp diesel F-Pace we also drove felt finely balanced and firm, but not uncomfortable, in its ride quality, the V6 diesel felt less happy. Both were riding on optional 20-inch wheels (possibly not the best thing for the Irish market...) so it can only be ascribed to the extra 100kg of weight the V6 is carrying. It just felt choppy and fidgety, and often made us back off the throttle for long stretches of time in the interests of comfort. Some of the roads in Montenegro on which we were driving were pretty shocking in their surface quality, but equally many sections were buttery-smooth, so it seems as if these sensations would be replicated on Irish tarmac.
There's another issue too - the brakes, which were (again) fine on the lighter 2.0-litre, but which felt distinctly under-fed in the V6. OK, so we were driving on vertiginous mountain roads with endless sections of switchback hairpins, something that focuses your mind on the brakes rather a lot, but there was definitely a lack of initial bite at the top of the pedal, and some of the stopping distances had us sweating a little.
The V6 diesel itself is a gem of an engine, though. Whisper quiet when cruising at high speeds, but with a pleasing deep gurgle when you ask for acceleration, its 700Nm of torque gives the F-Pace stunning flexibility at all speeds, although it can take a second or two for the turbos and gearbox to get their act together when asking for overtaking thrust. Economy and emissions aren't too shabby either (€570 a year in tax for a car with this much performance potential?), but while there is expected to the some Irish interest in the model, mostly it'll be the bridesmaid to the 2.0-litre's bride.
What you get for your Money:
Jaguars tend to be pretty good value, and with the F-Pace range starting at €44,100, that seems to be the case again here, putting the car right in the hunt with basic versions of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, even though the F-Pace has a somewhat grander feel to it. That price will inflate rapidly when you start specifying the bigger engine and the grandiose Portfolio spec, so those seeking value should probably stick to a 2.0d R-Sport.
The V6 diesel version of the new Jaguar F-Pace won't be a big seller in Ireland, certainly not compared to the 2.0-litre four-cylinder model, but it's worth a look for those who like a little more punch from their engine. The ride quality and brake bite issues will only be resolved or confirmed when we get our hands on one on Irish soil.