When manufacturers provide vehicles to the press for test drives, they commonly offer the fully-loaded editions. This is justified by both sides as demonstrating all the options available. But it can be a nice opportunity to test what a consumer might get if they didn’t want to shell out for all the bells and whistles.
There’s nothing common about Jaguar, however, and the F-Pace test vehicle I drove recently had the basic 2.0-litre inline-four under its hood – the least expensive powerplant, which starts at just over $60,000 before the $1,800 destination charge and all taxes. This year, the F-Pace is also offered with two more powerful mild-hybrid V6 engines, supercharged and turbocharged, and even a fire-breathing V8, at prices up to almost six figures, but my test car came with the bog-standard 246 horsepower turbocharged powerplant.
The F-Pace is redesigned this year to keep pace with its competition and it has a lot to defend: it is easily Jaguar’s best-selling vehicle, well-positioned in the cut-throat category of premium compact SUVs. It also has to hold down the fort until 2025, when Jaguar has committed to produce only purely-electric vehicles, like its current I-Pace.
Included in the new redesign is an updated cabin, a much-improved infotainment system, and various tweaks to the exterior looks and the powertrains.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Most people agree that the F-Pace is a very attractive SUV, and the changes this year have given it a larger grille and a smoother hood, as well as rejigged lights at front and back. It doesn’t really stand out, though. My wife walked up to a Nissan Rogue in the grocery store parking lot, thinking it was the Jag, and she had to explain to the Rogue’s puzzled owner why she was tugging on the door handle. Most owners of premium vehicles would prefer to evaporate on the spot rather than make such a mistake.
As for Jaguar’s reputation for a sporty drive, I’m sure the more powerful versions are satisfying enough (for the extra $7,000-and-up of the larger engines), especially with the adaptive suspension of the R-Dynamic editions that start at $73,650, but the basic engine is nothing special. On a highway on-ramp, my neighbour blew me into the weeds in her Audi e-tron (admittedly, an extra $25,000 to buy), and she didn’t even know I was there, absorbed as she was in a phone conversation.
I can live with the looks, and I can live with the performance, but it irked me that I was expected to pay more for so many things that should come standard. If non-premium car-makers can offer adaptive cruise control and wireless Apple CarPlay for so much less cost, why can’t the premium OEMs? Why should a premium vehicle not offer an effective heads-up display or a heated steering wheel or individual climate control as part of the basic price? Is it because it’s more important to brag about driving a luxury car, bought at a cheaper stripped-down price, than to actually drive a luxury car?
To be fair, Jaguar’s not alone among premium automakers for doing this, and if you want to spend the money, you can have almost anything you want (though not yet wireless Apple CarPlay or wireless Android Auto). You do need to cost out your vehicle carefully, however; it’s very easy to soar way beyond your budget when adding options many consider essential.
2021 Jaguar F-Pace
Base price/As tested: $60,350 / $70,270, plus $1,800 Freight and Destination
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four
Transmission/Drive: 8-speed / AWD
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 City, 8.8 Highway, 9.9 Comb.
Alternatives: BMW X3, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lexus RX
The F-Pace is a good-looking SUV, with none of the sharp creases or metallic twists that might offend the eye. Alloy 19-inch wheels are standard. At the front and back, everything looks a little wider than before, with slim LED lights, a lower rear bumper and a wider grille with a new design to the mesh. This is all supposed to make the vehicle look more “planted” on the road; you can be the judge of that.
Seats are very comfortable, though not spacious in the rear. The central touch screen is now slightly curved and Jaguar says it’s easier to use than before, and I can’t disagree: the previous edition was fiddly and not at all intuitive. This time around, the maker says the menu is simplified so that 90 per cent of common tasks can be achieved with just a couple of taps on the screen. I guess I’m old – I prefer to change the radio station or turn on the heated seats with just one tap of a real button.
The redesigned and larger centre console includes attractive rotary controllers for the transmission and electronic drive modes that rise up from flush to the surface, but it is finished in brushed aluminum. When the sun shines down on it through the standard panoramic sunroof, which can only be shielded by a screen, not a solid cover, it reflects up into your eyes and makes anything down there unreadable. A greater pitch to the surface would have fixed this.
I only drove the 246 hp inline-four, which produces 269 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,300 rpm all the way up to 4,500 rpm. This makes the powerplant responsive but not quick, taking a claimed 7.3 seconds to accelerate from zero-to-100 km/h. As for going around corners, the double wishbone suspension at the front and the integral link suspension at the rear help the intelligent all-wheel drive keep control. But you might want to spend the extra money for the adaptive suspension if you want to make the most of curvy roads.
The glitchy infotainment system is gone, replaced by a slick new system named Pivo. It works well, though will take a little getting used to before you know where everything is. Active noise cancellation through the sound system helps keep the ride quiet. The large digital instrument cluster is fully configurable, just like those of the German auto makers and others.
Driver’s safety assistance includes everything as standard except for adaptive cruise control, which seems strange – if a mid-level Toyota Corolla can include it, why not Jaguar? The rear blindspot cameras will warn you against approaching cyclists before you open the door, but the active lane assistance did not work well for me. It should help steer the SUV cleanly in the middle of its lane, but if left alone without touching the wheel, it would often cross the line and sometimes drift right off the road around a shallow corner. I know, drivers should be driving, but this should be better controlled.
The F-Pace is quite spacious in its open trunk, with 793 litres of cargo room when the rear seats are up, and 1,842 litres with those seats folded flat. The larger engines, with their larger storage areas for lithium-ion batteries, cut into this space, so this at least is one advantage of opting for less power. You probably won’t convince many listeners at cocktail parties, though.
The F-Pace is a comfortable, capable and stylish SUV with all the bragging rights of the Jaguar nameplate. You get what you pay for, however, and if you’re happy to drive a more mainstream brand, you’ll get almost all that it offers for significantly less cost.