Gravel or asphalt, Aspen or Toronto, the 2017 F-Pace shines as a versatile five-passenger SUV.

Gravel crunches underneath the tires as I crank the wheel to the left to counter-steer against the weight of the vehicle I'm piloting as it kicks its tail out on the narrow alpine trail cutting its way up the mountain behind Colorado's Viceroy Snowmass resort. That the SUV responds swiftly to my inputs on this unstable, pothole-ridden surface is no surprise - I've been driving it all day, and it has yet to catch me out with any bad behaviour - but what does shock more than a little is that the sport-utility vehicle I'm driving features a snarling Jaguar logo centered on its mesh grille.

The existence of the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace hasn't sounded the same alarm amongst purists as the Porsche Cayenne did when it first appeared over a decade ago, but the parallels between the two SUVs are most definitely there. The F-Pace, like the Cayenne before it, presents an existential turning point for the British brand, one that will either fill corporate coffers with gold as luxury fans line-up for the all-new people mover, or that instead cast doubt on the future of Jaguar in North America.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

My money is firmly on the positive of these two potential outcomes, and not just because the Cayenne was such a cash cow for Porsche during an uncertain time in its own evolution. Simply put, the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace combines the best of what the automaker's engineering team has traditionally brought to the table with a firm understanding of what SUV-crazy Canadian customers are looking for in a high-end people mover.

Speaking of looks - the Jaguar F-Pace can reasonably lay claim to being one of the most distinctive and attractive luxury haulers money can buy. The ability of Jaguar's styling language to scale-up to SUV proportions shouldn't be a surprise, as the XJ full-size sedan is an equally handsome executive ride, but kudos to Jag for resisting the temptation to add attention-seeking flourishes to an exceptionally-clean silhouette. The F-Pace is big, to be sure, but we're talking more jungle cat muscle than feline flab, and it's a distinction that serves the vehicle well.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Interior dimensions are similarly well-distributed, with good passenger space front and rear and a cargo area that can double its 650 litres of space simply by folding the back row flat. Depending on which model you order - and there are four different trim levels, ranging in price from $49,900 to $66,400 - you will be treated to a cabin that is respectable in terms of its mix of plastic and leather. It's true that the F-Pace isn't quite as loaded with comfort items as more expensive Jaguar fare, but everything you'd expect in an entry-level premium SUV is there, including a number of active safety features (forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assistance) and the new Jaguar InControl Touch Pro infotainment system.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

InControl Touch Pro doesn't just embiggen the standard InControl Touch unit's screen to 10.2 inches - it also provides a widescreen format, HD graphics, and much quicker response to your commands as you tap its various icons. Aside from its navigation interface, Pro is a worthy update to the considerably slower InControl Touch system, and I can't stress enough just how much better it makes the Jaguar F-Pace experience once it's been installed.

Looking and feeling like a Jaguar is one thing, but neither of those achievements would count for much if the 2017 F-Pace didn't also drive with the same poise and personality as the leaping cat emblem on its steering wheel would seem to guarantee. Spoiler alert: it does. The F-Pace is perhaps best described as an XF sedan on stilts, you don't really notice the height difference between the two vehicles - nor really register all that space sitting behind the front row - once the vehicle is at speed.

Nothing focuses the mind so much as a thousand-foot drop into the valley below on one side and a sheer rock face on the other.

The 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine that leads the charge into the Canadian market is available in two tunes, making 340 and 380 horsepower, respectively. Torque holds steady at 332 lb-ft for both models, and all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are standard across the board. Driving both gasoline editions of the V6 reveals only slight performance differences between the two, with each offering the kind of throttle response and smooth power delivery one expects from a supercharged motor ( even when dealing with the high-altitude highways of Colorado). A diesel version will eventually follow the gas model into dealerships (with a 180 hp / 318 lb-ft rating), although none were provided for testing at the launch.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Beyond sheer forward thrust, the well-endowed Jaguar F-Pace also impressed when it comes time to turn a corner. Nothing focuses the mind so much as a thousand-foot drop into the valley below on one side and a sheer rock face on the other, making the double-mile high passes linking Snowmass to Buena Vista the perfect venue for hustling the SUV. The F-Pace is just fine with your morning commute, but it's also got a hankering for you to turn things up a notch on your way to the ski hill Saturday morning, with a chassis that refuses to be flummoxed no matter how snake-like the road might get.

Gravel or asphalt, Aspen or Toronto, the 2017 F-Pace shines as a versatile five-passenger sport-utility vehicle that feels completely at home in a Jaguar showroom. As to whether those same retail spaces will be filled with new customers not put-off by pricing that places the base F-Pace above the four-cylinder base models offered by most of its European peers? All signs point to yes, and if anything, the Jaguar F-Pace proves that you don't always have to follow before you can make a play for the lead.

 

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

 

ENGINE

3.0-litre supercharged V6

OUTPUT

340 hp / 332 lb-ft & 380 hp / 332 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION

8-speed automatic

0-100 KMH

5.1 seconds

TOP SPEED

250 KM/H

FUEL ECONOMY

N/A

WEIGHT

1,825 Kilograms (4,015 lbs)

SEATING CAPACITY

5

CARGO VOLUME

1,740 Litres (63.5 cubic feet)

BASE PRICE

$49,900

AS-TESTED PRICE

$66,400

 

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