Test Drive: 2017 Jaguar F-PACE

The first of its kind from the British manufacturer, the F-PACE combines the brain of an SUV with the heart and soul of a sports car.

I’m driving Jaguar’s first SUV, the F-PACE, which debuted in 2015 and went on sale in the U.S. this spring, alongside a fast-moving Crystal River outside of Aspen, Colorado. The sound of surging water complements the enthusiastic roar of the engine and it all becomes clear: This agile, smooth-riding SUV thinks it’s a sports car.

Aspen, of course, is in the heart of the Rockies and I’ve been zooming up and down mountain roads all day with nary a wheeze, thanks to a 340 horsepower, supercharged V-6 engine under the hood of the rakish 35t R-Sport variant I’m driving. It helps that the car is fast and quick, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour and a zero to 60 mile-per-hour rating of 5.4 seconds. Though the SUV is an all-wheel-drive vehicle, under normal driving conditions it sends all its torque to the rear wheels for superior acceleration and handling, making the F-Pace behave more like a zippy racer than a boat on wheels. A torque vectoring system automatically applies braking pressure to keep the vehicle stable through corners.

Jaguar and Land Rover share the same corporate bloodline and the relationship is evident as I take the F-PACE off-road through a mountain meadow where the all-wheel-drive mode kicks in. The off-road approach is very sophisticated due to the All Surface Progress Control system, which is activated at the touch of a button. All I do is set the maximum speed I wish to drive (range is from 2.2 to 19 miles per hour) and the F-Pace regulates the throttle and brakes as required—all I need to do is steer. I can override the system anytime I wish to regain control of the gas pedal, and the exceptionally sharp heads-up display help as I try to keep my speed between 4 and 7 miles over rough terrain. ASPC is perfect for icy winter conditions, as well.

But it’s not all brawn: the F-PACE is also very smart. There’s a bevy of safety features, including the ability to gently guide the car back toward the center of the lane if it wanders off-course, a 12.3-inch instrument panel display offering a stunning three-dimensional map view, and the option for a waterproof wristband “activity key” ($400) for folks prone to taking their car keys in wet places. The brainiest amenity, though, takes advantage of the car’s connectivity to learn your daily commute and suggest alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion.

The interior is sporty but luxurious and quiet. The seats can be configured in a variety of ways for passengers and cargo for maximum flexibility. And that attribute is probably what defines the F-PACE: It really is a little bit of everything, offering the high ride and practicality of a SUV with all the zip and attitude that makes driving fun.

$63,095 as driven; jaguarusa.com.