The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog.
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The snow leopard is a big cat, too.
Like the jaguar — except it is built to deal with snow.
So also the F-Pace, which is the snow leopard of Jaguars.
It has more than twice the ground clearance (8.3 inches) of an XJ sedan or an F-Type coupe and comes standard with claw-the-road (paved or not) all-wheel-drive.
This Jag is also available with a diesel engine — which no rival offers.
Not Audi — and not Porsche.
Because of their relation to VW — and you know the rest of that story.
BMW and Mercedes, meanwhile, have preemptively bailed out of the compression-ignition market, having concluded it’s just too much hassle — and too expensive — to deal with the EPA’s Inspector Javert-like obsessions over fractional differences in diesel exhaust emissions. Getting to that next “bin” or “tier” isn’t worth it, apparently.
Which leaves the diesel-powered F-Pace as sui generis, one of a kind.
WHAT IT IS
The F-Pace is a five-passenger luxury-sport crossover SUV.
It’s a compact bordering on mid-size, about the same size as a Porsche Macan and similar in concept, but the Jag costs thousands less to start. And unlike the Porsche, the Jag’s available with a long-legged/high-miles and big torque diesel engine.
Base price is $42,065 for the gas turbo-powered 25t trim vs. $47,800 to start for the Porsche.
When equipped with its optional turbodiesel engine ($46,275 to start) the Jag is capable of averaging mid-30s on the highway — and still costs less than the least expensive version of the Macan — which averages mid-20s.
Probably of more relevance to buyers of vehicles at this price point, the diesel-powered F-Pace can travel almost 600 miles on the highway before it needs a refill.
There isn’t another high-end crossover in this class or the next up class that can touch that — especially now that Benz (GLE, GLS) and BMW (X series) have pulled their formerly available diesel engines from their U.S. model lineups.
And if hustle matters to you more than legs, the 2018 F-Pace can be ordered with two high-performance gas engines: There’s the standard turbocharged four — and a supercharged V6, the latter offered in two states of tune (340 or 380 hp).
The 2.0 liter turbocharged four is new; it replaces the supercharged gas V6 as the standard F-Pace engine.
The supercharged V6 — and turbodiesel four — remain available optionally.
Two new electronic driving aids have been added to the equipment roster as well: Forward Traffic Detection — a collision avoidance technology — and Forward Vehicle Guidance — a parking assist technology.
The Equalizer can go off-road now.
Diesel delivers near-hybrid fuel economy and range — without the complexity, cost or added weight of the hybrid layout (which always mucks up the handling).
Torque enough to get air under the front wheels . . . almost.
Has pulling power: The diesel-powered Jag’s max tow rating is 5,290 lbs. vs. 4,409 for the gas-engined Porsche.
Costs thousands less to start than Porsche Macan — even when equipped with its optional turbodiesel engine.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
To pass muster with Uncle, the Jag’s diesel is equipped with urea injection — so you’ll have to top off periodically with Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF).
Also Because Uncle, diesel fuel has become the most expensive fuel — often it costs more per gallon than unleaded premium.
Rearward visibility is poor, sacrificed on the altar of good looks.
UNDER THE HOOD
One of the neat things about this jacked-up cat is the panoply of engine options. Instead of the usual two — and usually gas engine-only — you’ve got three choices.
And three different types of engines:
Turbocharged gas four, supercharged gas V6 . . . and turbodiesel four.
The turbo four is standard and F-Paces so equipped carry the 25t designation.
This engine displaces 2.0 liters and makes 247 horsepower and 269 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,200 RPM. It is very similar in layout and output to the Macan’s standard 2.0 liter turbo four, which makes 252 hp and 273 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,600 RPM.
The Jag’s four is paired with an eight speed automatic; the Macan uses a seven speed automated manual. Both come standard with full-time all-wheel-drive systems that are rear-biased, meaning that until slippage is detected, almost all of the engine’s power goes to the rear rather than the front wheels.
This is the preferred layout for high-speed handling and is uncommon in crossover SUVs because most of them (including those made by Lexus and Acura) descend from mass-market, FWD passenger cars. The Lexus RX, for example, traces its lineage back to the Toyota Camry.
The Jag and the Porsche descend from more exclusive rear-drive sports cars.
Front-biased crossovers are usually good in the snow — because they have more weight over the primary drive wheels and because there is a snow-day advantage in pulling rather than pushing.
