"Blimey, can't believe I missed that!" said the chap driving the building supplies lorry that had just reversed into it while it was parked outside my house. The workmen he was delivering to leant on their shovels. "Yeah, trouble is you didn't, did you..."
Even if it drove like a bag of spanners it's clear they're going to sell truckloads of them. Literally if the car transporters full of them radiating out of the West Midlands are anything to go by.
Hit the road
Even from our early off-road prototype drive it was clear this wasn't going to be the case. And so to our first UK test drive of a full production version, the car you (don't) see here and as tested probably the pick of the range. Sure, you can have a four-cylinder diesel if you want, prices starting at £35,020 for a 2.0 Prestige. And the 380hp 3.0-litre supercharged petrol is a nice option for those with money to burn. Or a fuel card. But the 300hp 3.0 Diesel is probably the sweet spot, this sharing a £52,300 starting price with the petrol and both V6s solely available in S spec.
Arguably though the F-Pace sits between these cars and their mid-sized equivalents, be that the Macan, Q5, X3 or GLC. Certainly it's a fraction smaller than the Cayenne/X5/GLE to the tune of 20mm or so in length and wheelbase against most of them. We'll leave you to decide whether that makes it a bargain compared with the Germans or rather strongly priced. Certainly no customer will want for choice, the catalogue offering four trim levels and a multitude of options to season your F-Pace to taste.
First impressions of the interior are that it might have ideas slightly above its station if it's going to tempt buyers out of the 'senior' premium SUV sector. The cabin is smart and functional enough - bar a huge A-pillar blind spot - and the fundamentals of ergonomics, tech, comfort and refinement are all there. Graphics and interaction with the standard InControl infotainment are now up to standard too. There's scope to invest in fancier materials and fabrics but those coming from the Cayenne, X5 and GLE will feel they've stepped a class down in terms of the touchy feely stuff. As a £40K car it's good enough; at £60K like our test car possibly punching a little above its weight. But that's OK because at that point you're just on the entry level to a Range Rover Sport, this being the point where JLR's carefully plotted brand hierarchy begins to make some sense.
Anyway. Before we get too bogged down in all that we should return to the area the F-Pace really wants to make its mark as a Jaguar - namely the driving experience. From recent product we've got used to certain trademarks, ranging from smooth-shifting autos to well-weighted steering and ride that combines isolating float with above average body control. Can that translate to a top-heavy, two-tonne SUV crossover?
Mostly yes. The engine and eight-speed auto are a brilliant combination, the V6 diesel unobtrusively smooth and effortlessly powerful. The mapping with the gearbox is spot on too, the transmission happy to lean on the 516lb ft of torque and exploit the in-gear acceleration. So no pointless upshifts or hair trigger kickdown to spoil your flow. This makes for relaxing and deceptively rapid progress across all sorts of terrain, typically fingertip light steering perfectly in tune to this style of driving. Body control and primary ride are typically composed too, though the spring rates required to contain that mass and our test car's optional 22-inch wheels do mean more intrusion from secondary bumps and ridges than you might have expected.
The S gets Adaptive Dynamics as standard, including electronically adjustable dampers and multi-mode Jaguar Drive Control to select your preferred parameters. Having dabbled with Dynamic you'll likely revert to the standard mode and be done, the snatchier throttle, fussier gearbox, fake steering weight and more brittle ride not really bringing much to the party. Going the other way there is a more mellow Wet setting, which is good for calming things down on camera controlled motorways, but the default is such a balanced all-round mode and the button to access the settings so small and fiddly it's unlikely you'll tinker around too much.
Many have questioned the wisdom of JLR adding a crossover to the Jaguar range while simultaneously offering SUV products under the Land Rover and Range Rover brands. But this has been turned to the F-Pace's advantage dynamically with its rear-biased chassis settings. Like the AWD F-Type this means the default torque split is 10:90 front to rear, the propshaft taking power to the front axle mounted 'after' the gearbox and controlled by the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics. So you get a more traditionally Jaguar dynamic set-up of uncorrupted steering response and rear-biased power delivery, drive torque smoothly diverted to the front axle when you need traction out of the corner or in damp conditions. Variations on the theme have existed for a while of course but JLR's smart calibration means it just works and, again, that word flow springs to mind when describing the way the F-Pace covers ground.
And wherever it fits into the bigger picture of competitor products, market sectors and all the rest, that's what sets it apart. It looks like a Jag. It goes like a Jag. Perhaps more successfully than any other mainstream car brand Jaguar has managed to translate its brand values to the world of crossovers and SUVs and done it with some style. Some of the touchy feely stuff lets it down compared with alternatives you could have for the same price but, it's fair to say, the secret to success in this sector is as much about the style you project to the outside world as anything. Both here and dynamically, the F-Pace looks a winning combination. Those Midlands-based car transporters are going to be busy.
JAGUAR F-PACE 3.0D AWD S
Engine: 2,993cc, V6 diesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@2,000rpm
Top speed: 150mph
Weight: from 1,884kg
MPG: 47.1 (NEDC combined)
Price: £52,300 (£55,250 as tested, including but not limited to Italian Racing Red paint £675; 22-inch Double Helix wheels £1,600; Activity Key £300; Privacy Glass £375)