A slim veil of frost has covered the idyllic English countryside as I get behind the wheel of the F-Pace. It is still relatively early and the temperature dial in the car reads minus three, but the sharp winter sun is beginning to melt the ice, steam rising softly as we set out on our annual Christmas road trip to visit two sets of in-laws and friends around the country.

Jaguar's compact SUV has been about for a little while, yet for one reason or another this is my first taste. Speaking to the marque's director of design Ian Callum at the F-Pace's preview last year, I got the feeling this has been a hugely important project for the British manufacturer, one that the design team would have entered with much trepidation.

For a brand famed for sculpting elegant, feline sports cars, it was a little risky offering an SUV which, by its nature, struggles with elegance, yet the gamble has paid off. The F-Pace is Jaguar's fastest selling car. The SUV market is thriving and the F-Pace is proving a healthy rival to other popular choices such as the Porsche Macan, BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

Our route takes us from the heart of urban London to Suffolk, a province to the east of the country and then onto Worcestershire and the Cotswolds, an impossibly picture perfect region in south central England. These are spots that time has barely touched, with towns and villages steeped in history, houses built with local stone, charming tea rooms, brilliant antique stores and plenty of cozy pubs to while away the night.

The F-Pace I have on test is the 2.0-litre diesel R-Sport, a 180ps all-wheel-drive automatic that is a surprisingly punchy performer. The boot is roomy offering 650 liters of luggage space (expanding to 1,740 with the rear seats lowered) and it is packed with presents, as well as cases of champagne and wine to celebrate the festivities.

As we stop en route to capture the car on camera, I'm captivated by its profile. Whereas the upright, bluff nose offers a more masculine face, a robust touch, the silhouette here is almost feline, a larger cat than the F-Type sports car, of course, but still graceful for an SUV. The longer nose, raised beltline and shallow rear windows have helped create a sculpture that looks in motion even when standing still and as much as I dislike using the term ‘dynamic', the F-Pace really does look dynamic.

The design is based on the brilliant C-X17 concept study of 2013 and elements such as the rear lights are translated from the F-TYPE so there is a definite link between the sportiest and the most practical Jaguar. Crucially, the car was developed on its own platform using a great deal of light aluminum in its construction thus contributing to the car's nimbleness.

The F-Pace loves snaky country lanes and there are plenty on our journey especially as we set off from Worcestershire to Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. The steering is quick for pretty impressive agility on these twisting routes and at times I almost forget I'm driving a bulky SUV.

All F-Pace models sit comfortably high on 18-inch alloys and the R-Sport benefits from a bespoke bumper for a sharper look. The car on test is fully connected, comes with Jaguar's intuitive InControl 12.3-inch infotainment system and eight-way electrically adjustable leather seats dressed here in a sporty two-tone black and red. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is also incased in soft leather and a smooth-sounding 380W Meridian sound system keeps us entertained.

The optional full-length panoramic sunroof allows light to flood the cabin, a feature that proves helpful when on one occasion I move to the back seats. This has to be the only flaw, for the rear cabin is a little claustrophobic possibly due to the raised beltline and therefore shallow windows.

The best way to test a car properly is to live with it for a while. It is amazing how elements that go unnoticed on brief launch events pop up on such longer road trips. The F-Pace is a near perfect package; it is practical, comfortable to occupy, fun to drive and it looks elegant. It certainly is a highly compatible companion on this festive trip.

Read my interview with Ian Callum director of Jaguar design in Forbes as he discusses the upcoming electric I-Pace, a car based on the F-Pace.

Read more on Forbes.com.