But their high-speed handling/cornering capabilities are compromised because they are nose heavy — and light in the tail. Also, because the primary drive wheels are also the wheels that steer the thing.
There’s an inherent conflict.
And it’s the reason why almost all serious race cars — and street high-performance cars — are either rear-wheel-drive or rear-drive biased AWD.
The F-Pace has a performance monitor that shows you the power split in real time; the transition from rear-drive to all-wheel-drive . . . as you drive. There are also multiple/selectable Drive modes, including Rain/Ice/Snow, Eco, Normal and Dynamic, which is the sportiest setting.
Like the Porsche, the Jag’s got also launch control — a system that uses the traction control and ABS along with throttle programming to give you the quickest and most controlled acceleration by automatically modulating power delivery to match the available traction. Tap the screen to engage, then floor the gas pedal and keep it floored. No need to back off when the wheels slip.
No fishtailing, no stumbling.
Equipped with the 2.0 liter turbo four, the F-Pace gets to 60 in about 6.3 seconds. EPA says this version of the Jag is good for 22 MPG in city driving and 27 on the highway. These numbers are very competitive with the turbo four-powered Macan, which is slightly quicker — it gets to 60 in about 6.1 seconds — and also slightly thirstier — 20 city, 25 highway.
The next up F-Pace engine is a supercharged 3.0 liter V6.
It’s available in 340 and 380 hp versions and (as with the turbo four) it’s paired with the eight speed automatic and full-time AWD.
Equipped with this engine, the Jag’s zero to 60 run drops to about 5 flat.
Mileage also drops, too — but less than you might expect given the horsepower and performance uptick.
EPA says 18 city, 23 highway.
Again, par vs. the Macan’s optional — and also 3.0 liter — but turbocharged rather than supercharged — V6. Which makes 340 or 360 hp depending on the version. It gets the Porsche to 60 in about the same five flat.
At this point, the two crossovers diverge like the course of two mighty rivers.
The Jag can be ordered — uniquely in this class — with a 2.0 liter turbodiesel four. It makes 180 hp and 318 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,750 RPM. This engine emphasizes low-end grunt, pulling power and extremely long highway legs.
Keep it under 70 and it’ll go close to 600 miles on a full tank. During a weeklong test drive, I averaged almost 34 MPG better than the EPA’s highway projections. This is not unusual for diesel-powered vehicles, which routinely do better than the advertised city/highway estimates.
With gas-engined vehicles, it’s almost always the reverse.
The Macan offers nothing comparable. It goes in the other direction. You can buy it with a 440 hp 3.6 liter turbo six, the same basic engine that’s available in the 911.
It won’t go 400 miles on a tank.
But it will get to 60 in 4 seconds.
ON THE ROAD
Diesels are the natural powerplant for a vehicle like the F-Pace. Which is about utility and sport, remember. Diesels pull like draft horses — and keep pulling without having to be “watered” every two hours or so.
As mentioned earlier, miles-per-gallon isn’t an economic issue for anyone with the means to buy a vehicle like the F-Pace or the Macan. If it were, they wouldn’t be shopping for Jaguars or Porsches to begin with.
But miles-in-between fill-ups, that’s something else. It’s luxurious to be able to trundle along for five or six hours at a stretch on the highway without having to pit.
The diesel is like having a personal executive bodyguard with you at all times. It’s quiet and in the background — but there, immediately, when you need it. At highway speeds, it’s barely idling — 1,600 or so RPM at 70 in top gear.
Unlike the gassers — which need to rev to make their horsepower — the diesel’s torque is always on tap.
Revving the Jag’s engine is as unnecessary as adding grease to bacon.
There is much torque on tap that — initially — there is a learning curve. You learn to push lightly on the accelerator pedal. Give it the usual half pedal when the light goes green and you may be startled by how the front end lifts, how assertively the Jag jumps forward.
But this is the good kind of getting-used-to.
It’s also nice to execute a pass without the usual high-RPM scream.
And if you do ever have to deal with heavy snow or mud or anything that is made better and easier via leverage, you will thank the motor gods for the low RPM grunt of the turbodiesel engine.
But it’s lonely up on top of the mountain. The F-Pace is the only vehicle of its type you can still get with a diesel powerplant. Bad news for Porsche, Benz and BMW.
