The seat warps and curls around my posterior, making me snuggle into it, all cosy-like. My eyebrows shoot up in response, like you see in a James Bond film when Q activates some form of ridiculous gadget.
The plush stitching on the leather upholstery starts to gently heat up, giving off wafts of what Ron Burgandy might describe as “rich mahogany”.
This, I say to myself, smiling, having arrived to pick it up in a banged-up carpenter’s ute full of sawdust and drums of pungent wood putty, is absolutely sublime.
The F-Pace sports clearly adheres to Jaguar’s 60’s design ethic, which makes sense given their fabled E-Type is considered by many to be the most beautiful car ever made. Even Enzo Ferrari lost his merda over it.
Thankfully the Jag design principles of the 80s, when they made that popular bobble-headlight saloon monstrosity, seem to be consigned to history. Why did they ever think they could improve upon the E-Type? It makes perfect sense to hark back to that as an exemplar for future design principles. A no-brainer.
FROM BITUMEN TO DIRT
Anyway, so I’m driving home and as is the case when suddenly hopping into new wheels, start noticing premium 4WDs everywhere. Inner Melbourne, I realise, is prosperous territory. Home to high-net-wealth ex-hipsters, self-styled alternatives with a generous helping of captains of industry and loaded footy players.
The F-Pace S, with its muscular haunches echoing a sports car ethos, its grille resembling a 50s jet fighter’s cowling, bulging bonnet, big wheels (22-inches on the model I drove) and sleek LED headlights, appeals to this market, I imagine.
All considered, I was reminded of an occasion back in the day, journeying down to Cairns from a bush property near the mouth of the Bloomfield River in a mate’s beaten up old short wheelbase ‘going to town’ LandCruiser. His old one, even more beaten-up, had been relegated to strictly farm use only.
He often mentioned traffic lights, and how they were all over the place in Cairns. Well, one thing followed another and he had a minor bingle pulling off from some stop lights. His ‘Cruiser, all gnarled and dented from everyday scrapes in the bush, was untouched.
The sparkling latest-model sleek black Merc, on the other hand, wasn’t. The owner flew out of her vehicle and let fly with expletives. My mate bided his time, waited till she’d finished her tirade and calmly replied, “It’s not my fault you choose to drive an expensive car”. Quite so.
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that serious offroad towing and driving doesn’t particularly suit a gleaming top-spec automobile with an eye-watering price tag. Scratches, scrapes and dents can’t be easily ignored, like they could in many of the cheaper but still hugely capable models Camper has reviewed over the years.
BOTH CLASSY AND CAPABLE
However, in pure capability terms, the F-Pace is most definitely up to the mark. Sometimes it’s satisfying simply knowing that if you had to, you’d most certainly be capable of hauling a rig through a boulder-strewn creek bed.
It sits in the mid-size premium SUV category and while it’s bigger than most, it is Tardis-like. From the outside, there’s no impression that the rear could accomodates 508 litres of stuff. Also, the rear seat backs fold to near-horizontal.
Among a dizzying array of impressive electronics is something called All Surface Progress Control, a sort of low-speed auto-cruise for tricky conditions. It maximises traction so the driver can focus on steering, making easy work of gentle off-road tracks and slippery inclines.
Its dynamic credentials also include racy suspension (with adaptive dampers if you spend more), selectable settings for the throttle, transmission and steering, and torque vectoring, which helps the F-Pace corner like it’s on rails.
It’s also quite light and feels satisfyingly rigid, courtesy of aluminium construction. There’s no point having tight suspension if the body is flexing.
With Jaguar’s twin turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine under the bonnet, it has both punch and power. In the 221kW 4000rpm version driven, the F-Pace reaches 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and generates 700 Newton metres of torque at 1750rpm.
Inside, the driving position is well considered, especially with the infinitely adjustable seating configurations. The heads-up display further focusses attention on the road ahead.
Overall, with the bonnet looming ahead, the satisfying growl of the engine as you touch the accelerator and the perfectly-fitted seats, ‘pedigree’ describes the general driving ambience. The suede headlining, over every interior surface, added an ineffable richness to the mood, especially with crisp tunes banging out the speakers.
DRIVING AND HANDLING
If you leave the car in ‘eco’ mode, you’ll find the automatic gearbox changes early and the engine stays quiet. However, use any other mode and the engine growls into life, the gearbox holding on to the gears and causing the revs to soar.
In normal drive mode, the F-Pace is a quiet and collected cruiser, its tyre and wind noise kept to a respectable minimum. For the F-Pace to be at its most enjoyable to drive, however, select the adaptive suspension mode and the car’s character changes markedly, its handling more responsive and its body staying flatter on the road through tight, whippy corners.
With a camper on tow, especially uphill or on a shifting surface, the AWD low range mode is ably assisted by Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), torque vectoring and something called Trailer Stability Assist.
Undoubtedly, the F-Pace is easily able to handle the extra load of a camper trailer, but again, it’s the willingness of the driver to really test its 4WD mettle over challenging terrain. Over corrugations, I can say, the F-Pace won’t rattle your dentures free.
Engine power and smooth auto gear transitions conspire to make you hardly feel the extra weight behind, you get loads of grip and crisp steering that’s very nicely weighted.
And when asking the car for more power up hills, you also get that delightful sportscar pedigree engine note. It has tremendous mid-range pulling power that will never fail to delight.
For a large auto, it feels like a hot hatch when booting around country roads and tracks, it’s zippy and nimble. It’s only through really tight corners and sudden direction changes that you remember you’re driving something a bit taller with more momentum. But even then the steering is precise, building weight at just the right time and with the right consistency. This offers reassuring confidence when on unfamiliar roads and terrain with a camper on tow.
The F-Pace was a sweet ride, up there with the best 4WD/AWD options on the market. This is to be expected given the $100k starting price.
It’s positively bristling with onboard technology, all available at your fingertips and the look of the thing makes you feel good as you boot it through corners and dips.
But to my mind, the most satisfying thing about this latest from Jaguar, is the constant sense you’re driving wheels that have been so obviously inspired by the legacy of the E-Type. Gone is the burdensome glitch that effected their confused walnut-burnished 80s phase, and reborn is their head-turning 60s phase.
The F-Pace is great to drive, makes you feel good while driving and, courtesy of its V6 twin turbo diesel, has the power to handle most towing loads.
It’s faultlessly engineered, packing a sporty and well-refined powerplant within its cavernous engine bay, and with it’s standard 20” wheels (optional 22” in the model tested), hugs the road like dream. There’s ample room inside its dreamy interior and it has a massive boot for all your camping odds and ends.
They say genes sometime skip a generation and I’d suggest in this instance it’s definitely the case.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Tare from 1884kg
Towing capacity 2400kg
Engine 2993cc 3.0 Twin turbocharged V6 diesel
Torque 700 @ 1500-1750 rpm
4x4 system AWD
Fuel consumption 6.0 L/100km
Brakes F/ Disc R/ Disc
Seats Perforated grained leather sports seats
Wheel/tyres 22” 15 spoke style
Style 5-door sports
As tested $146,925 plus on-road costs