A chameleon that feels more expensive than its price tag

When you’re considering updating the family transport, but need a kid friendly back seat, that mid-life itch demanding to be scratched with a self-indulgent luxury sports car has to wait a little longer.

Or perhaps not. 

I’ve found a brilliant compromise with the practicality of a modern family’s daily commuter that will make simple work of the tedious tasks of picking up the grocery shopping and safely transporting the kids to weekend sporting conquests. Yet it exudes a level of sophistication and prestige to impress the valet of the luxury hotel as you place the elegant key fob in their hand, before escorting your partner out for an enchanting night on the town.

When Jaguar invited me to take a closer look at their latest mid-sized SUV, the F-Pace, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Historically, Jaguars have been the consummate luxury saloon, finished with exquisite interior design that cocoons occupants in a serene environment void of the vulgarities of the bustling outside world. Or at the other end of the pendulum swing, they deliver pure sporty engagement for the driving enthusiast with eye-catching good looks, wonderful on-road dynamics and exhilarating performance with an acoustic sound track to match.

The F-Pace juggles that juxtaposition as Jaguar’s first family orientated SUV. It doesn’t sit neatly on either side of Jaguar’s famed family lineage. But, with the clear evidence of strong global sales, the F-Pace has demonstrated the dexterity to achieve a rewarding balance of the best Jaguar attributes from both sides of the family.

Outwardly, the F-Pace is one of the better looking mid-sized SUVs on the market. Jaguar has taken the obligatory bulbous shape of the stereotypical SUV and kept the elegant lines, sweeping curves and refined details synonymous with Jaguar’s sleek design styling. The latest F-Pace has slim line LED headlights and the double J signature daytime running lights, a larger front grille, restyled front bonnet, new tail lights and enhanced rear end to further accentuate its curvaceous figure. It’s quickly recognisable that you’re driving an elite vehicle from the Jaguar stable.

Our test vehicle was the Jaguar F-Pace R-Dynamic S P250 with Jaguar’s optional black exterior pack, giving it an edgier and more aggressive street presence by wrapping the front grille, lower large air intake surrounds, front and rear bumper inserts, side fender vents, window frames and body badging in gloss black. Completing the R-Dynamic’s assertive good looks was a set of optional 20” 10-spoke gloss black rims, bright red callipers, black roof rails and privacy glass. Whenever pulling up to a busy intersection or pedestrian crossing in the city, the F-Pace would always capture an extended glance or a nod of approval.

Open the driver’s door and the instant impression is one of refinement, as your eyes sweep across the soft leather dash, highlighted stitching, knurled metallic rotary dials and bespoke natural burr ash trim, complemented by satin metal highlights throughout the cabin. Adorning the centre is an impressive 11.4” HD touchscreen with beautifully curved-glass enclosed in an elegant magnesium alloy casing. 

Running Jaguar’s latest Pivi Pro infotainment system coupled to a Euphonious 6-speaker audio system, it’s a significant improvement on the previous generation. It’s also noticeably faster on start-up and response thanks to a dedicated power supply. Intuitive and easy to navigate, catering to both Android Auto and Apple car play, it’s rich in features and functionality. Jaguar claims the simplified menu structures allow drivers to access or view up to 90 percent of common tasks from the home screen in two taps or less. 

Given the not so insignificant external dimension of the Jag, it left me feeling perplexed about where all the room went. Leg, head, and shoulder clearance is at a premium for normal sized adults, let alone those who are taller than six feet.

At 390L, even rear boot space is moderate, with enough room for the weekend away with a couple of carry-on suitcases, but not a lot more.

Slip into the now wider and very comfortable 14-way power adjustable front leather pews, and grasp the soft touch steering wheel as you allow your back to ease into the nicely bolstered seats. Then place your hand on the courtly sculpted metal gear leaver with upper leather grasp and visually pleasing cricket-ball stitching; oh, so British. Take a moment to adjust the environmental settings to your exact requirements via the large rotary dials, before using the hidden-until-lit switches to configure the superb 12.3” HD Interactive Driver Display. There’s full-screen navigation, phone information, media or you might prefer sports digital dials if you feel like having some zooming fun. You’ll definitely appreciate the effective heads-up display providing pertinent information while you stay focused on the road ahead and enjoy the drive.

It’s true to say that despite this being a base model, Jaguar has bucked the accepted trend of cheap and cheerful interior finishes for lower spec variants in the range. Our F-Pace P250 retained a level of opulence and visual aesthetics befitting a more premium price point, which is guaranteed to impress driver and passengers alike. There’s a long list of electronic safety systems, as you’d expect in a premium vehicle, so no surprise that our P250 test vehicle also held a full five-star ANCAP safety rating.

The F-Pace will easily accommodate four adults in comfort, offering good head and leg room for both front and rear passengers. Or, in a family of five, you could squeeze a little’un in the middle of the second row. Release the rear hatch and the storage is cavernous with 793L available behind the second-row seats, which grows to an impressive 1,842L when the second row is folded for the trip to Ikea or Bunnings.

