Review: The Jaguar F Pace

When you walk up to the Jaguar F Pace, you can’t help feeling that there is something cat-like about it, something feline. Perhaps it’s the intricacies of design. After all, the folks who pen these silhouettes tend to have very complicated briefs from which to derive inspiration and style direction. But then again, perhaps it’s your own subconscious consulting your onboard thesaurus to find that a Jaguar really is a cat, albeit a big, wild and dangerous one. I’m not going to wander down this oft-mistrodden path of incomprehensible metaphors and/or weak analogies, but I will say this: the F Pace is a cat, but it is not that big, nor is it wild or dangerous. It is just a cat.

A brief pow-wow in private with our host revealed that from rest, the AWD system in the F Pace starts off in RWD by default before channelling power forward, depending on the traction at each axle… or lack thereof. All I heard was the Jaguar is RWD“until otherwise”, and the first thing to cross my mind was perhaps not to find out what “until otherwise” actually meant.

A LOT OF WILLPOWER TO BEHAVE MYSELF

You see, “until otherwise” means the point at which the rear tyres start sliding, and that, in my world, is what we call drifting. I was very tempted to throw out the back end of the little crossover either at a T-junction or on one of the dirt roads we powered through. But this kind of manoeuvre is a wordless method of stating that I am tired of driving expensive cars in foreign lands and sleeping in nice hotels and eating exotic food; I’d much rather be hunched over my keyboard as usual in the hoary hovel of a rat’s nest that I call my dwelling, subsisting on soggy noodles and tap water, so please don’t ever call me out here again. Of course, I want to drive more Jags in future, so no drifting. It took a lot of willpower to behave myself, and it didn’t help matters that this little tidbit of AWD information came to me just as I was about to step into the 3.0 litre, 340hp supercharged car.  So that is the one we are going to start off with today.

It had a black interior with red highlights on the seats and red stitching along all the seams where leather meets leather. There was Alcantara lining from the shoulder line upwards, which reminded me of the interior of a Jaguar XKR I once drove.

This, unmistakably, is the colour scheme you will find in most sporty vehicles – from Ferraris to McLarens to BMW M5s to this black SUV with a blower under the bonnet.

This, also unmistakably, feels good and puts you in the mood for some right foot flexing. The red and black theme continues into the instrument cluster: engage the computers into race mode and the instrument cluster goes from black-and-white to black-and- red.

You almost expect to hear a little red-and-black demon on your shoulder whispering malevolently: “Go out there and get ticketed; you petrolhead, you!” So you go out there.

There is a clearly discernible difference between normal driving and race mode – what JLR prefers to call “dynamic”, but they aren’t fooling anyone: to engage it, press a button with a little chequered flag on it. A chequered flag means “race”, even the Martians know that. In race mode, the car feels eager without being jumpy.

Everything tightens up somewhat, and the transmission keeps the engine at comparatively higher revs. The vehicle is still tractable though, unlike German interpretations of race mode, which leave you feeling like you are trying to reel in a Rottweiler that has just seen a cat (no pun intended) it doesn’t particularly like and will launch itself at  any second, taking you with it if you are not too careful.

Tractability is not lethargy: an inordinate prod of the hot pedal will lead to a snarl emanating from the engine bay, a roar from below the rear bumper and your mind asking itself why the speedometer is rotating almost as fast as the rev counter. You need to watch out with this car, an aluminium chassis tasked with corralling 340hp equals an object that gains speed really, really fast.

The handling is awesome. Throw the F Pace into a corner and it stays flat, mostly. The steering, feather-light and wonderfully direct at human speeds, weights up ever so slightly when you start chasing the wind. It feels like you are in a sports car, only slightly higher up. You have eight speeds in the gearbox to play with, which you can do using the paddles behind the steering wheel.

The one aspect for which I respect and love Jaguar is the lack of hesitation on the downshift: click on the left paddle and the revs jump up immediately, accompanied by a surge in acceleration and the desperate wish that whoever is driving the grey F Pace directly in front of me. please get out of the way because now I am cooking and this chef needs no rolling roadblocks. After five seconds of tailgating, a stern voice comes through the walkie-talkie firmly asking me to fall back and stay off the other guy’s rear bumper.

