TRACK TEST: Jaguar F-Pace
At just over 2.4 km long, the Aldo Scribante racetrack on the outskirts of the Port Elizabeth is one of the shortest circuits in South Africa with only the Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria being longer.
Its tight, twisty and technical layout, as well as notoriety for devouring tyres, makes it one of the most tracks in the country to master, with matters further compounded by two fast sweeps and a main straight which, at full speed, pushes you back as the speed climbs until its hard on the brakes for the LuK Repco first corner.
Much like the challenges of Scribante, Jaguar faced similar handicaps after controversially announcing at the North American International Auto Show last year, it would enter the luxury SUV segment for the first time to rival Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Porsche and potentially its sister brand, Land Rover.
Risking the same kind of backlash Porsche received with the first generation Cayenne, the Coventry-based firm’s list of recent achievements, led by the F-Type, XE and second generation XF, provided to be the perfect backdrop when the wraps were taken off the F-Pace at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.
Built on the same iQ (Ai) aluminium platform as the XE and styled by acclaimed Head designer Ian Cullum, the F-Pace has proved to be a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with a series of favourable reviews and awards to its credit, the most recent being UK daily Auto Express’ Car of the Year.
Officially launched earlier this month, Jaguar South Africa gave potential buyers and interest parties a taste of the F-Pace’s prowess just over a week ago, by making four units available for a blast around the track as part of its nationwide Art of Performance tour.
Aside from the aforementioned aluminium architecture and the use of magnesium to save weight, the F-Pace also features Jaguar’s brand new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, waterproof Activity Key to lock and unlock the doors in place of the actual fob, and a torque-on demand All-Wheel Drive system boasting Intelligent Driveline Dynamics (IDD) which can transfer torque seamlessly between the front and rear axles.
In addition, the system, developed from Land Rover’s Terrain Response setup, incorporates a segment first Surface Progress Control that adjusts throttle and brakes off-road, and can enable a smooth pull away up to 32 km/h with the driver only being called upon to steer.
The impressive tech list soon took a back seat however as the time to put the F-Pace through its well… pace on the track arrived.
Complimented by four F-Types, the F-Paces lined-up consisted of two 30d R-Design models using a retuned version of the 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 in the Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery (221 kW / 700 N.m), and two flagship 35t S First Editions powered by same 280 kW / 460 N.m 3.0-litre supercharged V6 as the F-Type S.
Opting for a striking Caesium Blue 35t parked at the back of the queue, and with my helmet strapped on, a final warning not to overtake from the instructor seated beside soon sent the anticipations levels rising as the convoy slowly rolled towards the pit exit.
With the leading F-Types already gone and the white 30d in front whispering off the mark with just a puff of smoke, the time to turn back hit zero as the call over the radio to go came.
Stomping on the loud pedal and leaving the eight-speed automatic gearbox to its own devices, the reaction was instantaneous as the F-Pace negotiated Luk Repco with ease. Despite sitting 1.6 m from the ground and weighing over two tons, the tricky turns two and three Continental complex failed to show much body roll with the quickness of the steering being most apparent.
Back on the loud pedal and with the speed already in three digits, only a dab of brake kept the F-Pace from flying off at the tricky Hanger Sweep, before it was back on full chat up to the hairpin. Rounding it and with the apex clipped, the F-Pace’s aluminium construction, integral rear suspension and standard Torque Vectoring had a chance to prove itself through the fast but daunting Chevrolet Sweep.
Again with limited body and running right to the outside curb, the F-Pace seemed undeterred as it was again back on the stoppers for the final Goodyear Corner, and then the drag down the main straight.
Sounding visceral with the same exhaust note as the F-Type, a glance at the speedo saw the F-Pace reach 160 km/h down the short straight before it was again on the anchors for LuK Repco and around for a final blast.
Across the line and backing off to cool the brakes, the F-Pace’s showing had come as a surprise given the bulkiness and high stance normally associated with SUV’s. In the pits, and with no levels of fade evident from the brakes, it was time to hope out and hand over for the next lucky participant.
While its progress in the “real world” remains to be seen, the blast around the track had shown Jaguar’s first ever SUV to be something special. Although the monthly sales are likely to prove whether South Africans give it the thumbs up, the F-Pace should be considered a rival the Germans need to take careful notice of.
IMAGE sourced from Jagaur Eastern Cape
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