ARJEPLOG, Sweden — It’s minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun is reticently rising, peeking just over the pine-covered hills in the distance. We’re just south of the Arctic Circle during the Swedish winter, so the sun stays low in the sky, skirts along the horizon, and sets early in the afternoon, leaving us with only a few hours of daylight to do what we will with the all-new 2017 Jaguar F-Pace, the first SUV from the automaker.
Jaguar is hosting media at its Revi facility, a winter testing site Jag shares with its sister company, Land Rover. This place is a far cry from the daisy fields and Klimt tree forests where our European bureau chief, Georg Kacher, recently tested another 2017 Jaguar F-Pace. Every vehicle built by the English companies comes through this place at some point during development to get shaken down over 35 miles of circuits and skidpads carved into an ice-covered lake.
The temperature means it’s actually almost too cold to test today, because the ice becomes brittle and breaks in large chunks when it dips below minus-35 degrees. We climb into the cream-colored driver’s seat of the Caesium Blue 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S, turn on the heated seats and heated steering wheel, and push our numb hands against the car’s heating vents.
High performance for a people mover
The temperature readout on the all-new, very handsome InControl Touch Pro infotainment system begins to climb north toward zero as the feeling in our fingers finally but slowly comes back, so we turn the dial for the Jag’s eight-speed automatic transmission to “D” as dry snow crunches beneath the car’s Continental WinterContact tires.
Making a Macan fighter
“The Porsche Macan changed this segment,” says Longbottom. Early in F-Pace development, Jag engineers and product planners benchmarked the Audi Q5 and BMW X4, but the debut of Porsche’s sporty small crossover stopped everything. Literally. The engineers took eight weeks to rejigger their plans and immediately started pegging everything the F-Pace had to be able to do based on what the Macan was capable of. “It’s created a car with an interior targeted at the Audi Q5 and the dynamics of a Macan,” says Longbottom. “And I do think we’ve matched the Macan as far as capability.” We unfortunately won’t get to test the F-Pace in the dry, where the Macan really impresses, but we’ll get a good idea of how the Jag’s chassis and drivetrain react in different modes during low-friction, at-limit driving.
Wait, we’re driving on ice?
Jaguar has carved a humongous version of its “leaper” logo into the ice and is using it as a circuit. (As an aside, engineers admit they were surprised how well the marketing gimmick works as a handling course.) We pull onto the “leaper” circuit, its edges marked by long, skinny sticks from the nearby forest, and put our foot down. The F-Pace is in Adaptive Dynamic Surface Response (ADSR) mode, which monitors rolling resistance and adjusts steering, powertrain, and stability control accordingly. The throttle feels mushy, but traction feels fantastic, like we’re driving on wet pavement, not 16-inch–thick ice. We’re moseying around the track in second gear with one hand on the steering wheel, using our other hand to play with the infotainment’s systems pinch-and-swipe iPad-like maps. Traction is so good, actually, that we stop, get out, and double-check that this car’s Conti tires aren’t studded.
“Performance SUV” isn’t an oxymoron
We head onto a 985-foot skidpad with both grooved and polished ice, pulling onto the superslick bit to try out the F-Pace’s Low-Friction Launch (LFL) system. Buried within InControl’s submenus is a screen that allows you to activate this driver aid, which absolutely neuters throttle mapping to help the F-Pace make smooth starts on ice and in snow. It’s cool and works just fine, but it’s also supernerdy, completely unnecessary, and will never be used in real life. We pull onto the grooved section and come to a stop before putting the transmission into Sport mode, turning off all traction and stability control systems, and matting the accelerator.
The V-6 engine momentarily bounces off its rev limiter as we use the shift paddles to flick up through gears, the exhaust popping and crackling every time we lift off of the throttle. We flick the F-Pace left then right, and almost every bit of power is sent to the car’s open rear differential as we start to powerslide. It doesn’t snap loose but breaks away progressively, sliding like a well-sorted sport sedan, not an SUV with 8.5 inches of ground clearance and a 2,400-pound towing capability. The wet-clutch transfer case, lighter and more efficient than the one in the all-wheel-drive F-Type, divvies up power between the front and rear differentials almost instantly. The electrically assisted power steering is light but precise and predictable, and the suspension feels just fine, although smooth, hard-packed snow and ice probably aren’t too punishing on the front control-arm and rear multilink setups.
James Matthews, lead engineer for F-Pace vehicle dynamics, says it took a lot of work to coax body roll out of the F-Pace. The first prototypes were way off the Macan benchmark, so additional stiffening and bracing, such as larger front cross members, were worked into the body structure. Seems to have done the job, seeing how the aluminum-intensive monocoque doesn’t toss around as the Jag’s 4,015 pounds transfer from front to back and side to side.
On the whole
Northern Sweden is a long way from Montenegro, where we’ll get our first on-road experience with the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace before it goes on sale in late spring. Here at Revi, we didn’t get a full picture of what the F-Pace is capable of, but if the bits we didn’t get to experience work as well as the systems we did, we’ll have a new favorite Jaguar in the not-too-distant future.
2017 Jaguar F-Pace S Specifications
|Engine:||3.0-liter supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|L x W x H:||186.3 x 81.5 x 65.0 in|
|0-60 MPH:||5.1 sec|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|