The Cat's Pyjamas

In the purposeful, gratifying shape of the F-Pace, Jaguar has delivered a stunning luxury SUV bearing the hallmarks of the much-vaunted F-Type - with agility and performance to match. A deserving winner, then, of the 2017 World Car of the Year award, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Aggressive stance: With that big front grille and svelte, coupe-like profile, the brooding looks are pure Jaguar – enhanced further in R-Sport guise on 22 inch rims

With rivals such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes already offering customers their second generation SUVs and crossovers, it could be argued that Jaguar is somewhat late to the party with the F-Pace. However, one clear advantage to being such a latecomer is that the company has been able to take a long, hard look at the competition, and separate the wheat from the chaff at the development stage rather than waiting to put things right with the second generation model, as is all too often the norm. The upshot being that there’s precious little here with which to find fault... Larger than most of its rivals, the F-Pace elegantly bestrides the no man’s land between two SUV segments. It’s larger, and perceptibly more rear legroom beneficient, than Audi’s Q5 or a Mercedes GLC, and is only a mite smaller than the likes of BMW’s X5 and the Mercedes GLE. It’s a good looking thing, combining a whiff of Bramley apple plumpness with some deliciously sharp detailing – such as the slender, F-Type-inspired tail lights, and the ability to wear big wheels; up to 22-inches in diameter.

This £41,330 R-Sport specification model squats on 20-inch split-spoke alloys – filling the arches sufficiently to avoid that big-car-tiny-wheels horror show. Within the cabin, appropriate opulence abounds in the shape of perforated leather, etched aluminium and satisfactory levels of standard equipment. Nonetheless, the car I drove did somehow manage to shoehorn another £15,000 worth of extras on board, over three grand of which may be attributed to a larger, 10.2-inch touch screen, a high-end navigation system and 825 Watts of Meridian sound system that’ll readily set the wax from your left and right ears on a collision course in the middle of your brain. Happily, with sluggishness being a repeated criticism in the past, touch screen control of the multimedia systems is now much quicker (once the technology has woken up). Intuitive operation was never a problem, users previously tying themselves in knots simply by treating the screen like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March when nothing happened immediately.

Abetted by power operated seat adjustment, the driving position’s first class, and I can’t see anyone ever tiring of watching the rotary gear shift knob oozing from its piano black lagoon on start up. Great auto - motive theatre. There are seven engines available in the F-Pace; three petrol and four diesel, with a V6 topping the power scales in both fuel types. Recognising that diesel still rules the roost, for now, the new ‘Ingenium’ 2.0 litre unit comes with a choice of three power outputs. The 177bhp middle option is undoubtedly the one to plump for, though, combining a surprisingly sprightly 0-62mph dash of 8.7 seconds with the availability of an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. If ever a car lent itself to automatic transmission, this is it. Besides, you can always resort to the steering wheel-mounted flappy paddles if the mood takes you... Under the skin, the F-Pace’s aluminium platform is a development of that found in the XE and XF saloons, and, again like those saloons, it has been painstakingly ministered unto arguably one of the best looking SUVs on the market, Ian Callum’s original design has been brought to life with aplomb. Under the skin, the F-Pace shares much of the architecture found on the XF and XF saloon models – hence the superior levels of handling with oodles of grip by Jaguar’s handling sign-off wizard Mike Cross, who has imbued the F-Pace with delightfully engaging handling characteristics.

On the move, there’s very little road or wind noise, and the ride is remarkably supple and fluent. Huge wheels with low profile rubber will add lumps to the blancmange, though, so unless you’re armed with one of those V6s and are hell- bent on maximum velocity every - where, stick to a lesser wheel size and taller tyre profiles for greater comfort without real detriment to cornering ability.

Yes, it does roll through the bends more than any Jaguar before it, but that's the nature of the SUV beast, and there's no harm in being reminded of the size of the car you're driving as speeds rise. Especially since body control is excellent and reserves of grip impressive.

You’d think a 2.0 litre diesel might struggle a tad to propel a car of this size with sufficient alacrity to appeal, but it never feels sluggish, and the 4- cylinder unit actually scores over the V6s in making the F-Pace lighter in the bows, promoting sharper turn-in and less of a desire to push wide when driven quickly through corners. V6 grunt is a glorious thing, but it the real world even a 2.0 litre F-Pace is more rewarding to drive quickly that any SUV has right to be... Oh, and, as a bonus, though the four-wheel drive system is set up to make the F-Pace a predominately rear-wheel drive experience on road, with all the handling benefits that brings, it is worth mentioning that the system will tackle the sort of terrain that most owners wouldn’t dream of subjecting their Jags to. Chelsea pavement kerbs and wet gymkhana grass excepted, of course.

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