Science isn’t really my thing, but how about we do a little science-ing anyway. Our four seasons 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S is comprised of roughly 75 percent aluminum, with most of the body panels and its monocoque constructed from the stuff. Airstream trailers are the most recognizable aluminum soda cans on wheels (although it does have a steel frame). Aluminum towing aluminum? Sounds like a reasonable experiment to me.
Now let’s add some more variables into the Petri dish, namely my retired parents, who I decided to take camping with me in this setup after a 36-year outdoor family adventure hiatus. Snow in the forecast? Uh, maybe this is getting a bit too insane. But I was dying to see how well this 4,481 pound luxury SUV with a towing capacity of 5,290 pounds could pull the aerodynamic and graceful Airstream that weighed in at around 4,600 pounds with all our gear. Let the research begin!
Short of hauling a payload from Bloomingdale’s, actually towing anything of substance probably isn’t high on the priority list of most F-Pace owners. But somewhat surprisingly, Jaguar tells us that around 14 percent of customers opt for the tow package. For around $1,600 excluding labor, the local Jaguar Land Rover dealer can hook them up if they so desire like they did for us (the hitch is also available as a factory option depending on F-Pace spec). There was one small hiccup when we got to the Airstream dealer, however, the Curt Class III trailer hitch needed a more robust 2.5-inch ball mount. Airstream got us properly set up though and then walked my parents and I through the relatively simple hitching and unhitching process.
With Airstream’s 22 foot, single axle Sport edition having successfully joined our party, we were ready to roll. Right after the Airstream got hitched I took a step back, looked at the riveted fuselage hooked up to the Italian Racing Red F-Pace and was blown away at how damn handsome the whole package was. If we didn’t make it the approximately 300 miles each way from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes and back in one piece, at least we’d look good on the side of the road somewhere.
Initial feedback on the F-Pace’s interior from Mom and Dad was positive. Both reported they were comfortable. Mom had plenty of legroom situated behind me. Dad didn’t find the 14 different seat adjustment options in his passenger side sport inspired bucket until we were 20 minutes from home on the way back, but I wasn’t about to make this trip twice solely so he could improve the comfort level of his backside. After a couple of hours of driving, my back started to feel a bit stiff. Perhaps the F-Pace is more conducive for shorter jaunts, or maybe it was because I was a little stressed given it was my first time hauling a big trailer.
The nav system was helpful enough, though inputting our final destination wasn’t as simple as I’d hoped. Eventually we it got figured out, but not without a requisite father/daughter scuffle over where to type in a popular destination instead of a specific address. You know I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to at least one such familial incident.
There are two beefs I have with the interior. First is the dial gear shifter. Aside from the fact that I was constantly worried I’d turn it the wrong way and throw it into reverse when I meant park, it’s a terrible waste of space on the center stack. I wouldn’t be disappointed if I never saw this used in any other car ever. Second, the window controls, which are placed on the top of the door panel where the controls for the rear-view mirror usually are. For someone like me with T-Rex arms, they were a bit of a stretch. They should be closer.
Not halfway through the five-plus hour drive and I forgot I was pulling anything.
The F-Pace’s 380 hp supercharged V-6 is a lot of animal. It produces plenty of torque as well at 332 lb-ft. The combo was more than enough to haul the lighting rod of a camper we were pulling toward the rapidly darkening skies circling over the mountains. The Driver’s Assistance Package ($3,200), that includes a 360-degree camera setup, adaptive cruise control, and a heads up display, was my best friend. Seeing behind the Airstream was near impossible, so I was thrilled to have driver-assisted anything.
The crucial part of our experiment would be the final hike from Bishop to Mammoth – an ascent of about 4,300 feet in only 45 miles. Quite quickly the looming storm turned into a full-fledged one when just outside of Bishop it started to rain. Okay, no problem. Firstly, because of the automatic wiper feature, and more importantly, because the F-Pace’s 113.1 inch wheelbase and 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tires kept us feeling pretty stable. The double-wishbone front and Integral Link rear suspension setup is tuned to allow those Eagles to maintain as much contact with the road as possible throughout the ute’s full range of suspension travel, which was especially helpful when the trailer tried to knock us around on the bumps.
