A wary toe. That’s how the introductory line suggests Jaguar is entering the SUV arena, and the reasoning is sound enough: were Jaguar more confident it could sell an SUV, it would have tried it years ago.

There are reasons why it hasn’t, of course. This is a company that – although written large on the radar of UK car buyers and enthusiasts – is a minnow alongside the German firms that its cars rival.

Their products sell by the hundreds of thousands and contribute to sales of more than a million a year for each company. Jaguar sells fewer than 100,000 cars a year in total. Or has, until now.

The F-Pace is the car that’s meant to change that. It’s a car that puts the future of Jaguar estates under threat but it’s also one that, frankly, no executive car maker can be without – even one that has a separate arm dealing entirely in executive SUVs.

There’s an argument that this is one of the reasons for Jaguar’s SUV tardiness. Will a Jaguar 4x4 nick sales from a Range Rover 4x4? It’s a possibility but, as the VW Group does with Volkswagen and Audi (and soon Skoda and Seat too), it’s a chance you take.

At least you get the profit either way, rather than somebody else. And the F-Pace’s ethos is wilfully different, on paper and in the drives we’ve had so far, from anything else that rolls out of a Jaguar Land Rover facility. It’s a Jaguar, which means it’s a sporting SUV, we’re told – as much as one is possible.

It’s a tall car with a modicum of off-road ability, but for those who like driving. That’s always a slight contradiction, but ever since BMW launched the X5 in the late 1990s, it’s one we’ve managed to get our head around.

We’ve tried all F-Pace engine variants so far in one way or another, but the one tested here counts most: the 2.0-litre diesel that will constitute the biggest number of sales.

Top 5 Family SUVs

  • The Land Rover Discovery Sport
    The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is the successor to the Freelander

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    1
  • BMW X3
    A huge improvement over the old model and now among the class leaders

    BMW X3

    2
  • Volvo XC60
    The Swede's XC60 compact SUV is a rival for Range Rover's Evoque

    Volvo XC60

    3
  • Range Rover Evoque
    The Range Rover Evoque is available as a three-door, pictured here, or a five-door

    Range Rover Evoque

    4
  • Here is the 2.2-litre CRDi Kia Sorento KX-4
    Kia's seven-seat Sorento SUV is now in its third generation

    Kia Sorento

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S tronic
    First Drive
    29 May 2016
    We head to Havana to find out how the new Audi Q2 is shaping up ahead of its November launch
  • Seat Leon 1.4 EcoTSI FR Titanium
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    High-spec new Titanium FR trim is temptingly good value, particularly on the semi-enthusiastic 1.4 EcoTSI petrol
  • Kia Niro
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    The Kia Niro will be one of the greenest cars in the compact crossover class when it goes on sale later this year. We drive it to see what else it has to offer
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    Can the turbocharged successor to the 458 raise the bar again?
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    The big-in-every-way Bentley SUV lands. We assess the impact