It’s one thing to be taking on the might of BMW, Mercedes and Audi at a game they’ve been playing for years (the X5 has been around for 17 years, the X3, 13 years). But Porsche? That’s a whole new kettle of fish, especially if your new SUV will vigorously bang the handling drum. And so it came to be that the Macan’s launch put the F-Pace programme on hold for eight weeks while Jaguar engineers shifted their internal goalposts after murdering apexes with the baby Cayenne. The Cayenne, especially in GTS and Turbo guise, had already ensured the phrase ‘Performance SUV’ was no longer an oxymoron, but Porsche’s new compact SUV had knocked the accepted benchmark right out of the bloody park; in fact it had made a high-riding sports car and forced the F-Pace’s chassis team back to the drawing board.
Whether Jaguar has succeeded in matching the Macan is the task at hand this afternoon as we begin the climb up the Lap of Mutha, our favourite – and rather convenient – driving route just outside Pune. Everybody loves SUVs these days: in India where those weird sub 4-metre hatchbacks are being kicked in the nuts by sub 4-metre SUVs; in the USA where they always liked oversized cup holders in equally oversized sport-utes; in Europe where they’ve always been sensible; in China where big has always been so much better that they’ve been stretching everything out, including the 3 Series and the C-Class. The F-Pace, then, has the potential to straight-up double Jaguar’s volumes, especially in key markets like North America. With a bulging file of pre-orders it’s already the fastest-selling Jaguar in history, and that’s before any test drives have been given out. For Jaguar this is a transformational vehicle. But is it worthy of being on the cover of a magazine that screams The Thrill of Driving?
What is it?
First things first, the steering is wonderfully linear with great clarity coming through to the finger tips. The F-Pace, Jaguar’s first ever SUV, isn’t based on a platform borrowed from sister brand Land Rover – it would have been the easiest thing to do. Instead it is based on the D7a all-aluminium architecture that debuted on the XE sedan (and the new XF whose deliveries will start soon in India) and will be offered to Land Rover to underpin its upcoming ‘Super-Evoque’ that will sit between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport. Eighty one per cent of the F-Pace’s parts are unique and 80 per cent of the body is aluminium with steel used for the rear floorpan (to improve weight distribution) and doors (the tail gate is composite). Those interested in saving the world will note with pleasure that recycled aluminium, which takes 95 per cent less energy to produce, makes up a third of the weight and the intent is to take it all the way up to 75 per cent in the next four years across the range. And the key benefit of all this aluminium is the F-Pace is – and crucially, feels – light.