IT MATTERS little right now that Jaguar sells a mere fraction of the numbers racked up every year by its luxury rivals at Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
What matters is that —piece by piece — Jaguar is assembling a range of cars which will allow it expand exponentially into each of those market segments which define the activities of its German rivals.
Since being taken over by giant Indian conglomerate Tata, the Jaguar brand has been patiently rebuilt in a clear and focused manner with the various necessary elements being put in place to allow the company to expand across a broad front.
It is necessarily a slow process, but Jaguar has demonstrated a sure-footedness during the course of this expansion plan which has signalled very clear intent.
The XF range kickstarted things and provided the manufacturer with an immediate and credible contender to face up to competitors such as the Audi A6, the BMW 5-Series, and the Mercedes E-Class.
The hugely impressive XJ followed up to give Jaguar a limo contender to take on the likes of the A8, 7-Series and S Class.
This was followed by the wonderful F-Type sports car which did more than simply rekindle memories of the legendary E-Type by renewing Jaguar as the maker of a potent high class sports car.
Then, last year, we were introduced to the XE range which gave Jaguar an entry level model which goes face to face with rivals such as the A4, the 3-Series, and the C Class and which has already given the company the sort of sales impetus it so badly craves. And now in 2016 we have been introduced to the F-Pace, the first ever SUV from the marque and a car which is designed to plug Jaguar into a vitally important and growing niche which, if its expansionary ambitions are to be fully realised, needs to be conquered.
But there is a double-edged sword dangling threateningly over Jaguar’s corporate head once it ventures into SUV territory.
The idea of producing a credible executive SUV is all fine and dandy; the rub is that Jaguar’s sister company Land Rover already has this territory covered. This raises the question of whether Jaguar is cutting off its nose to spite Land Rover’s face?
The answer is yes on the one hand and no on the other. We know an SUV is strategically necessary for Jaguar’s expansion plans, but the winning trick would be to produce a car which does not compromise Land Rover sales. Looking at the existing market you have to think that, at strategic planning meetings, Jaguar decided to take a leaf out of the VW Group, where Audi and VW SUVs compete against each other without rancour and Seat and Skoda are also about to join the fray.
On that basis the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) entity decided why the hell not and went ahead with the first Jaguar SUV, but with the aim of making a car which was different in intent and in character to anything that Land Rover manufactures.
Instead they were aiming at the likes of the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, and the Mercedes GLC. Oh, and they’d be having a pop off the Volvo XC60 too. So what of this F-Pace SUV? Well, it is mighty impressive, that’s for sure. Certainly there are elements of the car which left a little to be desired, but the overall achievement for Jaguar with this car cannot be denied.
And the trick for the company is that it has achieved this by giving the F-Pace a completely different character — a sporting character.
This starts with the look of the car which — as with all of the current range — was finalised under the watchful eye of chief designer Ian Callum and which, despite its obvious bulk, is very definitely from the Jaguar design canon.
The front lights and grille immediately distinguish it as a Jag and even the side profile and rear end mark it out distinctly as being non-German. With architecture based on that which underpins both the XE and the XF, the F-Pace does not rely on any Land Rover platforms. This also means that much of the construction (80%) is in aluminium with hints of magnesium here and there and a steel boot floor to contribute to the desired 50:50 weight distribution.
The 4WD system too is Jaguar’s own, having been adapted from the one used in the F-Type and it is heavily rear-biased, although once it detects slip, 50% of the power is redirected to the front wheels. All of this imbues the car with a modicum of off-road ability, but as is the case with so many of these things, the muckiest thing it will ever probably cope with is a leaf-strewn driveway. On road, however, its all-round independent suspensions give it excellent handling and ride characteristics and impressive levels of grip and balance.
Indeed for its size, its point-to-point capability on twisty B-roads is both notable and rewarding. A big selling point will be the sportiness of the F-Pace and, unfortunately, this is where it runs into slight problems. As the two-litre Ingenium series turbodiesel engine will be the main seller, owners might just find this unit to be a little weedy for some tastes. Sure there is a 3.0 litre V6 option and there will be a more powerful version of the two litre unit soon, but for the moment the 180 bhp version will be the most bought.
With an 8.7-second 0-100km/h time and a top speed of 210km/h, this engine does not set the world alight in this big SUV and pales beside some competitors.
That’s not to say its useless or anything, but it may not be the sporty ride many think it to be. It will perform briskly and with conviction when asked questions, but it shuffles quickly enough through the eight-speed auto box to suggest the shorter ratios are there for a reason.
While it certainly does the trick with regards to both consumption and emissions, I suspect at least some drivers will be prepared to wait for the more powerful two-litre unit, or get the V6 altogether. I would have some quibbles about some of the plastics used on the interior below the eyeline which feel both cheap and un-Jaguar, but in general the layout is striking and beautifully designed. The black and red leather upholstery and trim on the R-Sport version we tested really caught the eye.
There are large volumes of space to be explored when you finagle the seating arrangements, although from a passenger point of view, carrying three large adults in the rear might just be a bit of a squeeze. The rear legroom is better than some rivals. The inclusion of a 19” alloy space saver spare tyre is a welcome change from the norm, even if it is a €600 option.
Small quibbles only then about a car which sees Jaguar move dramatically out of character, but with considerable élan and ability.
On this evidence, the upwardly mobile trends we have been seeing from the company are going to continue on that path and make significant inroads into the German dominance of the luxury market.
The cost: From €59,490-€66,200 as tested.
The engine: Slightly coarse and slightly under-powered in this big SUV.
The specification: Excellent standard spec, but stuff like the leather upholstery or the panoramic roof don’t come cheap.
The overall verdict: A hugely impressive first stab at the genre from Jag.
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