Traditional sports car enthusiasts may lament the lack of all-weather high-performance all-wheel-drive sport wagons available these days. However, market trends beg to differ. The relatively recent phenomenon of the four door super Sports Utility Vehicle has resulted in a eclectic new sub-niche of family go-getters with over 400 horsepower.
As Jaguar’s first SUV, the F-Pace has managed to make an impression for itself despite being in a market segment mostly dominated by the German quadruplets of Audi, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. The Italians have also joined the party with the Alfa Stelvio.
And now, JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations team has finally breathed on the Jaguar F-Pace. The result really is a bit special.
Who is SVO, you might ask? Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) is a specialist team of Jaguar Land Rover designers, engineers and technicians dedicated to enhancing the performance, luxury and capability attributes of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.
In other words, they’re the gents that have been tasked to make the 2017 World Car of the Year even faster, more powerful, for maximum driver reward in all conditions.
Targeting such models as the Porsche Macan Turbo, newly launched BMW X3M, the Mercedes-Benz GLC63S AMG, or the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the British automaker has managed to take their game to a new level with the introduction of the F-Pace SVR.
Visually, the F-Pace body takes well to a spot of assertive aero and a meatier undercarriage. The functional go-faster flourishes are familiar enough.
There are larger air intakes, swollen wheel arches, hood air vents, and the obligatory lowered side skirts. As a package, they make the F-Pace SVR look a little wider, lower and more muscular without unduly emphasising its bulk. Moreover, Jaguar says that they help to reduce lift and drag, plus aid in high-speed stability.
The hood’s extra cooling intakes are similar to that on the F-Type SVR and hint at the serious business beneath the aluminium hood. This SVR-only hood is designed to extract hot air from the engine bay. There is no plastic engine cover on the engine either, presumably for better cooling and a smidgen less weight.
At the rear, an obligatory “diffuser” is mostly there for aesthetics versus function, but it does house the four burbling exhaust pipes. SVO swears that the “side strakes” aid aerodynamic performance by smoothing airflow away from the rear.
It’s a familiar formula. Add a big engine to a good car and make it a great car. The F-Pace has done wonders for Jaguar’s bottom line and the changes that the SVO team did to the vehicle promises to continue to do the same for the F-Pace SVR.
However, there’s much more to it than just the powerplant alone. Yes, there is a sweet supercharged 5.0-litre gasoline V8 shared in various models by Jaguar and Land Rover. This charismatic powerplant develops a very healthy 542 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque paired up with an eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive.
The SVO engineers also added stiffer springs, uprated two piece brakes (395mm front/396 mm rear), optimized steering, adaptive dampers, and standard 21-inch wheels. My test vehicle was actually fitted with the larger optional 22-inch wheels which are said to be 5.3 lbs (2.4 kg) lighter on the front and 2.8 lbs (1.7 kg) on the rear.
For the first time on the F-pace, the rear wheels are 25 mm wider than the fronts, and the SVR has been fitted with a recalibrated version of the Electronic Active Differential from the F-Type.
What’s it like to drive?
The symphony of these mechanical enhancements is good for a 0-100 km/hr run in 4.3 seconds and a top speed of up to 283 km/hr (176mph), but it’s the ballistic yet comfortable ride that makes the F-Pace SVR wonderful.
While the vehicle tuned to be quite firm, even in the stiffest mode, the SVR proved to be a good day-to-day companion. Enviable, despite the front/rear spring rates being tuned by SVO to be stiffer.
The F-Pace’s computer-controlled all-wheel drive system can send anything from no power forward to about half the engine’s output, and anywhere in between. Jaguar has made lots of noise about keeping a rear-drive feel, something it’s accomplished by the computer favoring rear-drive unless it’s necessary to send power to the front.
An active rear electronic differential is in place for optimised traction and dynamics.
The engineers who play with leaping cats have mastered the electric power steering system. The weighting is completely natural once you’re moving past parking-lot speeds. But as expected, it’s terribly overboosted for easy maneuvering at a crawling pace.
The SVR is at its best when dialed back slightly using the customizable dynamic mode setting. Like the F-Type, engaging Dynamic mode initiates faster, more responsive gearshifts, sharper throttle responses and increased steering response for a more engaging driving experience in all conditions. I favoured setting everything at full tilt but with the dampers set on “Comfort”.
Behind the wheel, you surf along a wave of omnipresent sound, the result of a new, lightweight, four-pipe exhaust featuring Jaguar’s Variable Valve Active exhaust system. This system is 14.6 pounds (6.6 kg) than the dual exhaust in the non-SVR F-Pace and aids performance by reducing back pressure.
While I never pushed the F-Pace SVR to its limits, I trust the Jaguar’s engineers when they say that there are further bespoke calibrations for the quickshift transmission, adaptive dynamics, torque vectoring, and dynamic stability control system.
Overall, the F-Pace SVR feels impressively planted and impressively dynamic for a mid-sized SUV.
On the inside, you sit with arms and legs outstretched, surrounded by high-rising door panels and fascia, a relatively high transmission tunnel console, slanting A-pillars and a fairly slim glasshouse. So the F-Pace doesn’t seem like an SUV at all. Generous amounts of carbon fibre trim adorn the various panels to make the vehicle feel more upmarket than the more pedestrian F-Pace models.
For all its performance, the SVR retains the practicality and versatility inherent to the PACE family with its 650-litre loadspace (with rear seats up) unaffected by its enhanced performance. The storage bay is wide and deep, and there is a reversible floor with a wipe-clean, non-slip coating on the flip side. The space under the floor surprisingly houses a space saver spare tire, not a fix-a-flat kit.
Jaguar’s SUV keeps passengers connected and entertained on the move with 4G WiFi for up to eight devices and is also equipped with the advanced Touch Pro infotainment system with 10-inch touchscreen and a 12.3-inch HD instrument cluster.
While Jaguar has significantly improved on its infotainment systems over the years, the screen is still a touch slow to react to fingertip prompts. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now supported.
With the F-Pace being such a hit, it was inevitable that Jaguar would follow up with a hot rod version of the SUV.
The result is a car that amplifies the F-Pace’s strengths, chiefly in its atomic bomb of a powerplant. Does it set new benchmarks in a small but competitive class populated by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and now BMW. Perhaps not but it feels at least on par.
Compared to the GLC or the Alfa Stelvio, the Jag feels like a larger car to hustle along because it is. However, this is not a hot rod SUV that trades usability for outright performance.
There is a whiff of body roll, but turn into a corner, squeeze the throttle pedal, and its size is very quickly forgotten as you slingshot forward into the next bend. Despite this, the whole car is easy to drive and the Jag feels comfortable in most situations. You can even turn off the exhaust noise (for the most part) with the push of a button.
And so it’s really the sum of all its parts where the Jaguar F-Pace SVR stands out compared to its competition. While it’s slightly softer, it still delivers on absolutely bombastic performance with, in my opinion, the best-in-class exhaust and engine soundtrack.