2018 Jaguar F-Pace S Review: The Surprisingly Fun-to-Drive Face of Jaguar's Future

The storied British brand is best known for sleek sports cars and sultry sedans...but the future lies in crossovers.

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S.

Much has Porsche has become something of a crossover company with a sports car problem, Jaguar Land Rover is well under way to transforming into an SUV-maker that sells sports cars and sedans as a side hustle. In 2017, the company's sport-utes outsold everything else in the lineup by more than a 4:1 margin in America. Most of those SUV sales, not surprisingly, stem from the Land Rover lineup—but even the J in JLR is pacing to sell more high-riding soft-roaders than anything else, with the arrival of both the compact E-Pace and the all-electric Tesla-taunting I-Pace likely coming before New Year's Eve 2018.

But it's the Jaguar F-Pace that deserves the credit today for the leaping cat's recent sales rise. As the brand's first SUV, it seemed rather heretical to enthusiasts when it launched a little less than two years ago. But much like the Cayenne was for Porsche, the F-Pace sold like hotcakes to buyers who wanted a fancy crossover from a high-end brand and couldn't give a damn about the company staying true to its storied heritage. Last year, Jaguar sold nearly 19,000 of them in America, amounting to nearly half the big cat's Stateside sales. (The sales runner-up, the compact XE sedan, moved just 9,278 units.)

So like it or not, going forward, this high-waisted two-box shape with its low-profile lights front and rear is likely to be the look most commonly associated with Jaguar. But if this F-Pace's vision of where the future lies goes deeper than the skin, Jaguar's crossover-centric future won't come at the cost of the company's deeply-valued vehicle dynamics. The engineering whiz kids of Coventry have pulled out all the stops to deliver a sport-ute that acts...well, very little like a sport-ute, at least from behind the wheel. 

Jaguar

The Pros:

  • It might sound weird, but damn, but this is a pretty SUV. The design language used on the XF and XE sedans scales up remarkably well to midsize crossover proportions, giving the F-Pace an alert, hungry look. That's doubly true for the F-Type S, which ditches the bifurcated lower fascia of the lesser trims for a set of hungry maws. It looks, to borrow an overused word that seems awfully on-point for a car named after a jungle cat, fierce
  • In addition to looks, the F-Pace also shares its platform with the XE and XF—and it shows on the road. This crossover—at least, in sporty S trim—drives more like a car than most, darting through traffic and tackling turns with plenty of immediacy and very little body roll. It's clearly aimed at drivers who'd rather be manhandling an F-Type than an F-Pace. 
  • The 380-horsepower V-6 is more than strong enough for a sporty all-roader; JLR's claimed 0-60 mile-per-hour time of 5.1 seconds seemed right on target, based on, among other tests, a full-throttle blast from a stop sign into the zooming highway traffic of Manhattan's Henry Hudson Parkway. 
  • It's a feature this Jag shares with many crossovers, but maybe the F-Pace's otherwise car-like performance made me appreciate it more than usual: Having an H-point that's almost dead-even with where your hips lie when you stand makes everything about entering, exiting, loading, and unloading blissfully easy. And that's a man with just three decades of wear on his joints saying that. It's not hard to see why the middle-aged-and-older buyers more likely to be able to afford a new vehicle would be inclined to pick crossovers over sedans...especially when the ride and handling compromises are as minuscule as with this kitty.
Jaguar

The Cons:

  • Options add up with same sort the sort of velocity as many luxury makes these days. While the majority of F-Pace models start in the mid-to-high $40K range, the sporty S model starts at a hair over $60,000 with destination, and that's hardly as high as it goes; Mmy tester rang up at a bit over $75,000, fully laden with options. That's as much as Jag charges for a starter version of the large, elegant XJ sedan—a car which offers nearly the exact same amount of interior volume when you combine cabin and trunk. 
  • The eight-speed automatic—ZF's near-omnipresent unit—isn't as sharp as the best out there in 2018. It's quick to find the tallest gear in the name of fuel economy, but much more reticent to kick back down on cue, leading to some awkward moments of transmission lag—that moment between flooring the gas and gearbox kick-down that can seem like an eternity—when attempting a fast passing maneuver. I wound up spending much of my time in manual mode, flicking between cogs with the steering wheel's paddles to keep the revs between 1,800 and 3,000 rpm; doing so kept the engine closer to its happy place, leading to a far more predictable—and enjoyable—drive.
  • The interior looks nicer than it feels. Much like the XE and XF (noticing a trend here?), there's a surprising amount of hard plastic and less-than-supple leather scattered around. It's not a dealbreaker, but esthetes who value such touchpoint luxuries above all else would be better suited looking to a Mercedes or an Audi for the same money. 
  • A combined fuel economy figure of 20 miles per gallon—with just 23 mpg on the highway—seems awfully thirsty for a car-based crossover in this day and age. (Luckily for extreme road trippers, there's also an oil-burning variant, packing a turbodiesel inline-four that makes nearly as much torque as the F-Pace S and gets 33 mpg on the open road.)
Jaguar

The 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S, Ranked:

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 3/5

Luxury: 4/5

Hauling people: 3/5

Hauling stuff: 4/5

Curb appeal: 5/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 3.75/5

Jaguar

The Bottom Line:

The first letter in the F-Pace's name wasn't chosen on a whim. While plenty of luxury automakers like to align their SUV and car model ranges by sharing names between models of the same size—BMW's X3/X5/X7 stack up in parallel to the 3 Seres/5 Series/7 Series, to name the most obvious example—the XF and F-Pace feel more closely related than the majority of platform-sharing relatives out there. That brings with it pluses and minuses, like anything in life: Car-like performance, with a somewhat harsh ride for a family crossover; midsize sedan-like room and seating capacity, in a market that often demands room for seven. 

But clearly, the F-Pace isn't trying to battle for the heart of the midsize luxury crossover market, where vehicles like the Acura MDX and the Lexus RX and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class GLE-Class live. The lack of even a token third row would be proof enough, let alone the sporty ride. While JLR parent Tata Motors would, no doubt, love to sell cars in Toyota-like numbers, the Jaguar brand is built around certain principles—ideas like sportiness, style, and sex appeal. To sacrifice those in the name of sales would be to trade away that which makes Jag unique (and would probably prompt the ghost of Sir William Lyons to mercilessly haunt CEO Ralf Speth until he goes mad). 

So given that, the F-Pace S seems like exactly the sort of SUV the company ought to be making these days. It's certainly not for everyone, or even for most people...but for those who feel the carmaker's vibe, this 380-hp crossover will put a smile on their face every time they walk over and start it up. 

Jaguar

The 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S, By the Numbers:

Price (as tested): $60,760 ($75,310)

Powertrain: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, 380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 18 city, 23 highway

0-60 mph: 5.1 seconds (manufacturer claim)

Top speed: 155 mph

Number of issues with the InControl Touch Pro system over the course of one week: Zero. Well done you, Jaguar, 

Jaguar