‘I’m actually the reason for the F-PACE,’ laughs David Gandy. ‘I’m a sports car enthusiast but when I saw the F-PACE in clay form, I said, “Build it!”’ It’s not every day that I hang out with male supermodels in one of the world’s most prestigious hotels, but this is no ordinary car launch. Jaguar has invited a small (mainly female) group to Montenegro on a privately chartered plane to test-drive their first ever SUV. So now we’re sipping champagne and gathered around a metallic blue F-PACE that blazes lusciously in the evening sunshine.
In front of us, another F-PACE bobs on a raft on the sparkling Adriatic and behind us is the beautiful backdrop of our hotel, the Aman Stevi Stefan, an exquisitely restored fishing village, a cluster of ancient stone cottages and centuries-old churches built around a Venetian-style warren of narrow lanes on a tiny private island. The Aman Stefi Stefan is arguably among Europe’s top exclusive luxury destinations and with prices starting at €1,100 a night, certainly one of the most expensive.
David Gandy is an old friend to Jaguar and a loyal ambassador. ‘I’ve believed in the brand for many years,’ he says, ‘and the F-PACE is simply the best car on the road at the moment. I was right to have had faith.’ Ian Callum, the F-PACE’s legendary designer, beams. He has been on a punishing global tour for several weeks, presenting the car to motoring correspondents and dealers. But he’s not jaded. Such is his pride in his latest baby that he continues to delight in its sleek, sensual lines that echo the original F-TYPE.
‘A lot of passion has gone into this car,’ he says. ‘Getting a car with the height of a SUV to look like a Jaguar was dealing with opposing visual forces. But we’ve kept the front wheel far out to keep it sporty and the car rears back from that to give a sense of excitement. There’s a short rear and front overhang to suggest muscular strength and visual confidence, and the window graphic gives the car its poise, speed and length.’ He’s right – despite its necessary height and sensible, functional, spacious proportions, the car retains its Jaguar spirit of a potent beast about to spring. ‘It’s a SUV with a sports car’s soul,’ Callum concludes.
It wasn’t long ago that women who drove SUVs, especially in cities, were vilified as silly and rich, clogging up already congested streets with their gratuitously large “Chelsea tractors.” But all that has changed. Anna Gallagher, Senior Launch Manager at Jaguar, says it’s partly to do with two severe winters in 2006 and ‘7. ‘People suddenly started wanting 4WDs and saw them as the safe, warm, family option,’ she says, as we waft up onto the Aman’s rooftop candlelit terrace overlooking the sea for dinner. Jaguar’s dream is that the F-PACE, with its affordable entry price-point (£34,170) will become the de rigeur car of choice for women – as well as men – around the world. Already some retailers have a six month waiting list.
The next morning, the cars await us on a specially built deck on the beach opposite our hotel. My co-driver, the blogger Kelly Eastwood, and I are assigned to a steel grey V6S with red and black upholstery. Gilbert, an experienced Jaguar hand, drives the first part of the route and I experience how comfortable and generous the back seat is, with plenty of legroom even for tall men. We drive along the coast, the sea glass-smooth and Lapis Lazuli-blue under a cloudless sky, before turning inland along a steep, single-track road.
We wind up through budding forest in new leaf that glows vivid green with sappy spring energy. Wild flowers sprinkle the verges amongst clumps of wild euphorbia and in the distance, towering over the sea, are the majestic snow-topped mountain crags that give the country its distinctive, dramatic scenery. We pass a neatly kept monastery in a field of buttercups, some tiny farmsteads smothered in wisteria amongst flowering fruit and lilac trees, vineyards on terraced slopes and a few abandoned, ruined buildings, a reminder of Montenegro’s turbulent history (the former kingdom was part of former Yugoslavia and was annexed by Serbia before finally achieving independence in 2006). Cars pull over as our glamorous convoy of Jaguars squeezes past in stately single file. One elderly couple, their backseat full of vegetables, stares in amazement as we smile and thank them.
