Road Test of the Year 2016: Jaguar F-Pace R Sport Review

For purists, the fact Jaguar dared to dabble in SUVs was always going to be a step too far. The British firm's DNA in the fields of performance and racing combine with the compromised handling and practicalities of a 4x4 like oil and water, they say.

But while those purists will probably never get over the fact Jaguar has muddied the waters of its brand with a machine like the F-Pace, the accountants at parent firm Tata will be turning a blind eye. You see, this is the car Jaguar needs right now: it's a new lease of life for a firm that's faltered and it's a path to a whole new customer base for a brand that desperately needs it.
First things first. No-one could deny that Ian Callum's design has pulled off the distinctive Jaguar looks that the F-Type so wonderfully showcased. The familiar grille works perfectly on the SUV and there's a definite hint of rage from behind those still, yet angled, lights and prominent jawline.

This is an SUV designed to attract buyers away from the Porsche Macan and the best-selling Audi Q5 and we'd argue it's done enough in the looks department to distinguish itself from that ever-growing car parc of interchangeable design. The fact Jaguar's order books are full to the brim with F-Pace buyers speaks volumes in a segment dominated by form over function.

Looks-wise, it might be ticking the right boxes then, but what's it like on the road? Well, in short, it's a bit hit and miss. Our test drive begins with a 250-mile journey to North Wales, a task that in many cars would be a chore. This is the R-Sport model, complete with 178bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine – and to be honest, it's not always up to the job.

On the motorway it's comfortable enough and cruises perfectly well, but in and around town it gets frustratingly sluggish. There's a lack of response to the engine and drivetrain that makes it irritating in stop-start traffic.

That's long forgotten, though, when you get to the twisty stuff. One of our favourite test roads snakes out of Denbigh into the moors.

Jaguar F-Pace R Sport
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Jaguar F-Pace R Sport

It's scattered with blind crests and tight, hedge-lined twists and turns and it's here where the F-Pace sheds its bulk and that Jaguar DNA bubbles to the surface.

Switch it into its sportier 'race' mode and the dash changes red, it noticeably tightens up, hunkers down and gets on with the job of tackling the terrain. One can't help but think a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 from the F-Type would make this a whole different machine altogether.

We're not going to sell that race mode as magic – there's still a whole lot of skill from the driver required – but it certainly proves Jaguar has managed to inject some of its sports car blood into its first SUV and we're very thankful it has.

Inside, the F-Pace feels far more snug than its exterior dimensions suggest. Jaguar will describe it as sporty, but we'd say it feels cosy at best, cramped at worst. The driving position is cocooned by a large transmission tunnel and there's little space for your legs if you're tall.

The switchgear feels very familiar too – it's much the same as the firm's F-Type and that's no bad thing. Dials look good and the buttons and toggles feel decent quality.

In fact, it's a rather pleasant place to spend time, albeit a little on the small side.

There's little doubt the F-Pace is a car Jaguar desperately needed to build. SUVs are a car- buying staple these days; they're the heartland of the industry and one which manufacturers ignore at their peril. In fact, if ever proof of that were needed, the F-Pace is it. SUVs are incredibly important to Jaguar's sister firm, Land Rover, yet still its parent company decided to press ahead with this rival.

We don't doubt this will be a turning point for the brand either. Much like how Porsche has become an SUV firm that happens to build sports cars these days, we can see Jaguar's future heading in the same direction. Is that a bad thing? Not if it frees up some R&D cash to continue building cars as breathtaking as its sister sports car models it isn't. Think of the F-Pace as a very good savings account for the firm – it might not be for everyone, but the returns it will generate will live on for generations to come.

Jaguar F-Pace R Sport
Price: £44,770
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbo diesel
Power: 178bhp, 430Nm
0-60mph: 8.2 seconds
Top speed: 129mph
Economy: 53.3mpg combined
Emissions: 139g/km

Review written by Rebecca Chaplin
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