SUV, Done Jaguar Style |

SUV, Done Jaguar Style

The new F-Pace aims to reinvent a crowded automotive category

In the quarter century that has passed since the Ford Explorer started us on the road to sport-utility vehicle domination, there have been a few unexpected diversions along the way from that largely homogenous and debatably ruinous class of automobiles.

Word began to circulate a few years back that Jaguar, that stalwart British carmaker best known for sporty, race-inspired machines like the classic E-Type, was going to jump into the SUV game, and more than a few jaws dropped.

The timing for a seemingly unlikely creation such as the new Jaguar F-Pace SUV could not be better, however. Since 2008, new ownership has invested billions of dollars into the iconic automaker, improving reliability and paving the way for some very revolutionary new vehicles, including the recent, much-lauded F-Type two-seater.

The all-wheel-drive F-Pace, which can be purchased for a little less than $41,000 in its entirely regulation-compliant diesel-engine configuration, manages to very happily bridge the worlds of Jaguar’s automotive heritage with the mountain- and winter-friendly attributes of a contemporary crossover SUV.

Its sleek style alone is striking, with a rounded grille, expressive headlamps, beautifully crafted wheels and wraparound brake lamps. F-Pace’s overall look might strike a few observers as looking like the designers took the F-Type sports car and morphed it into a five-door, weather-ready machine — one with 63.5 cubic feet of storage, rear seats dropped and a healthy 8.4 inches of road clearance, ideal for tackling the worst days on the passes.

Yes, some Jaguar purists will consider the vehicle an aberration, just as Porsche diehards moaned when the Cayenne SUV first debuted. The tremendously successful Cayenne pays the bills for that German carmaker, however, and Jaguar is also hoping that dipping its toes into the lucrative SUV market — especially in the United States — will move the company from a low-volume player to a more popular choice for aspirational buyers.

The good news, purists, is that the F-Pace really has injected a whole lot of that Jaguar automobile DNA into a goodly sized and as-luxurious-as-you’d-like-it-to-be SUV, primarily in its driving character.

If you’ve come to associate SUVs with floaty and indistinct handling, the rigidity of the F-Pace experience will definitely open your eyes. Ride is brisk — not jarringly so, but certainly more car-like than your standard crossover SUV of this size — and the handling dynamics are definitely sports-inspired.

That said, the laws of physics still mean that the 65-inch-tall, 186-inch-long F-Pace cannot exactly dash into (and hold) a corner with the same intensity as its F-Type sibling, but you’ll be surprised by its light and playful character. With body construction composed of 80 percent aluminum — pronounce it like the British do, just for fun — the vehicle tips the scales at about 4,000 pounds, depending on the engine choice. That makes it far more lithesome than some (ahem, German) counterparts.

Three engine choices will be available for the 2017 edition of the F-Pace, two supercharged 3.0-liter V-6es providing up to 380 horsepower, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel which emphasizes hill-climbing torque over raw power, as well as providing a significant bump in mileage over the gasoline models.

True to Jaguar traditions, the F-Pace’s interior and wheels can be customized to a very wide range of stylistic tastes and budgets. In the mood for bright red leather seats, meshed aluminum finishes and gleaming, massive 22-inch wheels? You can do that, but not for $41,000. Upsell is still the name of the game in the luxury world.

What is consistent in every iteration of the F-Pace is a comfortable, sporty seating arrangement, happily more Land Rover-oriented than the deep pits of the F-Type’s racing seats, plus a cabin and control layout that’s fresh, futuristic but not overwhelming. The rotary gearshifter, heartbeat-pulsing starter button and brilliant digital instrument displays found in Jaguar’s automobiles are included here, melded into an overall sweep of cockpit design that’s beautifully crafted and subtle in its simplicity. Window and mirror controls are, like a Land Rover, way up on top of the doors; audio controls are also way over there on the passenger side, reminding you of the right-drive heritage still at work here.

Mountain drivers looking for a refreshed take on SUV standards may gravitate toward the F-Pace; they won’t be disappointed by a ride that keeps all that Jaguar spirit very much alive.