Review: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S AWD

Jaguar takes a crack at the SUV market.

Unlike most major automakers, Jaguar has never produced a sport utility vehicle. That meant when Jaguar decided to jump into the burgeoning SUV segment back in 2016, it could do so with a clean sheet.

But while Jaguar has no track record whatsoever when it comes to SUVs, the British automaker has a long history of producing achingly beautiful cars that are also a joy to drive. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jaguar leaned on its storied pedigree when developing the F-Pace. But does that Jaguar DNA make for a compelling luxury SUV in today's crowded marketplace? Come with use as we find out.

What is it?The Jaguar F-Pace is a mid-size luxury that rides on the same basic platform that underpins the XE sedan. And, like the XE, the F-Pace is largely constructed out of aluminum to keep weight at bay.

The F-Pace is available in three basic configurations β€” the diesel-powered 20d AWD, the gas-powered 35t AWD and the range-topping S AWD seen here. Buyers also have the choice of distinct trim levels within each of those option groups.

Unlike traditional SUVs, the F-Pace places a heavy emphasis on driving dynamics. That means the F-Pace is far more at home in the urban jungle than the actual jungle. If you're looking for an off-roader, the F-Pace probably isn't for you.

What's it up against?The Jaguar F-Pace goes toe-to-toe with a number of established nameplates in the two-row luxury SUV segment. Chief among those rivals are the Infiniti QX70, Lexus RX, BMW X3, Porsche Macan, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5.

How does it look?Just about perfect, to be honest. The brainchild of Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum, the F-Pace is impeccably tailored with spot-on proportions. In fact, we'd call it the best-looking modern Jaguar not called the F-Type coupe.

Up front the F-Pace uses the same basic styling laid out by Jag's latest XF and XE sedans. However, the F-Pace's taller proportions allow for four large air openings, giving the vehicle a much more aggressive look. A set of LED headlights with angry eyebrows only enhances the F-Pace's menacing look.

The roofline of the F-Pace isn't as swoopy as something like the BMW X6, but a rising belt line paired with a sharply raked hatchback give the F-Pace a decidedly sporty look. Our F-Pace S test car came fitted with 20-inch wheels and red-painted calipers, further enhancing its sporting credentials.

Although the front end styling of the F-Pace mimics Jaguar's sedan lineup, the rear of the crossover is inspired solely by the F-Type sports car. That means wide, thin taillights with a half circle jutting out from the bottom and a set of pronounced haunches that help to keep the F-Pace visually planted to the ground. A rooftop spoiler and dual exhaust outlets round out the look.

And on the inside?The interior of the F-Pace should feel familiar to anyone that's spent time in the XE sedan. That's because the cabin of the F-Pace is a near carbon copy of the sedan on which it's based.

From an aesthetics standpoint, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The cockpit of the F-Pace feels thoroughly modern thanks to its use of a wide-aspect infotainment screen, rotary gear knob and optional light wood accents. And at nighttime, the cabin of the F-Pace feels like a swanky club thanks to customizable LED accent lighting. But even with all of that modernity, there's still a bit of that old-world Jag charm in the form on contrasting stitching on the F-Pace's leather-covered surfaces.

The interior of the F-Pace isn't cramped, but it isn't exactly spacious, either. That cozy feeling is amplified by doors that extend to near shoulder-level and a sloping roof that compromises rearward visibility. However, a massive panoramic sunroof does lighten up the F-Pace's cabin quite a bit.

Front seats offer good thigh support, but the backrests could use some work. We found the seat back to be lacking in lumbar support and over intrusive in the upper-shoulder area. As a result, we had to drive around in a semi-slumped position. On a positive note, we enjoyed the F-Pace's adjustable bolsters, which allowed us to adjust the seat's grip based on our driving style.

Rear seats offer reasonable accommodations for two; fitting three adults would be a squeeze. One thing to note β€” the rear doors of the F-Pace are quite long, which can make it difficult to fully open them in tight spaces. If you plan on using the F-Pace to haul around kids in car seats, just be aware of that limitation and be prepared for the inevitable door ding.

The F-Pace's biggest interior pitfall is ergonomics, both physical and virtual. For example, Jaguar decided to put buttons for the seat memory where you'd expect to find the power window switches. Instead, those are located awkwardly on the top of the door panel.

