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Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography | Driven

JLR's Special Vehicle Operations has injected the Velar with its 550hp 5.0-litre V8 serum...

By Nic Cackett / Monday, June 10, 2019

Ask anyone at an increasingly confident Special Vehicle Operations what their remit is when it comes to JLR's core models, and they will tell you: "making it as good as it can be". The key differentiator there, from Mercedes-AMG, Audi Sport, BMW M GmbH et al, is that succeeding in that regard is not necessarily about making said model go like stink. It is, SVO points out, as much about maintaining the character of the car as anything else - even while it seeks to weave that special sort of magic that convinces someone to pay dramatically over the odds for what is essentially a highfalutin trim level.

Which brings us to the £86k, 550hp Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition. Yes, it goes like stink. But it's a special sort of stink, says SVO. The car isn't intended to be quite as rambunctious as the Jaguar F-Pace SVR - the model it shares its all-aluminium platform and 5.0-litre supercharged V8 with - nor is it meant to be quite as, erm... outspoken, as the Range Rover Sport SVR. Its inspiration (if we can call it that) is the more recent short-wheelbase Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition, which sought to maximise the standard car's myriad luxurious qualities without fundamentally altering them.

Consequently, while you do get the (much) larger eight-cylinder engine in the new Velar, it is not the fire-breathing variant seen elsewhere (SVO having coaxed 575hp from it in the RRS SVR; 600hp even, in the Project 8) and its engineers have targeted a 'warmer' sound from the adaptive exhaust than they did in the F-Pace SVR. Similarly, the car retains air springs - the Jaguar gets steel suspension as standard - and while it receives a bespoke state of tune, beefier anti-roll bars and different bushes, the SVAD's all-wheel-drive system doesn't adopt quite as determined a rear-bias as its lighter sibling, and gives up 0.2 seconds in the sprint to 62mph as well.

If that all sounds like a slightly more subdued package, you wouldn't know it from the outside. In high-price spec, the Velar has always looked tremendous, and SVO's version duly takes the range-topper biscuit. As promised, the alterations are fairly subtle: the bumpers have been tweaked front and back (where, inevitably, you'll find quad tailpipes), there's a unique grille, a splitter that's 10mm lower than standard and different side mouldings on the doors. Oh and there is a choice of 21- and 22-inch forged alloys, which save around 2.5kg per corner and accommodate larger brakes front and back.

Despite sticking with the standard model's ride height, the effect of all this is to draw the already conspicuously low Velar even closer to the ground - and unless you're offended by the sight of an SUV with its arches filled to the brim, the car lives up to the SVAD billing in fine and only very modestly bling style. (It's less overtly garish than the RRS SVR, at any rate.) Inside, aside from twin-stitch perforated leather and a newly contoured steering wheel rim, it's more about curating currently available options than cocking about with the existing architecture. But that's fine: it's a lovely and fairly low place to sit, and once you've made your peace with the lack of a proper gear lever (the Velar persists with the old dial-shaped selector), chances are you're going to feel all warm and fuzzy about your purchase.

Firing up the AJ-V8 is unlikely to put a dampener on proceedings; as promised, it is more subdued than in other settings, but not to the extent where you ever start to wonder at its absence. Even without hitting the adaptive exhaust note button, there's the unmistakable bass of big displacement in the air. It makes itself felt underfoot, too: if the responsiveness and torque delivery of even the most powerful four-cylinder Velar left you somewhat underwhelmed, the SVA's supercharged motor is a predictably potent sort of remedy. Yes, the car is nearly 100kg heavier than the F-Pace - and feels it, with the ZF 'box's inclination for downshifting - but it still pitches gleefully back on its own bow wave, and then surges characterfully and excitably forward. Few owners will expect more.

Presumably it is their expectation of what might happen the first time they meet a corner which has instructed the chassis tuning. Given the introduction of an additional 250hp (over a previous range peak of 300hp) it's understandable that SVO might have sought to somewhat reduce the amount of cushioning available to a standard Velar driver. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem to have found quite the same acutely brilliant ride and handling compromise evident in the latest RRS SVR; the 'Comfort' grade ride quality is supple enough on smoother roads, but - on the larger 22-inch wheels at least - you'll notice a little jitteriness when surfaces become challenging in the British sense.

Perhaps that's okay though if your niche customer is driving about with an uprated sense of enthusiasm compared to the 'standard' buyer - hoist your flag about two-thirds of the way up the effort pole and the SVAD sweeps about the place in a way that speaks not only to its poise but also a pleasing sense of connectedness to the ground. Without a cooking model to drive back-to-back, it's hard to properly grade the enhancement of its turn-in or precision (given the Velar wasn't short of either) but SVO certainly hasn't striven to eliminate the gathering body roll which has always marked Range Rover out from the SUV crowd. That's as it should be - cleverly reining in high-sided mass is Land Rover's calling card, and it would have exceeded SVO's stated brief to tack the model down. There's mechanical grip to spare, regardless.

The more noticeable shortfall is not with the standard Velar, but with SVO's other products. Start to really push on and the SVAD's inability (or unwillingness at least) to send more of its power rearward as it transitions through a corner can be frustrating. The ability of either SVR variant to rotate on the power was a defining aspect of not just their likability, but their drivability, too. The Velar's comparative intransigence - despite a standard-fit active differential at the back - tends to make it feel a little nose heavy, and ultimately less engaging by comparison.

Of course the not unreasonable counter to that would be that the SVAutobiography - for all the mention of 'Dynamic' - doesn't feature an R in its badge, and SVO's engineers have made certain choices on that basis (chiefly stability over adjustability). That's fair enough - although given our own choice of Range Rover halfway house, we might have taken a very pillowy fast-in-a-straight-line car over the chosen trade-off. But that's just us. We're old school.

Instead, JLR's skunkworks has delivered the tricked-out Velar it believes it can sell - and that it will surely do. In the modern vogue of low-riding SUVs, it is very good looking and, so long as you don't want to change your drive mode while your other half is adjusting the climate control (a bugbear of the all-LED screen switchgear), it's very nice to sit in and interact with, too. Add in the always enlivening prospect of JLR's rumbly supercharged V8 - here in an appealingly grown-up state of tune - and you've ticked the first three boxes on any prospective buyer's list. And if the fourth box reads 'handling fireworks' - well, SVO has something else in its lineup to suit those customers as well.

Engine: 4,999cc, V8, supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 502@2,500-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 secs
Top speed: 170mph
Weight: 2,160kg (EU unladen)
MPG: 23.9 (NEDC)
CO2: 270g/km (NEDC)
Price: £86,120

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