It’s a point I’m pondering as I make my way, in a barmy -7 degrees, over to the final test circuit of the day: The Leaper. Meticulously mapped via GPS to ensure correct scale, Revi has carved a replica of the Jaguar logo into the ice, and not just for show: from nose to tail the track measures 950m, and in-between lie 16 corners of varying apex and entry speed. If Rally Sweden and the bowl have demonstrated the F-PACE’s agility, The Leaper should hammer it home.
I’m in the hot seat again (not literally) and my first lap – overseen by Revi manager Phil Warboys – is once again making full use of the Adaptive Surface Response. And once again, the capability is beyond extraordinary. It’s not the most engaging of drives – there’s just too much artificial feel to the steering, throttle and braking for that – but it’s impressive nonetheless. Into the tighter sections around the front paw and mouth, several ‘whiskers’ signify earlier trips into the snow. Fortunately there’s still ample amounts of traction being fed to the front wheels on these icy surfaces to avoid producing another. Even the rears refuse to squirm when I slam hard on the brakes.
This all changes when, after a few laps, Phil sticks the F-PACE in Track and turns the traction control off entirely. Now there is genuinely nothing stopping this pre-production model from going off-track, as a wild drift down the start-finish straight ably demonstrates. Immediately there’s more bite to the throttle, the gear changes are even quicker, and my previous braking points are torn to ribbons as the ice yields no grip at all. With the electronic safety net now gone, there’s nothing to stop the back end trying to overtake the front but my right foot.
Here the handling really comes into its own. The vagueries of power steering are now replaced with solid heft lock-to-lock, the textured feedback from the front wheels and the efficacy of the stiffened chassis actually allowing me to hustle a vehicle of this size on these surfaces without parallels to piloting a ferry on chopping seas. There’s little snatch from the rear wheels, allowing me to – somehow – dance the front end through an onslaught of left-right-lefts, all without the need to overcorrect. In the pursuit of ‘unrivalled dynamics’, Jaguar has managed to create an impressively nimble crossover.
“I would love to tell you about the Jag’s accessible nature on these surfaces, but honestly, I’m too busy grinning like a simpleton”
It’s fun. No, really enormous amounts of fun. Content with basically going sideways throughout the lap, it’s not long before I’m hard braking into the turns, powering away from the apex and balancing the throttle just enough to snap the front end back towards the next oncoming corner. The balance, once again, is sublime, the agility of the F-PACE and the composure of the suspension allowing me this freedom. Occasionally though I get it wrong and a few marker posts are lain to rest.
Much conversation is had about both The Leaper and the bowl back at base camp (a tepee in the middle of the lake) as the temperatures now start to drop as 3pm draws nearer. Across the ‘water’ and behind an outcrop of mountains, the earlier blue tint begins to fade in once again, complete with the most stunning array of yellows, oranges, pinks and purples, making me wonder, almost wistfully, what the Northern Lights must look like. Over several large coffees though, the conversation concerns the F-PACE: what’s the verdict?
Honestly? Inconclusive. Yes, on these surfaces the F-PACE is superb, offering a nimbleness through the corners, a playfulness at the wheel, and a rear-wheel drive character that no all-wheel drive crossover has any right to. How the F-PACE will fare on-road remains to be seen, and with 213mm of ground clearance, the model’s ‘off-road’ capabilities are still a mystery, even if this is not a notable concern. In answering some questions, the jaunt has ironically raised many more.
There’s little doubt though that, in-keeping the Porsche Macan in its crosshairs and with expectations seriously high, Jaguar has developed a potential game changer.
Technical specifications available on page 3
Images courtesy of David Shepherd and Andy Morgan