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Jaguar F-Pace SVR: Driven

The 550hp F-Pace finally makes it to production - can it surpass the Stelvio Quadrifoglio?

By Matt Bird / Tuesday, April 23, 2019

It won't have taken Jeff Bezos levels of business acumen within JLR to identify the F-Pace SVR as Making Some Sense. The standard F-Pace has sold nearly 200,000 units since launch, the F-Type responded well to the SVR treatment, and the nearest equivalent in the range - the rambunctious Range Rover Sport SVR - is an excellent car - even if your conscience says otherwise. And in certain parts of the world it seems like every third car is an RRS SVR, optional carbon bonnet and all, so downsizing the formula (all things being relative) feels eminently sensible.

Consequently the idea of an F-Pace SVR has been around for a while; the car was originally shown at New York last year. Like all the quick JLR stuff it uses a version of the supercharged, 5.0-litre V8 (here with 550hp) and the ZF eight-speed auto, sufficient for 4.3 seconds to 62mph and 176mph. Given that's as expected, it's the chassis tweaks that are more interesting - not least because Special Vehicles see their remit as amplifying the key attributes of the base car. So ride comfort is, a little surprisingly, mentioned first in the press briefing; specifically the desire to retain the standard F-Pace's rolling refinement.

Fully 250 tunes of the Bilstein Continuously Variable Dampers were tested before settling on the two Comfort and Dynamic configurations, with the latter signed off first (with some Nurburgring testing to make sure) and the former tested most extensively on the roads around Gaydon. Interestingly the car is tested on the optional 22-inch wheels, because that's the more difficult job, the 21-inch alternative said to suit those settings just fine with a small improvement in secondary ride comfort. A host of other tweaks - stiffer wishbone bushes, increases in spring rate, the F-Type eLSD, a larger rear anti-roll bar, recalibration of the EPAS - are also there to boost the F-Pace's cred as a driver's car.

In fact, perhaps the greatest praise that can be initially directed at the SVR is just how much like an F-Pace it feels. That sounds like a backhanded compliment for something capable of 12-second quarter miles, yet isn't intended as such; old cliché though it is, making the fast car fast is easy - making the fast car behave at 10 per cent of its top speed is rather more taxing. Making the two-tonne fast car behave at slow speed on 22-inch wheels is another matter again, yet one that's been tackled here with aplomb. The F-Pace can never entirely shake off the fact that it's controlling a fair few kilos, sprung and unsprung, but that it always does the job with such accuracy and deftness deserves considerable credit.

As with all the Jags, from 180hp diesel saloons to 600hp sports cars, there's a cohesiveness to the SVR's controls at low speed that makes even sedate journeys more than pleasant. The steering in particular is a highlight, especially with the flighty Stelvio as perhaps its most important rival. The F-Pace is less immediate but also more consistent in its response, with the weighting just so and its sense of connection nicely judged. Once more, it's like an F-Pace - just improved quite a bit.

Which brings us to 'Dynamic' mode, which is traditionally where SVR-branded models unleash the fury of their headline power output and start manically swaggering about like middle-aged lead guitarists, mid solo. Only that never quite materialises. Perhaps we've become inured in recent years to rowdy high-riding sports cars, or maybe it feels familiar from the Range Rover big brother, but no single element about the SVR when driven at pace stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Again that sounds like damnation by faint praise, though chiefly it's because the F-Pace is so broadly talented. If the engine stands out in a Stelvio, the chassis in the Macan and the general sense of inappropriateness in a Range Rover Sport, it's this car's unwavering ability to deliver across the board that might just come to define it.

That said, the engine is never too far from the driver's attention. It can be as muted as a funeral parade when required, but also roused into full Baja rally refugee when the situation suits. Or most enjoyably, when the situation really doesn't suit. There's nothing new to report on this engine, really, it having been in service for 10 years now and the end seemingly nigh, but it remains the perfect fit - responsive, engaging, thunderously powerful and blessed with that rollicking soundtrack.

Dynamically, the SVR feels bob on, in that the impression is very much more of a flagship Jaguar saloon than of an SUV fit to burst with supercharged excess. That an F-Pace with nearly 50 per cent more power than any other that isn't dominated by the engine shows how smart the chassis tuning is. That desire to retain key F-Pace attributes extends to more energetic driving as well, the car always fluid and composed, direct and confidence inspiring. There's a rear bias to the dynamics with the Intelligent Dynamics (but not the lairiness of a Stelvio), more grip and traction thanks to a new P Zero that's 295-section at the rear (but not the tacked down stability of a Macan), and a degree of configurability that has relevance to different situations - without the bewildering array of settings found in an AMG.

Comfort for steering, throttle, gearshift and dampers typically suits most situations – the sports exhaust on as a matter of course – with the increase in tautness and tension from a standard F-Pace more than tolerable for everyday. Quite pleasant in fact. Dynamic is not the panacea for driving nirvana you might hope, making the throttle a bit abrupt and the automatic gearbox too eager; the steering and suspension feel usefully improved by the mode though, delivering an increased sense of purpose and vigour to the drive, so the configurable setting is probably best left like that.

Thusly set up, the SVR is a hoot. Because everything that was good about the F-Pace from before is retained, meaning it can be just a comfortable crossover when needed - but now it can also do fast, accurate, rewarding driver’s car - one with commendable neutrality for something so large. The SVR is not one for the high-up hot hatch school of driving, instead rewarding a more considered approach, using braking stability (said to be aided by an increase in longitudinal stiffness) and unimpeachable traction to their fullest.  

Gripes? One or two. There isn’t a ceramic brake option, as some rivals do have, and others reported some fade issues from the chunky – 395mm front, 396mm rear – iron discs by the end of the day. The pedal feel is good otherwise, though it seems an oversight in something this heavy that goads the driver into pushing, especially when there’s a ceramic rotor offered on the F-Type. Speaking of the alternatives – don’t forget there’s an X3 M coming, too – the F-Pace interior isn’t looking the freshest at the moment, particularly so at £75k. Yes, standards move quickly, but it’s the same for the entire industry, and it seems a shame that the flagship couldn’t arrive with something like the Touch Pro Duo system seen in the latest XE.

Last one, promise. And it comes with a caveat. And it sounds ludicrous. But this is a 550hp Jaguar that feels a bit sensible. The Stelvio QF treats its turbocharged V6 like an unexploded bomb; daring you to light the fuse whenever the wheels are straight. Or even when they're not. In contrast the F-Pace has absorbed its supercharged V8 much more cohesively - but in doing the job so well, Jaguar has arguably delivered its greatest selling point right alongside its most notable drawback. The SVR's performance is strong without being rampant, its dynamism impressive yet not otherworldly and its sense of theatre convincing without ever being compelling. As an all-rounder it is quite lovely. But - on this first go at least - it doesn't have a standout attribute to get unreasonably excited about.

Will that change once the south of France has been swapped for Britain in springtime? Quite possibly. One colleague fortunate enough to drive the car in the rain suggested it was an absolutely riot, oversteering for the Commonwealth and so forth, so there's room for improvement yet. Let's not forget either that Jaguar always plays fabulously well on home soil, where all that time and effort spent endlessly driving up and down the Fosse Way finally pays off. Either way, the SVR oozes finesse and dynamic sophistication right out of the gate. And that's a fine place for Jaguar's fast SUV to start.


Engine: 5,000cc, supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 502@2,500-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 176mph
Weight: 2,070kg (to EU, with 75kg driver)
CO2: from 272g/km (NEDC2)
MPG: up to 23.7
Price: £74,835

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