In the time I’ve been reviewing new cars, there have been ostensibly cooler, faster, more expensive, and more interesting cars pass through my hands than yet another midsize sport-utility. And my parents, despite their last ride in whatever I was driving being a 668 horsepower stick-shift Cadillac, have never been so excited as when I brought a 2021 Jaguar F-Pace R-Dynamic S to their house for a weekend at the beach. My mom was particularly excited… because it’s a Jag.
On the surface, my folks might say they “aren’t car people” but the reality is, they are. Cars resonate with them and they “get it” more than most do. It’s why cars happen to be part of so many stories in their pasts. Case in point – my mom got to the Washington, D.C. area when she and her friend road-tripped their 1980s Hondas cross-country because the friend was relocated for work at the Pentagon.
When my mom and her 1985 Honda CRX Si made it to Northern Virginia, she found a job working as the executive assistant to the CEO of a newly-formed software company. Howard was, by her accounts, a great boss – so great that he was invited to her wedding when she married my dad a year or two into the job.
Part of my mom’s role working for Howard was to take him to and from the airport on business trips. Naturally, he gave her the keys to his car for this task. His car? A pinkish-champagne 1986 Jaguar XJ. Mom still lights up when she talks about driving it, the quad headlights and leaper on the hood creating an aura that was matched by “the gigantic key” that had real heft to it. Driving Howard’s Jag was special, an exercise in trust being able to drive a car that cost an inflation-adjusted $87,000 at a minimum.
So then, when this 2021 Jaguar F-Pace was added to my list of scheduled cars, I called my parents and asked what they were doing that weekend. To Mom, and to both of them, there was clearly an element of “driving a Jaguar means you’ve made it” and they were all too eager to see the Bluefire Blue on Siena Tan example pull into their driveway.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Jaguar F-Pace R-Dynamic S. Changes for 2022 were so minimal (to nonexistent) that I caught the tail end of a 2021 model year F-Pace with about 10,000 miles on the odometer. Either way, it’s the hottest F-Pace save for the SVR, powered by the turbocharged, electric-supercharged, mild-hybrided inline six shared with Land Rover. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft on tap, the F-Pace can get up and scoot if you sink your foot into the carpet.
Power flows through a ZF eight-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive. My tester was equipped with Adaptive Dynamics – adjustable suspension – and Adaptive Surface Response, which adapts the traction control to the surface underneath you.
Inside, 14-way “performance” front seats were heated and ventilated, and I was enveloped by a quite-good Meridian surround sound system while staring straight ahead at the optional heads-up display.
MSRP of the admittedly stunning F-Pace R-Dynamic S came to $82,245.
Forget Adaptive Surface Response, Let’s Talk Emotional Response
Luxury brands each do things a bit differently, and Jaguar is no exception. Styling, of course, plays a part, but opening the driver’s door reveals a cabin that meets your nose first. No doubt helped by the summer heat, the “Windsor” leather seats and optional extended leather stuck to various interior bits give off a wonderful smell.
Settle in to the just-tight-enough driver’s seat, press the pulsing engine start button, and the inline six spins right up. It makes a great sound at cold idle – to say nothing of how it sounds at full tilt – and is more fitting of An Jag than the four cylinder powering the XF I drove last fall. Pivi Pro comes to life on the big center touchscreen – albeit a bit slowly, sometimes – and away you go.
The F-Pace is imperfect. We’ll get to that. But as with Jaguars of the past, it evokes an immediate emotional response, an intangible feeling that you can’t quite describe but you know you like. It is subtly aggressive, and at the same time warm and inviting. There’s no stoic Germanic anything going on here because the British simply take a different approach.
And you don’t see many on the roads. Jaguar only sold 9,200 F-Paces last year (and 10,000 or so for the few years prior) compared to Audi’s 60,000 Q5 sales and Porsche moving 22,000 Macans. If you want something unique, the F-Pace is for you. I enjoyed the relative rarity, finding myself excited to walk up to the F-Pace for every drive and looking back at its well-proportioned nose every time I parked.
Okay, But How’s It Drive?
All of this warmth and feeling and giving you ‘the fizz’ frankly doesn’t matter if the F-Pace is awful to drive. Thankfully, it’s not. The engine, as I mentioned, is a gem. It makes plenty of power and torque that swells as you approach redline, but is also plenty torquey around town at lower RPM. You’ll want to wind it out, though, as it makes a fantastic sound as you near the limiter.
I did find the skinny pedal to be laggy around town, to an irritating extent. Even in the most sporting drive mode, it was tough to accelerate reasonably. I was either crawling away from a stop sign or leaving at what felt like half throttle. Transmission behavior was also a mixed bag at lower speeds, though it performed more favorably in Dynamic mode or when using the paddle shifters to control things myself.
Ride quality was on the firmer side though not harsh, appropriate for the R-Dynamic “sporty-ish” model. On back roads to and from the beach, I found the F-Pace to be remarkably composed and easy to hustle at whatever speed. The suspension was complimented by the fantastic-for-a-crossover steering. It was direct and communicative, a nice pairing to the predictable chassis.
Despite the imperfection, I enjoyed every drive in the F-Pace. It felt “ready” at all times, looking for more fun than a straight highway or slow beach-town slog can provide, and came into its element when the roads got more windy, encouraging me to adopt a driving style that other crossovers might prefer I not.
There’s the old saying that “if you don’t look back when you park and walk away, you bought the wrong car.” I don’t believe that in every instance, as some cars are meant to be appliances and let’s be real, I don’t look back at my Bosch dryer when I unload my clothes and walk to my bedroom. But the Jaguar F-Pace is very clearly not an appliance. And even among the not-an-appliance luxury/sporty crossover crowd, it stands out for what it is.
I’m gushing, I get it. The Jaguar F-Pace is absolutely good and absolutely a little imperfect. Enthusiasts talk about “soul” as something that matters. I think soul is really just imperfection spun into a positive. I should probably be more impartial and say things about how competitors may be stronger in certain ways.
I’m not gonna, though. I felt a certain kind of way the entire week I drove the F-Pace, and that was despite the touchy throttle and awkward transmission programming and some little creaks and squeaks that shouldn’t exist on a car with only 10,000 miles.
It all kinda… didn’t matter. The Jaguar F-Pace is “soulful” (ugh) and proper and excites not just me, but my enthusiast-y-to-a-point parents. It gave my mom the same feeling that she got as a late-20s working woman with long blonde hair driving Howard’s Antelope Metallic XJ6 down the Dulles Toll Road when it, too, had 10,000 miles and a big inline six.
And that’s good enough for me.