Jaguar has insisted that we envisage its future without a 550hp V8. But it won't make us live it yet. Phew
By Nic Cackett / Monday, March 1, 2021 / Loading comments
Jaguar's long-term, all-electric future may have been emphatically confirmed, but for now the firm soldiers on much as it was. And what better way to brush off the various implications of a battery-powered tomorrow than with a supercharged V8 today? The new F-Pace SVR is a replacement for the old F-Pace SVR, a model we rather liked. It arrives as part of the wider update to the range, which means that it receives the new cabin along with the beefed-up EVA 2.0 electrical architecture that permits all manner of upgrades – not least the adoption of the latest Pivo Pro infotainment system, fronted by an 11.4-inch curved-glass touchscreen.
I mention this first because it is likely to be the standout feature for most buyers. Brass tacks, the F-Pace wasn't up to snuff before, now it assuredly is. It is so good inside it might be the class leader. The new dash is well thought out and enormously good looking. It doesn't totally eschew physical switchgear – the HVAC controls are wisely attributed to chunky dials – but the huge screen is a pleasure to interact with. Everything is. The fit and finish is first-rate, the trim material choice exemplary. It is a triumph.
Sure, you might gripe about the bulbous new gear lever, which does away with the pleasure of sequential manual shifts (criminal, given the engine it commands) but most complaints are of the subjective, trifling sort. The overriding point is that you are no longer in any doubt about the SVR's status as a luxury option in a niche that specifically trades on a certain sort of feel-good ambience. This is crucial to its chances for success. Had its maker changed nothing else about the car, it would still rank as quantifiably superior to its predecessor.
Needless to say, JLR's tuning division did not stopped there. Compelled by the lingering suspicion that the previous model did not always live up to its gloves-off SVR billing ('feels a bit sensible', Matt B decreed at launch in 2019) and blessed with the greater computational heft conferred by EVA 2.0, the team set about retuning virtually everything. The transmission, drive modes, stability control and exhaust mapping have all been reconfigured. The steering rack is new, as is the electric brake booster. The springs and Bilstein dampers are carried over, but with new seettings, while the lateral links, bushes and rear bump stops have been replaced.
In timeless Jaguar tradition, the kerbweight has crept up (from 2,070kg to 2,133kg on the EU's scales) although this inconvenience has been somewhat mitigated by the introduction of slightly more torque – now 516lb ft from 3,500rpm – which, alongside a new Dynamic launch function and the beefier torque convertor from the Project 8, helps deliver an improved 4.0-second-to-62mph time and 178mph top speed. The SVR has been made to look a wee bit faster, too, with a new front bumper that incorporates larger brake cooling vents. Various detailed aerodynamic tweaks are said to have reduced lift by 35 per cent, though it's fundamentally the same car to look at.
It's fundamentally the same car to drive, too. Jaguar talked in the build-up about making the SVR a slightly more mature prospect in some respects, and it's true that the V8 doesn't blurt at you unnecessarily – but the engine's all-round effervescence is so elemental to the experience that you wonder what SVO will do when it is finally gone. If it's possible, I think I like it more in the heavier stuff than in the F-Type; in SUVs its elasticity is given something to work against, something to enthusiastically heave up hill and down dale. Like Rocky with a tractor tyre.
It is useful, too, for papering over some of the model's comparative shortcomings. Unlike the Porsche Macan, there is no air spring option available in the F-Pace, and while its steel suspension does a generally admirable job of isolating its occupants, it is not silent or exactly pillowy around town on 22-inch wheels. Truthfully the shortfall rarely makes a noticeable dent in your wider enjoyment; not on a 100-mile romp through the Cotswolds at any rate, where small towns and villages are heavily outnumbered by well-sighted A and B roads.
The SVR was tuned in the area, and it does rather show. For the engineers, the onus was on improving the car's lateral performance without sacrificing the F-Pace's vertical deftness at pace; i.e. to deliver the missing handling x-factor without diminishing what was generally considered likeable about the last model. The pay off for all the detailed alterations – from working memory of its predecessor – is palpable: the SVR's change of direction is flatter, faster and terrifically incisive for something not equipped with mass-defying active anti-roll bars.
Inevitably a sharper F-Pace results, although, impressively, not one shorn of its cohesiveness. While the rack is new, the SVR's brisk steering ratio is unchanged – as is its ability to key you into the keener front end. The active all-wheel drive system and electric rear diff are carried over, but their inherent bias toward the back axle (the default torque split is 70/30 in 'Comfort' mode and 90/10 in 'Dynamic') and combined eagerness to get you turned into corners and powered out again seems invigorated beyond the point where marginally more peak twist would do any good. Being better tacked down – particularly in the sterner suspension setting – hasn't unduly hindered car's ability to flow along fast roads either.
Of course it is still the rapacious V8 that ties it all together. Unlike the turbocharged petrol engines found in virtually every rival, the supercharged unit doesn't hit its stride just above idle, which means you chase revs a little more earnestly than you do elsewhere. That would be a problem if it were dowdy or reluctant to spin – but you won't find a more willing partner in crime (often literally) than JLR's venerable 5.0-litre motor. It practically goads you into manually upshifting (via full metal paddles) so as to be certain of attaining its 550hp output at 6,500rpm. And when you've just admonished yourself for not rounding the last bend quite as energetically as you might have done, that's a useful quality.
The very fact the SVR now nurtures that kind of mindset says much about the success of the facelift and its stated objectives. It isn't uniformly praiseworthy – personally I found the new brake pedal difficult to modulate at low speeds, and the idea that Alfa Romeo claims a 300kg or so weight advantage for the equally riotous Stelvio Quadrifoglio ought to give anyone pause for thought. As will the fact that a Porsche Macan Turbo can be bought for the best part of £10k cheaper than the Jaguar.
But the Alfa isn't nearly as nice as the SVR inside and the Porsche is smaller, slower and not powered by a V8. The Cayenne GTS Coupe is – but it is £10k more expensive. By slotting neatly between the two, with a car that feels better connected to the road than ever while being infinitely more pleasant to sit in and interact with, Jaguar will feel like it is well placed to persuade buyers that it has hit on a winning formula. It is hard to disagree. The most expensive F-Pace is easily good enough to make you pine for an XF Sportbrake endowed with its engine and star quality. But let's not dwell on that. If Jaguar didn't see the advantages of building a widely available performance saloon in the last life cycle, it categorically isn't going to start now. The F-Pace SVR is the closest thing we have. Thank goodness it fits the bill.
SPECIFICATION | JAGUAR F-PACE SVR
Engine: 5,000cc, V8, supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],250-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500-5,000rpm
Top speed: 178mph
Weight: 2,133kg (EU unladen)
MPG: 23.1 combined
Price: From £77,595
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