Great news for Jag.
Provided, of course, Jag can continue offering it.
The other thing the Jag offers — in all F-Paces — is damping unlike any other. What is “damping”? It is the opposite of bouncing. When the F-Pace encounters a dip in the road, it doesn’t rebound. It absorbs the motion as fluidly as a cat leaping from a window two stories to the ground below.
You have to drive this thing — fast — to experience it and to believe it.
AT THE CURB
Crossovers are necessarily about compromises. They’ve become popular for exactly that reason, too.
Porsche developed the Cayenne (and then the Macan) because so many potential 911 and Cayman buyers needed more than a personal-sized car with a tiny trunk that was useless as a family car and hopeless as a snow-day car.
It was a bold — and profitable — decision.
Jaguar made the same decision, for the same reasons.
The trick — for both Jaguar and Porsche — was to build a crossover that doesn’t drive — or look — like a compromise.
Neither the Porsche nor the Jag will excite your senses to the degree that a two-door Porsche or Jag does. But they also don’t leave you indifferent and wondering: Why the hell didn’t I just buy a RAV4 or CR-V instead?
The Jag — like the Porsche — has some sexy lines yet.
The subtle hood bulge, for one. And the more-than-usually low-cut side glass, which makes the F-Pace seem as though it’s sitting lower even though it’s not.
Viewed from head on, slightly off center, there’s enough Jaguar-ness to be convincing — and that’s all that matters, really.
Though nominally a compact crossover, the F-Pace is closer to being functionally mid-sized than the Macan. It is 186.3 inches long (vs. 184.3 for the Porsche) and has 43 inches of legroom up front vs. 41 inches for the Macan. Second row legroom is dead heat — 37 inches in the Jag vs. 37.4 in the Porsche — but the Porsche’s 911-esque up-canted roofline allows a bit more usable headroom.
On the other hand, the Jag’s extra length allows significantly more total cargo capacity: 63.5 cubic feet (with the second row folded) vs. 53 cubic feet for the Macan.
And the F-Pace has a bit more ground clearance: 8.3 inches vs. 7.8 for the Porsche.
It would be interesting to see which of the two goes up a ski slope better.
All trims come standard with a full-roof panorama roof, LuxTec leather trim, an 8-inch color LCD touchscreen and a very good 11-speaker Meridian audio system. A larger (10 inch) touchscreen is available as part of the optional Technology Package, which also includes a configurable LCD main gauge cluster, an even better 17 speaker ultra-premium Meridian sound system and in-car WiFi.
The Jag also offers some unique and not gimmicky features, such as a grid heater for the windshield (as in Land Rover SUVs) which helps de-ice and de-fog your forward view as well as the view to the rear.
There is also a FitBit-style waterproof Activity bracelet that you can take with you while adventuring — leaving the shouldn’t-get-it-wet ignition key locked safely inside the car.
Just a couple of minor nits to point out — and most of these are subjective, as in just my opinion:
Like other Jags, the F-Pace has a rotary knob gear selector that is flush with the console surface until the push-button ignition is activated. It then rises elegantly to meet your hand. The nit — if you’re a Speedy Gonzalez type like me — is that it does take a moment to rise up out of the console and until it does, you can’t select a gear and get going.
Old-school shift levers aren’t as elegant, but you can jam them from Park to Drive as soon as you jump in the driver’s seat.
On the other hand, the Jag’s rotary knob has some tactile feedback — which the toggle/tap shifters becoming popular in high-end vehicles haven’t got any of.
The power window controls are mounted on top of the door panels, rather than the usual somewhere lower down, near the door pulls. So you have to raise your hand up to activate the controls. It’s a little odd-feeling at first.
Those two are subjective — one man’s opinion.
The objective nit is the rear glass slit. Holy man falling down the well, Batman! It’s a small slice of glass, maybe two feet square — canted at what appears to be a 45 degree angle. About a fourth of this is hooded by the integrated roof airfoil, which extends outward over the glass, darkening what view there is.
Making the view even worse — and this part isn’t Jaguar’s fault — are the Uncle-mandated tall boy anti-whiplash headrests mounted atop the rear seats. These eat up probably a fourth of the already not-much peripheral vision.
But hey, it’s a Jag.
Form matters a bit more than function here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s not as quick as the Macan, but it’ll go farther — and for less.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos