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HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Not the same ol’ Jaguar vs. Caddy

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Is it too soon to name the 2017 Automobile All-Rookie Team? Of course not. You didn’t have to wait until season’s end to know that LeBron James would make the cut in 2004. Or that Kyrie Irving would get his votes in 2012 (jeez, no wonder the Cavs just won an NBA championship).

And you don’t have to wait until January for me to tell you that the Jaguar F-Pace and Cadillac XT5 are two of the best new players in the luxury game.

Compact crossovers haven’t lacked for drama in the last year as Porsche debuted the asphalt-dicing Macan, Lincoln its stylish MKC, and Lexus handed the design pencil to Darth Vader to sketch the most menacing ship this side of a Super Star Destroyer. But the 2017 model year is notable for two old-world nameplates crafting two distinctive new-world performance crossovers.

Written off as senior citizen brands, the F-Pace and XT5 not only make a statement in the most 21st century of segments — compact SUVs — but they do it with style and athleticism that redefine both nameplates. Both feature innovative, lightweight chassis. Both sport car-like agility. Both are “tweeners”: one-size-fits-all compact crossovers that try to split the difference between the armada of vehicles German competitors throw at the segment. For example, BMW’s X1, X3, X4 and X5. Or Mercedes’ GLA, AMG GLA45, GLE.

Print up the T-shirts. “F-Pace and XT5 Against Everybody.”

The all-new Jag might have the easier path given its family lineage. The F-Pace badge is a nod to the F-Type, the ferocious King of Cats in the vein of storied Jaguar sports cars like E-Type and XJSS. That history gives Jaguar performance cred alongside Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Audi that are also imprinting their athletic DNA on crossover siblings.

A friend is happily married to her Cadillac. I showed her a picture of the F-Pace. “Ooooooh,” she moaned with desire. Jaguar, you marriage wrecker.

In contrast, Cadillac is an icon of roomy luxury, not track heroism. While the F-Pace’s slit headlamps and round taillights evoke the crouched F-Type, the XT5’s handsome shield grille and vertical LED light signature recall the CTS and CT6 sedans.

F-Sport’s tapered greenhouse and muscular rear shoulders make it the sports car-lover’s SUV. The Caddy is lit up like Saturday night, a sculpture for the well-manicured.

By now some of you may be screaming “Cadillac isn’t a rookie!” with the same passion that 7-footer Arvydas Sabonis shouldn’t have been a 1996 NBA all-rookie pick because he was already an established international star. Fair enough. After all, while the XT5 is a new badge, it follows Cadillac’s first entry in the compact space, the SRX. But the XT5 a different animal. The gym-toned XT5 has shed 278 pounds from its predecessor.

Under the skin, XT5 and F-Pace are more akin.

The XT5 claims the title as class lightweight, but match AWD models and the F-Pace’s aluminum chassis proves slimmer. Still, the Caddy’s C1XX architecture is so good it makes the three-row GMC Acadia feel athletic. Both Jaguar and Cadillac took journalists to some of the most challenging roads in the country to show off their steeds — roads normally reserved for sports car tryouts.

I flogged the XT5 over California’s Lake Elsinore hills. I chased Porsche Cayennes, harassed hot hatches and generally acted like a sedan instead of a tall stagecoach. I got to stretch the F-Pace’s legs over the Colorado Rockies alongside its sedan stablemate, the Jaguar XE. Both are built off the same architecture and both sport double-wishbone front suspensions usually reserved for sports cars.

So unexpectedly delightful was the bigger F-Pace’s handling that it tempted my fellow journalists into three speeding tickets. As the Jag ads say: “It’s good to be bad.”

Part of that naughtiness is Jaguar outfitting its tallest cat (in addition to a base, 2.0-liter diesel) with the same 340- to 380-horse supercharged V-6 engine as its XE R-Sport. Rotate the dial to SPORT mode, stomp the accelerator mid-corner and it will nearly jump off the road. At a Rocky Mountain high 12,000 feet with no guardrails I found this mildly alarming (Jaguar might want to dial back the throttle sensitivity a tad).

The Caddy’s sole V-6 option can’t match the cat’s horsepower, but its 310-horse, 3.6-liter V-6 is no slouch in motivating the lightweight frame. It would be wise for Caddy to follow Jaguar’s three-tier engine strategy (a 2.0-liter turbo is rumored on the way) to broaden the car’s appeal.

But the Brit, too, could learn a thing or two from the Yank’s interior. Assuming you can get into the Jag’s cabin.

With its raked windshield, I had difficulty bending my 6-foot-plus frame into the awkward opening without putting the seat all the way back. Once inside, the Jaguar is surprisingly spartan. I wasn’t expecting an old-world, wood-paneled executive suite, but the Jaguar lacks character save for the dramatic rotary dial that emerges from the center console like Arthur’s scimitar from the proverbial lake. The center stack is featureless and the instrument panel is fitted with a simple plastic hat.

The Cadillac, meanwhile, boasts beautiful dash lines arcing from instruments to glove box, and the all-new CUE system floats above the console. The stitched leather, Alcantara and wood trims in my $62,000 Platinum edition should be in a display window in the Somerset Collection. Jaguar’s stitched black leather looks coach class by comparison.

The Cadillac also makes excellent use of its e-shifter to open up storage — perfect for a small purse or bag — below the console.

Jaguar’s optional heads-up display is a feature Cadillac innovated. But the F-Pace’s regrettable stab at an Audi-like “virtual cockpit” display is half-baked. Better to stick with the standard chrome dials.

Not that the XT5 is perfect. Jeep’s Grand Cherokee roll-away troubles have put a negative spotlight on so-called “monostable” shifters. Cadillac’s version has proper fail-safes in place so you can’t mistakenly leave the car dangerously in neutral. But the monostable’s operation reminds why vehicles like the Jeep and BMW X1 have shed the feature. It’s clumsy. Better to take the Jag’s simpler, rotary-dial route – every bit the space saver and more intuitive to boot

Look out Deutschland, these two rookies have enormous potential. Who gets Rookie of the Year? The Caddy is the better total package. But who am I to deny the animal appeal of the cat? Oooooh.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Specifications

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $41,985 base ($70,735 V-6 R-Sport as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder; 2.0-liter diesel 4-cylinder; 3.0-liter supercharged V-6

Power: 240 horsepower, 251 pound-feet torque (4-cyl.); 180 horsepower, 318 pound-feet torque (diesel); 340-380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (V-6 as tested); top speed (governed): 155 mph

Weight: 4,102 pounds (3.0-liter V-6 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Gorgeous styling; balanced handling

Lows: Undistinguished interior; half-baked “virtual” instrument panel

Overall:★★★

2017 Cadillac XT5

Specifications

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $39,990 base ($63,845 Platinum AWD as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds (Car & Driver est.); top speed (governed): 130 mph

Weight: 4,257 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway/21 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Elegant interior; nimble handling for an SUV

Lows: Balky, monostable shifter; more engine options, please

Overall:★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★