And while the center stack offers a few physical buttons for HVAC and radio controls, you still have to go through the 12.3-inch touch screens to work most things. Want to change the direction of the airflow? There's a button on the dash for that, but all it does is launch virtual controls on the LCD screen. And for the life of us we couldn't figure out how to keep the climate control synced between the drive and passenger's side; every time we shut off the vehicle it would default to separate temperatures. And of course, the sync button is a virtual control.

And that brings us to the infotainment system itself. It's not the most intuitive thing to navigate, but you can find your way around via the icons located on the bottom of the screen. However, those icons are quite small and located near a lip in the dash, so it can be tricky to hit just the right one without looking away from the road. That situation isn't helped by the system's lag, which can take a few seconds to respond. On the plus side, resolution is good.

The F-Pace doesn't run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (which would solve some of its inherent problems), but it can run Jaguar's InControl Apps. Unfortunately the smartphone application is rather basic and doesn't offer much benefit beyond the base system.

But does it go?It wasn't all that long ago that SUVs were cumbersome vehicles with clumsy handling. The Jaguar F-Pace is far, far removed from that era of the SUV.

From behind the wheel the F-Pace S feels borderline sports car. Steering is sharp and direct, and the 3.0L supercharged V6 dishes out its 380 horsepower in neck-snapping fashion. And thanks to a low curb weight and compact footprint, the F-Pace feels extremely nimble on its feet. Simply put, the F-Pace S is one of the best-driving crossovers we've ever tested.

Of course there is always some kind of compromise for such a sporty ride, and in the case of the F-Pace it's a stiff suspension. That means you'll feel more bumps than you might expect in a Jaguar, but the ride is far from jarring. That's a worthy trade-off for sensational driving dynamics in our book.

Like most modern cars, the F-Pace offers a few different driving modes. The F-Pace behaves itself quite well in standard mode, offering good throttle response without ever feeling like it's tuned for maximum fuel economy. In contrast, throttle response is noticeable decreased in Eco mode and up-shifts occur at much lower RPMs than normal.

A sport mode sits at the other end of the spectrum and offers sharper response and also tells the transmission to hold gears longer. Flip the rotary knob from D to S and things get even sportier. While in S the vehicle will hold gears until you tell it to change via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Our one notable gripe was with the automatic start-stop system that defaults to "on” every time you restart the vehicle. It'd be nice to have a way to permanently shut the system off.

Our tester came packed with the latest driving aids, but we couldn't make sense of most of them. Adaptive cruise control worked just fine, but the lane departure warning system didn't seem very keen on picking up lane lines. We didn't much mind that in the F-Pace, however, as it's such a joy to drive manually.

Our tester was also equipped with a few parking assist features. Again, we couldn't get them to function properly despite trying to do so in an empty parking lot for about 15 minutes. We concede that we might have been doing something wrong, but shouldn't the system be intuitive enough to eventually figure out?

One other gripe: The forward collision warning system went off without good reason at least half-a-dozen times during our week with the F-Pace. It's nice to know the system is looking out for us, but it got a little annoying as the week went on.

Of course all of the F-Pace's British luxury doesn't come cheap. Base prices for the F-Pace S start at $57,700, but our tester came with an as-tested price of $72,585. For only about $8,000 more you could have a Land Rover Range Rover Sport with a supercharged V8.

Fuel economy is just OK considering the F-Pace's size and class. The EPA rates the F-Pace S at 23mpg highway and 18mpg city; during our week-long test we averaged about 19mpg. Keep in mind that Jaguar recommends premium-grade gas for the F-Pace S.

Leftlane's bottom lineHandsomely styled with fantastic driving dynamics, the 2017 F-Pace S AWD is a Jaguar through-and-through. The overall package isn't perfect, though, with some work left to do when it comes to driving aids and infotainment. But for those that want a healthy dose of sport to go along with their utility vehicle, the F-Pace is an excellent choice.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace S AWD base price, $57,700. As tested, $72,585.Ingot Premium Metallic Paint, $1,500; Fine Line Veneer, $300; Comfort and Convenience Package, $1,800; Luxury Interior Upgrade Package, $2,200; Technology Package, $3,200; Driver Assistance Package, $3,200; Gloss Black Roof Rails, $350; Head-up Display, $990; Black Design Package, $350; Destination, $995.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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