It used to be that the ‘Sport’ in SUV was a reference to an active lifestyle – sport utilities that could be taken on off-road camping trips, fishing, beach getaways, etc. SUVs were never meant to go fast; they were top heavy and infamous for rollovers under extreme maneuvers. Then Porsche introduced the Cayenne to North American roads in 2003. An SUV that, when first released, could keep up with just about anything on the road while still being a utility vehicle. In 2006, Jeep decided to slap an SRT8 badge on their Grand Cherokee and created an SUV that could do 4WD burnouts at drag strips. Over the years manufacturers have slowly been developing a new subculture in the SUV market, midsize crossovers that can perform like sports cars. Fast, sleek, with a place to fit a car-seat, and cargo space in the back.
I got a chance to test drive two of the latest super sport utility vehicles last week, the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace and the 2017 Maserati Levante. The good people at Barrett Jaguar and Maserati (San Antonio) generously allowed me to get behind the wheel of these two machines that try to do it all: remain stylish, fast, comfortable and luxurious while, of course, carrying the whole family.
2017 Jaguar F-Pace Test Drive: Released in 2016, the F-Pace has been the new ‘It Girl’ for Jaguar, selling like hot cakes at a maple syrup convention! A Barrett exec mentioned that the F-Pace accounted for 85% of its sales. That’s a lot of inventory, but is the F-Pace as good as it looks or is it merely a trending accessory for people who are tired of Range Rovers?
Starting with looks, the F-Pace shares its design queues from its siblings, taking the front end from the XK and the rear taillights from the F-Type coupe. The smooth lines of the aluminum body create a design that looks great compared to the Range Rover Discovery, which in my opinion doesn’t look good at all. Inside you get the clean fit and finish you would expect in a British luxury vehicle of the 21st century. What I liked about the F-Pace was the infotainment center, as it was simple and very attractive. When the screen is on it makes you feel like you’re looking at a smart tablet. Easy to understand and navigate.
How Does the Jaguar F-Pace Drive? I was only allowed to do a brief test drive since these were dealer inventory vehicles with less than a hundred miles each. But first impressions: the Jaguar F-Pace is agile when you turn the wheel briskly. It darts to change lanes while allowing just a hint of sway, making the F-Pace feel more alive. The top-of-the-line spec provides the F-Pace with Jaguar’s 3.0 liter supercharged V6; that’s 380 horsepower at your disposal. Paddles shifters allow you to row through the 8-speed automatic transmission. Don’t expect a vicious growl from this Jaguar, however. Even with my foot to the floor the most I could get was an angry purr. Not to say that it is a bad thing, because the F-Pace was never meant to be a hardcore driver. This is a proper British vehicle with sensible manners and a smooth ride that made me want to drive across Texas, for fun.
Trim levels range in price from $43K all the way up to $70K once you start looking at options. New engines, including a 4-cylinder turbo and diesel, are expected for 2018, which will allow for even more selection when choosing an F-Pace that’s right for you.
2017 Maserati Levante Test Drive: This is new territory for Maserati, with their first mid-size crossover, the Levante. It’s an Italian luxury vehicle so that means it needs to be able to do two things – excite you, and look gorgeous while doing so. Did Maserati achieve this with the Levante? Well, yeah!
Like with all sports sedan-based SUVs, the Levante looks like its sedan sibling (the Ghibli), only with more bulk. It looks good, and sounds even better thanks to its twin-turbo charged 3.0 V6 engine, designed by Maserati and built by Ferrari.
Inside you get an interior designed by Ermenegildo Zegna (harder to spell than M-a-s-e-r-a-t-i), and comes in a wide array of color options. In the past, Maserati has always taken flack for building cars with complicated interiors; too many buttons, with unclear functions and difficult to navigate. Thankfully, the Levante doesn’t share those issues. The dash is simplistic and clean. AC controls at the bottom are easy to understand and the massive touch screen follows a smartphone layout with an “app” for everything like media, Bluetooth and GPS.
How Does the Levante Drive? This was my first Maserati, so I tried not to let my excitement cloud my judgment. Driving the Levante made me wish San Antonio had tunnels, so I could downshift and listen to that V6 baritone bounce off the walls. It also made me dislike speed limits more than usual. The Levante accelerates like an Italian sports car, which means all you want to do is keep going. The paddle shifters on the Levante make a satisfying click when you change gear and you feel the SUV grunt and pull harder with each change. It can be so intoxicating that it’s easy to forget that there is a 45 mph limit as you charge the Levante through the 8-speed automatic.
Pricing for the Levante starts at around $73k and can border the $100k mark with options. There are two trim levels with the Levante, standard Q4 with 345 horsepower, and the S sport with 424 horsepower. No super high-performance versions are available, but if SUVs are the growing trend I suspect there will be in the future.
Jaguar F-Pace vs. Maserati Levante: Having driven both these vehicles back to back do I have a personal favorite? Yes, the Levante, but only because it is more exciting to drive. However, that does not mean the F-Pace is boring. It’s just a matter of personal preference. Not every luxury SUV is supposed to sound like a sports car. Some buyers prefer elegance and luxury over 0-60 times and angry exhaust notes. That’s where these vehicles differ. The Jaguar is British elegance to the Maserati’s Italian Flair. Regardless of which side you prefer, both vehicles will live up to your expectations.
I would like to thank Jaguar, Maserati and Barrett Jaguar for allowing me to test drive these vehicles off their lot. Special thanks to sales consultant Rafael Garza for riding shotgun – and showing me the features on both these luxury machines.
SAN ANTONIO AUTO & TRUCK SHOW 2017
The San Antonio Auto Show, later on this year, will be the perfect opportunity to check out the F-Pace and Levante in person. And it’s a chance to see the latest and greatest from all auto manufacturers without feeling pressured by a sales staff or spend all day traveling from one dealership to another. At the SA auto show people can look, touch, sit in, and talk with representatives over options and features to get a better idea of what vehicle fits their needs. Plus, it’s fun for the whole family. Check out SA Auto Show for more information about the show.
November 9th thru 12th, 2017