Somewhere around 5,000 feet it started to snow. “Just whatever you do, don’t tow anything in the snow,” was the one warning I got from a friend who knows. But there was no turning back now, because we needed to get to the campground and unhitch before sunset. Fuel efficiency during this final climb of the trip wasn’t pretty. We averaged as little as 6 mpg during the ascent, but I didn’t care as long as we got there in one piece. Which we did. Unhitching a trailer in below freezing temps isn’t something I endorse, but the nice folks at McGee Creek RV Park were amazing and helped get us set up before the Woodwards turned into the Donner party.
An Airstream doesn’t take long to figure out. Once you get it detached from your tow vehicle and cranked into place (the Sport model doesn’t have an automatic hitch jack, and hand cranking can be a bit of a workout, but it was cold and I didn’t mind) it’s simply a matter of plugging the right hoses into the right hookups and flipping on important things like the water pump and the heater, and you’re good to go. This wasn’t rocket science. Giving my parents the trailer in which to luxuriate for the week was the plan. I’d come prepared with a tent, but the weather became a control variable I hadn’t properly accounted for.
There was no way I was going to pitch a tent in the snow, so I opted to sleep in the F-Pace. (Note: Do not sleep in an F-Pace in subzero weather.) My 5-foot 5-inches fit okay in the 63.5 cu-ft of cargo room with the rear seats folded. However, they don’t fold completely flush so I was sleeping at a tilted angle. Despite having a memory foam mattress topper, a sleeping bag, a down comforter, and a hot water bottle at my feet, it was still about 25 degrees inside the car by sunrise.
By 9 a.m. I’d marched my parents across the street and got them set up in a lodge, and I took my rightful place in the Airstream. That’s more like it! (While Airstream claims the 22 foot Sport can sleep four adults, I’d say it was more suited for two adults and two half-sized children who don’t notice that the convertible dinette feels more like quartz countertop than a mattress.) In every other way it’s like the glamping pics you envy on Pinterest. It comes equipped with a gas stove top and convection oven, a full bathroom with a stand-alone shower, and plenty of windows to take in the vistas of wherever you’re pulling this metallic palace.
With the Jag unleashed from its yoke, we were eager to see how it ran on the windy roads of the Eastern Sierras. The AWD system made mountain twisties a blast even with me going a bit slower given that Mom was strapped down in the back seat. Steering felt balanced and responsive, quick, and well connected. The Jag’s Adaptive Dynamic Surface Response system monitors the body movement of the car and makes proportionate adjustments to the engine, transmission, steering and suspension, all of which helped make the Jaguar feel like a mountain lion. On fire roads or lose gravel it was prone to oversteer, but overall the F-Pace proved to be a hearty trooper. And an oh-so-stylish one at that, as it scores major style points in all the ways a crossover in this exploding luxury category should. While there are some out there who still may not fully embrace the notion of a Jaguar SUV, thanks to its elegant but aggressive bodylines and strong, cat-like haunches, it has more than enough Jaguar DNA to make it work for me.
During our two-day getaway, we marveled at wide valley vistas and caught two Rainbows, a Cutthroat, and a Scottish Brown trout during an outing on Lake Crowley. We ate pizza (as you do when it’s too windy to build a campfire and make S’mores) and tried to get to Lake Mary, but the road was still closed from Southern California’s biggest winter since 2010. Moreover, my family and I were reminded of the last time we’d come up to the area in the early ’80s, our gear packed into the trunk of a ’79 Mercury Marquis Brougham. Clearly, we’ve never been much of an outdoorsy family, but on this trip, as on the last, our one scientific constant was this already well-bonded family crushes luxury car camping.
Hitching up for the trip home was a breeze. On the trek back, I played with the F-Pace’s different drive modes while my parents slept like two spent kids after a long day at Disneyland. Eco mode was a bust. In addition to pulling the trailer it felt like ten refrigerators were added to our load. Dynamic mode definitely offered up more power, but I could watch the fuel gauge hurtle in real time toward empty faster than I’d like. Normal mode seemed just right as we cruised home. We averaged about 14 mpg over the entire trip, which is about the same gas mileage as a Buick Enclave does just driving itself. Color me impressed. Base price on the F-Pace is $58,695, as tested ours comes in at $71,360. The Airstream Sport’s starting price is $52,900.
My extremely scientific conclusion? Aluminum towing aluminum in the snow with retired parents turned out to be one fine experiment that bears duplication again and again.
Our 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S
|MILES TO DATE||8,565|
|ENGINE||3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||186.3 x 76.2 x 65.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|