We pulled off the ferry and skirted the 1.749-metre Mount Lovćen on roads that, it has to be said, had seen better days. Those 22-inch Pirelli tyres will cost you £3,200 above the cost of the standard 18-inch rims on the Prestige, base-spec car. You should save your money. The F-Pace clambered along, noisily rearing and bucking like an electric-blue mustang (horse not car) over the least bump and providing an unpleasantly isolated feel at the steering wheel. Twenty-inch rims are the maximum you would want for this car and so shod, all the cars rode stiffly, but acceptably well on the launch.
The big petrol engine is nicely worked. Downturned from its peaky, raucous state in the F-Type sports car, it still has a good growl and makes scintillating performance (top speed 155mph, 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds, 31.7mpg combined), though the eight-speed auto can be slow to respond if you haven't slotted it into sport mode or flip the steering-wheel paddles like a pin-ball machine. The 'Lion' V6 diesel can trace its history back to the Peugeot/Citroën/Ford unit, but these days is made solely for JLR. It's a lovely, but heavy, unit giving creamy torque at low revs and a top speed of 150mph, 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds and 47.1mpg if you light on the throttle. But the entire installation weighs almost 1.9 tonnes and that affects the handling, particular the ride at the front and the way it turns into corners.
Actually it turned out that the most popular model is also the nicest to drive. With four-wheel-drive and the eight-speed auto, the 1,775kg two-litre diesel mode delivers a top speed of 129mph, 0-60mph in 8.2sec and 53.3mpg with Band E CO2 emissions of 139g/km. It feels faster than that, but also more agile and wieldy than the bigger engined cars. Turn in to corners is sharper, it dives less under braking, and doesn't pitch over the bumps like its more powerful and heavy sisters. The body feels better controlled and it feels more fun to drive. Even the steering, accurate and well weighted, has a bit more feedback. There's a price to pay for having just four cylinders in such a relatively big car and that's in the extra noise and vibration from the diesel engine, but its installation in F-Pace is a great deal more refined than in last year's XE saloon.
And the more you drive it, the better it gets, until by the time I had to hand the keys back, I was genuinely sorry to say goodbye to Jaguar's first (and rather long awaited) SUV. It strikes a nice balance between the more staid opposition and the Porsche, while being more practical, providing at least all-weather capability if not the real mud-plugging abilities of its Land Rover and Range Rover sisters, and being, well fun to drive.
People are talking about a resurgence of confidence at Jaguar as it prepares to repair its poor sales and launch a fistful of new cars and drivelines. F-Pace rather bears all that out.