2017 Jaguar F-Pace 35t R-sport review: This luxury SUV is an absolute gamechanger

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2017 Jaguar F-Pace 35t R-sport review: This luxury SUV is an absolute gamechanger

  • The Jaguar F-Pace is Jaguar's first SUV
  • The Jaguar F-Pace 35t R-sport, which we tested, offers an incredible driving experience
  • The interior leaves a lot to be desired, though, especially given the premium brand
CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 2
CNBC: Mack Hogan

The Jaguar F-Pace is the first SUV in the company's 80 year history.

As we await the arrival of the smaller E-Pace and electric I-Pace SUV, I took a spin in the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace 35t R-sport. I wanted to find out if Jaguar had warmed over a Range Rover, or had managed to make a proper, fully clawed member of the pride.

First, some background: in the Jaguar-Land Rover alliance, the division has always been pretty clear. Jaguar builds the cars, Land Rover builds the SUVs. Nobody takes any bites from each other's pie, and the two tribes live in harmony.

But, for the first time ever, truck and SUV sales surpassed passenger car sales. With bigger vehicles also bringing bigger profits for automakers, Jaguar can't really survive without a larger cat in the family.

That's why the Jaguar F-Pace matters. I've been test driving it and here's what I think about the first SUV ever made by Jaguar.

Exterior: Designers working overtime

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 1
CNBC: Mack Hogan

The Jaguar arrived layered in British Racing Green and looking every cent of its $62,345 price tag. It rode on the standard 20-inch wheels rather than the optional 22-inches. Your eyes may love the sight of the 22's, but the lack of sidewall means your butt, back and brain will chide you for being so superficial.

We've spent over a decade dealing with amorphous blobs of car styling pasted onto an SUV canvas, but cars like the F-Pace, Volvo XC90 and Mazda CX-5 are signaling the death of that era. Finally, SUV styling is coming into its own, and in no place is that more clear than in the Solihull, UK factory where the F-Pace is built.

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 5
CNBC: Mack Hogan

I've been a fan of Jaguar's designs since the new styling language rolled out on the 2007 XF. Ian Callum, who heads up the design department as Jaguar's Coventry HQ, is in my opinion the best designer of our time. He's transformed Jags from old-man mobiles to modernist, striking hunks of art stuffed into aluminum jumpsuits.

The F-Pace is no different, and while it doesn't really advance Jaguar overall design language, it manages to graft it onto a larger canvas without diluting it. The design department must have been working overtime to smooth it into the final product, but it's paid off. It's the first car I've seen to look both masculine and beautiful, even if writing that makes you question my orientation.

Interior: Designers popped out for lunch

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 6
CNBC: Mack Hogan

If the exterior design team was working nights and weekends, the interior team must have been taking two hour lunches and sleeping late.

My tester came with cement-colored seats and dashboard materials and lime green stitching. Piano black trim was also plentiful, with turquoise mood lights for nighttime cruising. Including the exterior paint, that means you have dark green, lime green, light blue, light gray and black all butting up against each other. If were to bring this to the red carpet, Giuliana Rancic may have a stroke when she sees the amount of colors clashing.

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 8
CNBC: Mack Hogan

That can be fixed with some more diligent optioning, but I was surprised to receive a tester in that color scheme. Otherwise, the interior was nice, if only a bit of a nonevent. The interior isn't bad by any standard, but Jaguar is certainly outclassed against cars like the Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60. If you want to impress your friends, just keep them outside the car.

Switches typically weren't the nicest quality plastics, and the entertainment system was a bit dimwitted. If you wanted to change radio stations, you had to scroll using the touch interface, so I gave up and just streamed from my phone.

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 11
CNBC: Mack Hogan

Luckily, that meant hearing my favorite songs on one of the best sound systems I've heard in a car. If you get any Jaguar Land Rover product, spring for the Meridian audio system. It's unbelievable.

If you want to impress your friends, just crank up the music so they don't notice the clashing.

Driving Experience: Where the real money went

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 9
CNBC: Mack Hogan

If you really want to impress your pals make sure they sit in the driver's seat. Because, my God, this Jag's a revelation. Throw it into a corner, and your brain really can't comprehend how this massive SUV can make peace with the laws of physics.

It's not great for an SUV. It's great. Full stop.

Put the Jag in its sport driving mode, and you'll find it can embarrass some sport sedans. The steering is weighted perfectly and the steering wheel telegraphs everything the front wheels are feeling. The stability control would even allow some slip to keep things fun, without letting you send your $60,000 crossover into a hedge.

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 7
CNBC: Mack Hogan

The noise, though. That's otherworldly. It crackles, barks and sings. Open the windows, bury your foot in the carpet, and blast through a tunnel to discover that the Meridian system can't even compete with the exhaust on this monster supercharged V6.

With 340 horsepower, it may not be the quickest SUV in town. But you won't care, because you'll be laughing like a child and listening to the thunder coming from the aluminum pipes out back.

Value: A class of two

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 4
CNBC: Mack Hogan

If you'd like to compare this to the BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5 you can go right ahead. You'll find equipment-wise, the Jaguar is similarly priced. But given the subpar interior and the inability to get the true cutting edge features—semi-autonomous drive, for instance—the scale may tip slightly towards the segment stalwarts.

But that's not really who Jaguar is competing with. If you actually care about driving and dynamics, you really only have the F-Pace and the Porsche Macan as options. And in that race, the Jaguar is a far-better value.

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 10
CNBC: Mack Hogan

It's easy to option a Macan up to six figures without even hitting the biggest engine, whereas a fully-equipped F-Pace S won't come close to one hundred grand. Plus, the Jag looks better.

Conclusion: A class leader, in a tiny class

CNBC Tech: Jaguar F Pace 3
CNBC: Mack Hogan

We're still seeing so much growth and development in the luxury SUV sector, and Porsche and Jaguar are really the only companies who have managed to install sports-car DNA into their mall crawlers. That Jaguar could do it at a lower price, while making it look this good, is amazing.

It's an absolute gamechanger, and it gives me hope that in the SUV-laden world of tomorrow, we'll still be able to have fun.

Rating

Exterior: 5
Interior: 2.5
Driving Experience: 5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 4.5

Price as configured: $62,345