2017 Jaguar F-Pace first drive review

Montenegro is mostly off the radar of Americans. We kind of know Yugoslavia, even though it no longer exists.

Montenegro’s a part of the former Yugoslavia, a rocky promontory wedged between Croatia and Albania, deep in Game of Thrones territory. Largely unscathed by the decades of civil war that erupted all around it at the turn of the last century, it’s chockablock with staggeringly beautiful scenery.

It’s a proto-Monaco, hanging over the Adriatic Sea, guarded by steep cliffs that arch over the water in a pitch-perfect imitation of Malibu, just minus the people. Highways are hundreds of miles away, travel hubs like Frankfurt, Paris, and Rome are hours away by plane. Yes, a thousand times, yes.

It may be off the beaten path, but Montenegro begs for a deep dive behind the wheel of a multi-talented, multi-purpose vehicle. It marries up warm sunny skies, boulder-strewn off-road paths, and hairpin upon hairpin of challenging two-lane roads.

It’s a perfect spot for a first drive in the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace, a crossover that’s sure to lure drivers from Porsche’s Macan and Audi’s Q5. Sure to transform the Jaguar brand as much as its return to aluminum bodies more than a decade ago.

Crossing the Land Rover divide

For Jaguar, the F-Pace blurs the hard line that used to divide it from its rugged companion, Land Rover.

It’s a big leap into the world of SUVs, where Porsche broke ground and made it acceptable for cachet brands to dip their toes in the murk. It’s as big a risk–with as much potential upside–as the SUV from another British brand venturing off-road for the first time this year, Bentley.

Some 90 percent of F-Pace buyers will never have considered or bought a Jaguar before. The sales forecast is as bright as the 78-degree sky above as we decamp from a 17th-century fortress converted into a luxury resort, and head for the hills.

Jaguar’s known for its audacious F-Type sports car and its luxurious sedans. From the first few miles, it’s clear. From now on, Jaguar is going to be known for utility, too, utility with an appropriate edge.

That’s because the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace feels much more like a taller companion piece to the XF sedan than it does a part of the mainstream SUV slipstream.

Jaguar F-Pace design

It’s the first SUV from Jaguar ever, but can the F-Pace put great road manners at the top of its priorities—and make itself what Jaguar calls its most useful sports car?

It all starts with styling. The F-Pace may have an awkward name, but there’s nothing awkward about the way it looks. It’s a handsome SUV that fits right in with the new XF and XE sedans.

The sleek sideview is pure crossover, but the details are pure Jaguar. The F-Pace has a tall mesh grille and signature LED lighting, (full-LED headlights are available)–it’s all arranged on a taller plane.

Long vents pierce the front fenders, and the side windows are steeply tapered. At the back there’s a half-circle taillight that echoes the round light pipes on the XE and F-Type.

For a British car, the F-Pace has a very Germanic feel inside. The cabin has a spare, tailored look like that of the XE and XF. Big panels of piano black trim get thin metallic borders, with wood and ambient lighting framing the rest of the cabin.

The underlying theme seems to be respectability. Jaguar’s been transforming into a more discreet version of itself, and it’s largely abandoned the glitz of the first cars it built in its post-Ford iteration. Remember the “heartbeat” lighting and power-vent cues of the original XF?

Jaguar’s rotary drive controller rises from the center console, a chrome island surrounded by swaths of piano-black trim. Narrow strips of well-marked buttons run climate and traction controls. As finishing touches, the F-Pace wears polite amounts of aluminum and wood trim and ambient lighting.

The cockpit can come off stark and dark—lighter color choices look better, and wood does, too. The available houndstooth metal trim doesn’t read as well as the real grain or the stock piano-black plastic.

Touchscreens and digital displays factor in conspicuously. There’s an 8.0-inch interface on base versions with a streamlined infotainment interface. A more capable system brings a 10-inch center screen with gesture control, and a 12.3-inch screen that replaces the twin-dial gauges with an adaptive display that can switch from “dials” to a full-screen navigation display.

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