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Just be yourself: a lesson for Jaguar’s F-Pace

When is an SUV not an SUV? When it’s the “ultimate practical sports car”, that’s when. When it’s a sports car that miraculously enjoys the countryside so much it likes to venture off-road; and when it’s a sports car that can comfortably seat five adults of regular dimensions.

Jaguar might tell you all this – that “ultimate practical sports car” legend is part of its marketing thrust – but if the company thinks its F-Pace filly can steal sales from its rivals through the back door, by pretending to be something other than an SUV, then Jaguar is smoking too much of its own burning rubber.

The F-Pace might have an odd name that makes it sounds like an essential piece of medical kit, but it’s far too conspicuously pretty to pretend to be anything other than what it is: the best-looking, and perhaps the best, high-end SUV on the market.

The F-Pace has come wading into this lucrative, densely populated industry segment to smack the Porsche Macan upside its flared wheel arches. BMW man in his X4 is already looking in wide-eyed wonder (and fear) in his rear-view mirror. It’s such a fun drive it puts a smiley emoticon on the driver’s face.

Its supercharged, three-litre, V6 petrol engine (no dirty diesel version for Hong Kong) sounds reassuringly throaty when revved and gives it proper muscle. The adaptive suspension is firm but takes nothing away from the car’s agility through a tight corner. All that – and on any sort of terrain, in any conditions it comes up against, the F-Pace handles like a supermodel just out of deportment school.

So if it’s such a marvel, what can it actually do? Zero to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h that would be higher if not for one of those pesky limiters you find on minibuses (Macan: 5.4 seconds and 254km/h; X4: 8.1 seconds and 212 km/h). A combined city/highway fuel economy of 100km for every 8.9 litres of fuel (Macan: 8.7; X4: 6.9). Generate a supercharged 380hp (Macan: 340hp; X4: 300hp). And whack your wallet for HK$698,800 for the 35t Prestige model (basic Macan: HK$689,000; range-topping X4: HK$671,000).

The F-Pace is largely aluminium, which makes it light but rigid and helps keep the steering sharp. The gear box is eight-speed automatic and the drive all-wheel, inviting those off-road forays that justify the “practical” part of the official blurb.

But it doesn’t really look like a Jaguar, does it? Well, no: when one thinks of a Jaguar the mental slideshow tends to star the 1950s dome-roofed Mark 2, beloved of British bobbies; the grand tourer XJS with its unfeasibly long snout; the rip-snorting XKR, which even put the frighteners on Ferrari; its predecessor, the XK8, once voted the world’s most fetching two-seater sports car; and, naturally, the alluring countenance of perhaps the most ravishing automobile ever minted, by anybody, anywhere: the E-type.

But if Jaguar has any sort of image problem with the sports car-SUV crossover F-Pace it won’t have it for long. Its sloping roofline gives it a slinky (oh, all right then, “cat-like”) profile and its nose is long and high enough off the road to invest it with a snooty air. Nor does that roofline compromise boot space: lift the power-assisted tailgate and you’ll find what Jaguar claims are a whopping 650 litres in which to stow your biggest suitcases or your golf clubs (while still attached to their trolley). The 40:20:40-ratio split rear seats come with an electrical-recline option; fold them down either the fancy way or the old-fashioned way and you have enough room for DIY house removals (almost).

Up front, the heated sports seats are standard and so cosy-fit that you won’t fall out of them if you throw the vehicle into a G-force bend. And to make sure you really are sitting comfortably, the easily adjusted steering wheel goes forwards, backwards, up and down with the flexibility of a yoga teacher.

F-Pace drivers are likely to find piloting the car plenty entertaining, thank you. Passengers, however, are a different matter and those not content to gaze through the panoramic sun roof may amuse themselves with the eight-inch touch screen “infotainment” system, which Jaguar clunkily calls the InControl Touch. This incorporates sat-nav, a Wi-fi hotspot, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a DAB radio. The system can even synchronise with a smartphone to run a host of apps.

Jaguar might be Indian owned these days and in some quarters it might still conjure memories of British football managers in chunky sheepskin overcoats. But throughout a history often more chequered than a chessboard it has somehow retained the soul of British motor racing. Johnny Herbert and Jaguar’s Formula One team may be long gone – but the company has now returned to global motorsport, in the 2016-17 electric-car Formula E Championship. Fans of its F-type-inspired “ultimate practical sports car” should guarantee the marque’s appearance, in next month’s opening round in Hong Kong, won’t be a subdued affair.