With a roomy, comfortable, opulently appointed cabin, and elegant, sophisticated exterior styling, it was time to find out just how much genuine Jaguar DNA was underpinning this congenial, family-friendly, practical SUV.

Under the hood lurked Jaguar’s 2.0L Ingenium 4-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine coupled to the venerable ZF-8 speed auto. It produces a crisp respectable 184kW at just over 5,000rpm, with a rather lusty flat torque curve delivering 365Nm at a sniffle above idle from 1,300rpm all the way to 4,500rpm. Which should equate to both a relaxed daily driver and comfortable open road cruiser with spirited performance when feeling the need to stretch the F-Pace’s legs and enjoy some manual intervention via the zinc alloy gearshift paddles.

Engage the start button on the console and there’s a brief rasp from the tail end showing the P250 also has a fun side. Pulling back on the crafted gear leaver to engage the driveline and moving out of the driveway, there’s the subdued interior ambiance you’d expect from a Jaguar.

Traversing traffic engorged roads, busy intersections and a frustratingly congested slow-moving freeway, the F-Pace zone insulated its occupants from the frenzied environment. 

With climate control maintaining my cool, soft music filling the background and fingertip control from the electric assisted steering for minimal effort at lower speeds, I moved through the traffic jam chaos to arrive late at my destination, but unflustered and relaxed.

Out of the city and cruising at 110 km/h, the F-Pace settles into a relaxed stride, happy to motor along on country roads effortlessly.

Although you may notice a little more road surface feedback through those large 20” rims and sticky low-profile tyres with minimal side wall flex and cushioning between the rim and the road. It’s not intrusive, just evident, and the suppleness of the suspension does a very good job of suppression. Personally, I reckon the miniscule variation on ride comfort is more than compensated for by the athletic good looks and sportier handling.

The 2.0L four cylinder is a very tractable power plant around town. It will happily doddle about in stop-start traffic. No, you won’t be setting any 0-100 records. But it’s no slouch either and will pleasantly surprise you with its ability to motivate the not-so-insubstantial body weight of 1,900kgs. I still found a smile on my face when spooling up the turbo to let it flex its muscle, generating a sporty but not clamorous rasp from the exhaust when paddle shifting through the gears.

It’s this nicely balanced combination that will allow everyday drivers to enjoy the P250’s talents without being intimidated by aggressive head-snapping acceleration. But if you prefer your martinis shaken not stirred, Jaguar offer the P300 six cylinder for added urgency and the next level in performance. 

If you have a predilection for space travel and the thrust required to get you there… then the double unfiltered expresso 5.0L supercharged V8 SVR will appease any adrenalin cravings you may have as it claws at the laws of physics.

Jaguar’s four paw all-wheel drive system further enhances the F-Pace’s safety and stability, providing sure-footed grip by almost instantly varying the engine torque to individual wheels to suit changing road surfaces. And torque vectoring will precisely meter braking force to the inside wheels if needed during fast paced cornering to assist the driver with improved steering response and control.

Finding an excuse to take the long way home along enjoyably twisty roads, the F-Pace’s 2.0L four provides a fun driving experience well within normal road limits. 

Twist the rotary dial next to the gear lever to select Dynamic mode and send the power toward the rear wheels, lean on the turbo boost in second gear and allow the tacho to have its freedom. As acceleration builds, feel yourself sink a little further into the leather seats, tap the steering wheel mounted paddle to upshift the ZF’s ratios in quick succession, before easing off along the straights. 

Flick through crisp down changes as you approach the next corner, line up your exit and do it all again… only this time with an even bigger smile on your face. This is an SUV after all, but the F-Pace will happily indulge the senses and reward you with a nicely balanced and engaging drive should you so desire.

There’s also the strong practical side to Jaguar’s sporty AWD system as it will change the F-Pace’s steering, transmission, and throttle response to offer additional control modes for comfort, economy and even a rain-ice-snow mode for when the weather turns inclement.

Caught in a sea of tail lights, I reflected on the F-Pace’s chameleon qualities as it tackled the tasks of a comfortable daily driver, practical family transport, or playful weekend explorer. The P250 may be the entry point in the F-Pace range, but it carries itself amicably and does Jaguar’s reputation for luxury appointed interiors and stylish exteriors proud. 

The upside, if you prefer a bit of champagne on a beer budget, then you might be pleasantly surprised with the price.

The F-Pace looks and feels a lot more expensive than its price tag…. but your neighbours never need to know.

Price: $83,200

(As tested, including all fitted options)

  • Engine: Ingenium 2.0 litre 4-cylinder intercooled turbo petrol
  • Output: 184kW/365Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Fuel: 7.8L/100km
  • Safety rating: ANCAP 5 Stars
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.