You know that new Jag? No, not that one, the other one. Yes. This is a test of that.
Day one: The F-Pace has been delivered to my house while I’m out because this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re a spoilt car journalist, or at least a spoilt approximation of one. As I approach my front door, my neighbour Sam appears as if by magic, pointing with excitement at the Jag. Ever since I’ve lived here, Sam has had a Golf R32 and said he can’t find a single car he likes with which to replace it. Until now. He’s just been to test drive an F-Pace and tomorrow he’s going to place his order. Somewhere within Jag, I hope a market research person is hastily updating a spreadsheet. I bet when they were profiling likely customers, they didn’t think of a bloke called Sam who thought his Golf R32 unreplaceable. And what led him to the Jaguar? He saw a poster for it and thought it was the nicest looking car he’d seen for ages. It’s certainly a very handsome thing and manages the trick of looking like a modern Jaguar whilst also seeming totally natural as an SUV or crossover or whatever you’d call it rather than having the appearance of one of those Auto Express renderings where they’ve slapped a Jag grille and wheels onto a Photoshopped Freelander.
Day two: If the outside of the F-Pace is a triumph of neat and attractive design, the inside is less so. It’s not as dismal as the basic XF I drove a bit ago but nor is there much to wow you on first sight. Unless you’ve never seen JLR’s rotocock gear selector rise out of the console before, in which case you’ll get a moment of joy before noticing how thin and cheap the faux leather dash top looks. On the plus side, the F-Pace feels anything but thin and cheap to drive. It seems modern and sorted. I could fancy an extra bit of softness to the ride but, on first acquaintance, there’s much to like about the grunt of the V6 diesel and the sense of sharpness and polish to the chassis and steering. Also, when you get out, it still looks nice.
Day three: Not F-Pacing today because I’m taking my little boy to the zoo. They don’t have an jaguars at the zoo. Note to self: Do things with more literal links to test cars. Unless testing a Citroen Picasso.
Day four: Heading out this morning, my wife notes that the F-Pace is a very nice looking car. Then she gets inside it and assumes the nonplussed tone usually reserved for when she discovers I’ve eaten all the leftovers out of the fridge. ‘It’s a bit boring,’ she says flatly. She’s right. Although I am growing to enjoy the sensible minimalism of the dash. All the stuff you really need is still there under a hard button, and less important things are on the touch screen. The division is generally wise and leads to a pleasingly uncluttered appearance on the centre stack. The only flaw is the usual, infuriating Jag Land Rover trick of burying the heated seat controls within a sub-page on the screen. I want instant access to my arse toaster and whoever disagrees within Whitley or Gaydon should be thrown into a threshing machine. One that can’t be turned off unless you find the right button within a touch screen menu.
Day five: Sometimes I find myself driving a borrowed car which generates a palpable level of interest amongst other road users. A Ferrari, for example. Or the original Fiat Multipla. Or even the original Audi TT which generated an absurd amount of staring, up to and including the moment when I rolled it over. Three times. The F-Pace is almost in that league. Wherever you go, you sense people staring at it. They seem to like it.
Day six: I have to go to Scotland. I was going to take the train but when I found out I’d have this Jag over the weekend I elected to drive, with the added bonus that I can stop and see some mates in Cheshire on the way. The F-Pace deals with the M6 as best it can. This being the S model, it’s got the 296 horsepower V6 diesel which has the guts and fast reactions to make the most of whatever clear air you can find. There’s also an S with a supercharged petrol V6 which I imagine will drive very nicely, sound extremely fruity and have the second hand value of a corn plaster. First call on arriving in the North West is my mate Scott who has a moderate interest in cars. ‘Are Jag making SUVs now?’ he asks. Memo to Jag; put up more adverts in the Cheadle Hulme area. ‘But aren’t they part of Land Rover?’ he continues. ‘So, you know, how does that work?’ He’s got a point. I suspect there might be a different audience for this car. It’s less outdoorsy than a Land Rover or Range Rover and it doesn’t feel like it works best if you drive it while wearing a gilet. Also, and I can say this with some confidence after a wheelwrightish sprint across some of my favourite Cestrian country roads, it’s really rather sharp and sporty to drive. In particular, it turns in with astonishing crispness for a big, tall car and then grips remarkably well. It feels good. I’m staying with my friend C this evening. C has an interest in cars that is so low as to be immeasurable to the naked eye. Over the years, the only cars I’ve parked outside his house that illicited a reaction were the Porsche 911, the Land Rover Defender and the Rover 75. And he didn’t particularly like the Porsche. The Jag prompts nothing at all. I don’t think Jaguar should be worried about this.
Day seven: A long slog up to Scotland this morning before turning off onto some of those roads that lead briskly and beautifully across the Borders. And it’s here that the F-Pace really shows its hand. These are the sort of roads you want something muscular and balanced so you can seize the overtaking opportunities and enjoy the fast corners. The Jag turns out to be that car. It’s got grunt, it’s got poise, it’s got skills. In particular, it’s one of those cars that builds trust with its natural composure and friendly handling set-up. In many ways, it’s like a taller, fatter Golf R. You sling it into a corner, you get a nice sense of what’s going under beneath you, you bring back the power and you fire yourself through the corner and away. Dab of oppo not required. It’s fast and it’s fun and I arrive where I’m going with a small smile which isn’t just because I know the bar’s open.
Day eight: Another fast and amusing sprint across the Borders this morning and then a much less interesting slog down the motorway to London. I’ve spent a long time inside the F-Pace now and, while it’s comfortable and convenient and does pretty much all you need from it, the dashboard is definitely the weak link in an otherwise sterling show. It’s not bad, but it is rather boring. Which is a shame, because the F-Pace isn’t boring to drive. In the space of three days I’ve done 850 miles in this car and I’m not clawing at the door trims to get out as soon as poss, which is probably a good sign. In fact, I could drive it for many hundreds of miles more, especially on open A- and B-roads because it’s a fast and fun thing to helmswright around.
Goodbye: The F-Pace is going away and this is a shame. It’s handsome, it’s good to drive, it’s likeable and it’s got a less twattish image than an equivalent Audi or BMW. Only the interior lets it down with its sheer ordinariness of its design and the stuff it’s made from. It’s a shame, but something they could fix. The fundamentals feel very nicely sorted indeed. It might not be the greatest car in all of history or whatever other breathless implications you get from some of the British car press, but it is without doubt a very good car indeed.
The car talked about here is a Jaguar F-Pace S. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel making 296 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60 in 5.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 150mph. It costs £52,300.