2021 Jaguar F-Pace First Drive: British SUV Takes Luxury Leap
Jaguar’s F-Pace sparked some pushback at its 2017 debut, with some still questioning whether upper-crust car brands should be making SUVs at all—a fussy attitude that now seems dated considering carmakers from Aston Martin to Lamborghini hawking SUVs. Naturally, the F-Pace immediately became Jaguar’s best-selling model, and spawned more SUVs in the smaller E-Pace and electric I-Pace.
Built alongside Land Rover models in Solihull, U.K., the compact SUV remains an underdog in sales, versus luxury suburban mainstays like the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3 and Audi Q5. But for people who prioritize high style and high speed, the Jaguar is an often-overlooked choice. The F-Pace is one of the sportiest-driving SUVs in today’s showrooms with handling that easily rivals the Porsche Macan or Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
For 2021 the F-Pace fittingly picks up the pace with a subtly updated exterior, a muscular new inline-six cylinder engine and the genuinely luxurious interior that it deserved all along.
Lots of Standard Features, So-So Base Engine
The Jaguar’s starting price of $51,145 (for a P250 model) is thousands more than most competitors, which puts pressure on the F-Pace at shopping time. However, it does bake in several features that are extra-cost options on rivals. Every F-Pace comes standard with an 11.4-inch, curved-glass touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as well as wireless charging, a Meridian audio system and satellite radio. Standard safety gear also includes automatic high beams, a surround view camera, front collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane departure alerts, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
The F-Pace also gets a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a mild hybrid assist and 246 horsepower. All F-Paces feature an eight-speed automatic transmission. Budget-minded buyers will like the P250 S version, which adds $2,900 to the base price, but layers on key features such as 19-inch gloss black wheels, diamond-perforated Windsor leather upholstery and Pivi Pro, the top version of Jaguar Land Rover’s new infotainment system. Truly performance-oriented buyers—which likely describes a high percentage of F-Pace prospects—may consider skipping the four-cylinder models entirely. It’s not a bad motor, just unremarkable, especially versus stronger, more-efficient four-bangers from German competitors. Its modest zero-to-60 mph cruise is 6.9 seconds, while a Mazda CX-5 Turbo can turn the trick in 6.1 seconds. What Jaguar owners wants to get beat by a Mazda?
Upgrading to six cylinders becomes more compelling in 2021. The Jaguar drops its supercharged, 3.0-liter V6 in favor of a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six with a 48-volt mild-hybrid assist. That engine is shared with the award-winning Land Rover Defender, and it’s a beaut. A big-money growl and deep reserves of torque—including 406 pound-feet in the P400 R Dynamic version—make the engine feel more like a compact V8. The mild-hybrid system contributes with seamless, fuel-saving engine restarts.
Naturally, those models cost significantly more. An F-Pace P340 starts from $60,545, with 335 horsepower and a 5.8-second zero-to-60 mph dash. The P400 R Dynamic gets 395 horsepower from an amped-up version of the same V6, and hits 60 mph in a crackling 5.1 seconds. That R Dynamic model costs $66,350, which sounds like a lot—until you option up a comparably equipped Mercedes GLC or BMW X3 and realize they’re in the same ballpark.
The SVR: A Crossover Unicorn
I drove the sharpest-clawed cat of all, the F-Pace SVR, with a fearsome 550 horsepower from a supercharged, 5.0-liter V8. The SVR smokes zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, with generous suspension, wheel, brake and interior upgrades that put it in the hunt against a Porsche Macan Turbo, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio or any other superpowered SUV. That SVR is for hardcore enthusiasts only, as evidenced by its $85,750 base price, which jumps to $97,370 after options.
From Interstates to wooded backroads, the top-shelf F-Pace SVR put its steroidal muscle and handling on proud display—without unduly beating up occupants over hundreds of miles. Its four-wheel traction and confidence shined during a wicked nighttime thunderstorm that had some drivers pulling off the road to wait it out. No matter the weather, the Jaguar’s thunderous exhaust note is a notorious feature of a V8 that’s shared with other Jaguar and Land Rover models—and virtually a unicorn in the world of compact SUVs.
New High-End Interior
Up front, all F-Paces get a subtly reworked grille and hood, with new lighting elements front and rear. But the most exciting changes are inside. The previous F-Pace cabin had a rubbery, cost-cutting vibe that seemed at odds with the luxury price, especially for higher-end versions. An infotainment system with a troublesome interface and sometimes-glitchy operation also trailed the class curve.
The new cabin is up-to-snuff, from richer materials to improved craftsmanship. The dashboard looks almost entirely new, with contrasting stitching for a leather-wrapped upper dash, vents that span its full length, a thick trim slab below (in a choice of materials including matte Burl Ash wood), and a lower section that matches any of several upholstery colors.
A yacht-esque console shift lever replaces the pop-up rotary shifter that never caught on with many Jaguar fans. That shifter falls pleasingly to hand, formed from leather-and-metal that would pass muster at Audi or Mercedes. Oversized aluminum paddle shifters are another welcome touch for performance fans.
The Pivi Pro infotainment system, with its tablet-like screen and slim borders, kicks its clunky predecessor into the dustbin. Following a brief learning curve, Pivo Pro works smartly, including straightforward menus, sharper graphics and faster screen response. Glass-fronted haptic controls manage climate, with familiar, clever oversized dials for temperature that double as seat-heat controllers with a single push. An optional, 12.3-inch digital driver’s display completes a newly pretty picture and seems a must versus the standard 7-inch display.
Looking at this streamlined, low-roofed Jaguar, you might think it was space-challenged inside. But the Jaguar’s efficient packaging is a high point. There’s nearly 27 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seats, and 61 cubic-feet after folding the 40/20/40 split rear seats, which is accomplished via handles in the cargo area or levers atop seatbacks. Both measurements top an Audi Q5 or Mercedes GLC, and nearly match the class-leading BMW X3. For a long weekend run from New York to Maine, we stuffed the Jag with luggage, gear, wine and goodies, with room to spare.
Ultimately, that seldom-seen status is one of the coolest things about the F-Pace. Jaguars aren’t for everyone, and never have been. Here in 2021, the F-Pace goes farther to convince SUV fans to give it—and its post-Brexit British maker—a fair shot.