TRUE SUBARU OWNER

I have been spotted driving like a true Subaru owner, and my hosts will be having none of it. Oh, well! I might as well pass the time by gazing at the landscape. It does not escape my notice that to my left is a nuclear power plant. South Africa is a land of many sights.

So, the supercharged F Pace is basically a four-door, high-riding sports car. However, last week, I mentioned that in a strange twist of events, I came out of this drive with a preference for the diesel engine, the one they will not sell to us… yet.

This is not a black mark against the petrol engine: the supercharged car is highly desirable and it could easily bankrupt me with fuel bills and probably break up my family because I’d never be home; I’d always be out somewhere dodging speed guns, but the 3.0 litre diesel is so good that I can’t believe I’m actually typing these words.

There is plenty to enamour one with the 3.0 litre diesel powerplant. There is the obvious economy. There is the way it thrums at idle, a low frequency vibration— heavy but muted, subtle and charismatic — that broadcasts to nearby people the fact that your car feeds off the black pump in a fuel forecourt. And then there is this number: 700Nm.

That torque is not to be trifled with. It transforms what would otherwise be yet another sluggish oilburner into an Addams’ Family dragster that doesn’t yield an inch to its petrol variants, save, probably, for the supercharged vehicle.

The whole idea behind diesel is nowhere near thrashability, but at least there is the reassurance that there is enough firepower to summarily dispatch any overambitious bottom-feeding member of the proletariat who might dare think they could take you on in their well-used, cut-price Japanese saloon.

NOT ALL GLORY

It’s not all glory, though. There is yet another diesel engine, with a litre less of capacity  There is nothing particularly wrong with it, but coming from the 3.0 litre torque monster, one does tend to notice little things. You might notice the spec levels have dipped ever so slightly. The tyre profiles have gone up (with a corresponding reduction in rim size).

Then you will notice you need much bigger throttle openings just to maintain your slot in the convoy; nay, you actually have to go flat out to avoid getting gapped by your colleagues and having to cry out loud on the radio begging the rest would they please, please slow down because you can’t see them anymore. This may sound sacrilegious, but the 2.0 litre diesel feels ordinary in comparison.

And Jaguars are  not supposed to feel ordinary.

THE BIG QUESTION

To buy or not to buy? To buy, because yes. Also, more. Jaguar has built their most practical car to date: who wouldn’t want in on that action? Combine its versatility, its close-to-go-anywhere ability and the fact that there is something for everyone in the line-up: 2.0 litre engines for the thrifty at heart, a supercharged engine for the hot-footed and because it is not a Jaguar if it is not supercharged, with a few other options in between (these details can easily be pulled off the Internet).

The Jaguar is powerful, comfortable and drives well: grace, pace and space, the mantra by which the company lives.

But when I say there is something for everyone, I don’t actually mean everyone: prices will start at around Sh11 million and this is the point where the typical Kenyan starts talking about land in Syokimau,  flats and supermarkets.

You go build a supermarket if you want one, I’d rather have the Jag. The company pedigree dictates that they do not cater to the close-fisted or the financially inadequate; it’s not arrogance, that is just how things are.

That level of sophistication and engineering comes at a price and in my analysis that price seems fair enough. It might be out of reach for the majority of us, but then the majority of us are going to wait six years to start importing used ex-UK examples at less

than half that price, and that is off the assumption that in the long term the F Pace proves not to be a lemon.

SUMMARY

The F Pace may be the knees of the bee, but its biggest hurdle it that it is a late entrant into what is already a crowded field. While cheaper Japanese competition doesn’t really count; zere are ze Chermans to sink about ven it comes to zis kind of automotive

showdown, and these Teutons are quite a pack. Mercedes has its GLA, GLC and probably the ML-Class. BMW has the X3, which the Jaguar shouldn’t worry about too much. Audi has the Q5 and the other axis power, Japan, fields a Lexus RX into the mix.

And then there is the nemesis: the Porsche Macan. It will be interesting to see how well the F Pace stacks up against the establishment.

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