Top spec S has 380PS supercharged V6

Top spec S has 380PS supercharged V6

For too many years, those running Jaguar listened to 'experts' who said an SUV would dilute its image. What nonsense. Now, as the leaping cat brand prepares to launch the F-PACE, it believes it has a car that's as good as the Macan. Is it?

Until you see the Jaguar in the metal, it can look like a larger model than others in its nominated segment. It's 4,731mm long (Macan: 4,681), 1,936mm wide (1,927) and 1,651mm high (1,624) so there's not much in it. Interestingly, JLR's D7a aluminium platform doesn't always offer much of a weight advantage over the Porsche and other competitors. Kerb mass is from under 1,665kg, which, while commendable, applies only to the base RWD variant whereas the top-spec Launch Edition is more than 200kg heavier. 

In addition to the Macan, the nominated rivals for this new model are the BMW X4 and Audi Q5. That's according to Dave Baker, who is Product Marketing Manager for the F-PACE. Speaking to just-auto at the UK media preview event, he believes the Q5 will likely remain the best seller in the class. Audi delivered around 15,000 units of this model in 2015 and there is a new one due out by year end. 

Baker notes that Porsche GB sold around 3,000 Macans in 2015 and believes F-PACE registrations will number "somewhere between Macan and Q5". Strangely, the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class wasn't mentioned in his presentation, nor was the big selling XC60, though the Volvo isn't in the same pricing category. The X4 is being directly targeted, with the new Jaguar stretching from £34,000 to just over £50,000. 

Fleets are seen as a big opportunity thanks to CO2 being as low as 129g/km and insurance from category 27E (RWD manual diesel) due to lots of active safety equipment. Navigation is standard and you don't get that in a Macan, while the boot is the biggest in the class. In fact, at 650 litres, it's the same size as the X5's and the X4's capacity is just 500 litres.

Deliveries in the UK are about to commence, with the launch range consisting of three trim levels and the same number of engines. These are all well known from other JLR models: two diesels (180PS Ingenium 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre V6) and one supercharged petrol (3.0-litre V6). Will there be a supercharged 5.0-litre V8? No-one on the first drive preview would say, but it seems likely for a future SVR variant. No doubt the imminent 2.0-litre petrol Ingenium engine will also be fitted to the F-PACE, probably from late 2016. And a PHEV? Again, no official word but give it a year or three as Jaguar will need this for California. 

Britain was Jaguar's number one market in April with 2,391 deliveries, a YoY rise of more than 100%. This model, plus the XE and XF are most of the reason for the rise but the facelifted XJ and additional F-TYPE variants have been helping sales along too. A shame that there won't be an XE estate but an XF Sportbrake hasn't been ruled out, despite what one car magazine's website recently claimed.

The F-PACE is the reason for some recent changes to the mix of model-by-plant production in England. While the XE is mainly made at Solihull, some build now also takes place at Castle Bromwich. This was so as to make room at Solihull for the new SUV, which comes down the same line as the XE and Range Rover Sport, according to Dave Baker.

Apologies that I have taken so many paragraphs getting to what many readers will want to know more than anything else: does the Jag drive as well as the Porsche? Sad to say, on 22" wheels, no it doesn't, and what's worse, the ride is unacceptably jittery. Forget the too-big but admittedly terrific looking rims and things are transformed, with the F-PACE being more comfy than the Q5 too. Direct-feel steering, a particular JLR speciality, is as good as in the XF, which is high praise. 

Handling? It's close to the inspired levels of the Macan, though I did drive that model on the brilliant Goodwood circuit, whereas Jaguar had we journalists on a scenic route through the Cotswolds. Blue skies, green hills peppered with buttercups and fat cows, fields of rape, winding roads canopied by native trees now replete with new leaves, Escape To The Country villages and even some deep puddles and muddy lanes were part of the journey. So all in all, a realistic blend of the kinds of roads and conditions which many British owners will experience.

Probably because it felt so familiar, the interior was a little disappointing. It feels as though you're in an XE or XF but perched higher. With Jaguar itself insisting that we should be comparing the F-PACE to a Macan, I can only say that the sporty feel and brilliant design detailing of the Porsche makes it a more genuinely sports-premium place to be. It wouldn't take a lot to lift the English car to the same level, just some careful matching of timber and plastics and more bits that you won't find in other JLR vehicles. 

The interior also contains a clue that the F-PACE is but the first of two SUVs for the group: the location of the electric window switches. These, I noticed, are in the traditional Land Rover position, perched atop a ledge on the driver's door. L560, which is due to appear in 2017, will be an additional Range Rover sized and priced between the Evoque and Sport. A clever move to get the F-PACE on the market first and give Jaguar a shot at the SUV market before the inevitable sales storm from any new Land Rover begins.

The excellence of every new Jaguar to have appeared in the last 2-3 years says everything we need to know about how high the bar was set for the F-PACE. That to me it scores eight and a half out of ten compared to the Macan's nine demonstrates how good this new entrant is. If JLR fills in the missing spots in the engine line-up and adds some extra variants every six to twelve months - emulates Porsche, in other words - there seems no reason at all why the F-PACE can't add between 50,000 and 65,000 units of high margin volume a year to Jaguar's total production.

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