When we hit the main road, I take the wheel and immediately feel safe, Queen of the Road. The seat and the steering wheel adjust easily til I feel both comfortable and encased securely by the car – Ian Callum said that when sitting high, it was important to feel you were sitting in the car rather than on it. We purr through the old capital, Cetinje, nestling in a lush valley, and then enter Lovćen National Park where a picnic brunch is laid out for us on the sunny terrace of a chalet-style hotel deep in the pine forest.
First I take the car up an almost vertical off-road slope. Using the big screen, it takes just a couple of swipes to change the car’s mode and set the speed, and then it’s ready to drive itself – literally. ‘Don’t do anything except steer,’ says Gilbert. It’s difficult to keep my foot off the accelerator because I can’t believe the car will not just slide backwards – but it doesn’t. It grips the slippery, stony track and reaches the top. The bigger challenge is to drive down the other side without touching the brake but the trusty F-PACE delivers us safely to the bottom and my feet have hovered over but not touched the pedals. It’s the first time I have been in a car and relinquished so much control. It’s nerve-wracking but ultimately the F-PACE is programmed to be a better and safer driver than I am. We’re going to have to learn to trust because this is the beginning of driverless cars and the future.
After lunch, we change into a 3L V6 Diesel model and Kelly negotiates 26 steep hairpin bends down through the mountains. The car handles smoothly yet grips the road robustly. Any slicker and we could feel sick as we zig-zag down to where we have spectacular views out over Tivat and Kotor Bay. We drive through the popular, chic harbour of Kotov to Perast and we all fall in love simultaneously. Here is one of Montenegro’s most beautiful heritage sites, a mini Venice with clock towers, churches and palatial buildings with balconies and arched windows facing the sea and simple, enticing restaurants on the water. We park and kayak to Our Lady of the Rocks, a domed church on a crag in the sea, where afternoon tea and refreshments are laid out by the water.
We’re given big towels with which to dry off and then we sunbathe, visit the church and then kayak back round an ancient Franciscan monastery that stands in splendid isolation on its own island, a high wall enclosing a shady, secret garden of pines and cypresses. We enjoy a cool, harbour-side drink before Gilbert drives us round the bay to a ferry. It’s a five-minute journey across the bay, by which time I’m looking forward to taking to the wheel again for the home stretch.
Mostly the F-PACE won us over. The women I talked to now covet one. It combines its sporty, powerful Jaguar spirit and good looks with obvious advantages, like its Best in Class amount of boot room and rear legroom. But it’s possibly its technical sophistication that gives it its edge. Ian Callum is quoted as saying that there’s more processing in this car that on a 77 plane, and the car’s futuristic features are guaranteed to impress anyone from a novice driver to a sports-car fanatic like David Gandy. Everything has been built to make the life of a busy driver easier: you can pre-heat or pre-cool the car; there is literally door to door navigation – your phone will sync up with the car’s navigation system the minute you tap in your location at your desk or inside your house; the navigation system can share your estimated time of arrival with your chosen contacts and update them every five, ten or fifteen minutes; WiFi can connect up to eight devices; Meridian HiFi gives perfect sound; stolen vehicle tracking helps keep insurance premiums down; the car will warn you when you’re low on petrol and guide you to your nearest petrol station; it will tell you where you can park; there’s a waterproof and shock resistant activity key that you can wear on your wrist, enabling you to lock your keys in the car and not worry about them while you climb, surf or go for a run; there’s even “Commute Mode” that can tell if you’re doing the same journey again and again and estimates your time of arrival, even if your navigation system is turned off. The list of features goes on and on. It’s as if the F-PACE has been built to be a road companion, ever at your side to ensure your safety and comfort.
This car does so much for you, it’s virtually your mate. For women, it offers the ultimate luxury because it’s family-friendly, spacious, reliable and safe, and yet has all the power, glamour and edge traditionally associated with the “bad boys” who drive Jaguars. In a Jaguar F-PACE, we’re never going to feel like a boring Mum predictably plumping for the SUV when family life demands it. No – we’re going to look and feel super smart that we’ve been savvy enough to snap one up.
For more information about the Jaguar F-PACE, click here.