The Jaguar F-Pace SVR is more than just the company’s flagship SUV with a big engine shoehorned into its engine bay. It made its debut at the 2018 New York Auto Show over one year ago, but only now is the world’s media allowed to get behind the wheel. Why so long? The fastidious engineers in the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division weren’t happy to sign off on the car known internally as ‘the magnificent beast’ until it was absolutely as good as it could be.
From the moment you first clap eyes on the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, you know it’s a lot more than a regular model. All the visual changes to the SVR come out of necessity rather than just design, and they add a greater sense of purpose to what was already a handsome car. Enlarged air intakes in the front bumper help to cool the engine, for example, as do the vents on the bonnet.
Air also flows into the front wheel arches to help cool the upgraded brakes. An extended air breather behind the front wheel then channels that air out, thus helping to reduce lift at higher speeds. Meanwhile, additional smaller turning vanes on the side direct airflow around the car, all in the name of ensuring that this SUV remains stable as it nears its 283kph top speed.
The interior also comes in for upgrades, with carbon fibre inserts on the centre console and the ‘pistol shifter’ from the F-Type replacing the normal F-Pace’s rotary drive select controller. Slim, but very supportive sports seats in the front feature the SVR logo embossed into the headrests, and the look of these carries over to the two rear outer seats. Other details, such as a 12.3in digital instrument display, mark this out as a range-topping model.
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At the heart of the SVR is Jaguar’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine. Producing 542bhp and 680Nm of torque, it slingshots the all-wheel-drive Jaguar from a standing start to 100kph in just 4.3 seconds. Part of that rapid acceleration is thanks to the Jaguar’s all-wheel-drive system and specially developed Pirelli tyres.
In its sportiest setting, there is a 90:10 rear bias and, in a straight line, the engineers say that 100 per cent of the power can go through the rear’s electronically controlled active differential. But it remains a proper 4x4, and the transmission can run in an even 50:50 split to power all four wheels.
Every bit as intoxicating as the engine’s power and acceleration is the aural soundtrack that accompanies it. Being a supercharged engine there is instantaneous response and a clearly audible whine from the blower that makes you not want to lift off the throttle.
There’s no artificial sound trickery going on her either. The quad exhausts have a variable valve system that you can choose to close (or fully open) depending on how much attention you want to draw to yourself.
Being supercharged, the engine always feels primed and ready, something you don’t always get today, even with some of the more advanced turbocharged engines. Open the steering out of a bend and plant the throttle and you experience this instantaneous surge of power that flings you and your fellow passengers towards the next bend. You very much feel like the throttle pedal is hardwired to the engine.
Rolling off the throttle as you go into a bend induces a wonderfully metallic-sounding series of rapid-fire cracks and bangs on the overrun when you have it set to the Dynamic mode. It’s even better when you’re accelerating back out, pulling on the metal paddles behind the steering wheel as you work your way up through the eight-speed automatic transmission.
But that glorious engine is only part of what makes the F-Pace SVR special. After creating the SVO division, Jaguar acquired some of the best talents around, and it’s currently lead by Jamal Hameedi, formerly of Ford Performance, while the F-Pace’s lead engineer, Ross Restell, brings a vast amount of chassis knowledge from his tenure at Lotus.
Having all that horsepower is good, but being able to use and exploit that performance effectively is what makes the difference. So a great deal of work went into fine-tuning the chassis and suspension setup to achieve this. An innumerable number of laps around the Nordschleife, Nardo and other punishing test tracks helped the team finely hone the car’s setup, and it clearly shows.
Optional 22in forged wheels help to reduce rotating mass and save 4.1kg over the standard parts, despite the rears wearing wider 295-section tyres. In all, the SVR weighs just 70kg more than the V6 version, despite the larger engine, additional components and enlarged fuel tank that now holds 82 litres.
It’s how the stiff chassis and suspension work together that creates such a positive driving experience. The progressive suspension, featuring Bilstein monotube dampers, provides a natural-feeling and compliant ride quality. The primary ride is firm, as you might expect, but not overly so.
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Body roll is reduced by a further five per cent, giving you the confidence to lean on the car more when cornering. When you do push it harder, there is a safety net there and the torque vectoring by braking software works without ever seeming that intrusive.
Even if you’re hard on the brakes and heading for an apex, the Jaguar has a balance to it that you rarely experience in a large high-performance SUV. It gives you confidence that’s borne out of its mechanical setup rather than pure electronic trickery.
One interesting feature that contributes to this is the use of asymmetric engine mounts, which aids agility and steering feel through better weight transfer management. The net result is that, when you turn into a bend or corner, the car moves more directly and with greater precision. Heavy braking, rapid direction changes, little seems to phase it, even with that big V8 filling the engine bay.
Away from the high-speed stuff, there’s a suppleness and fluidity to the secondary ride that demonstrates how the SVR is equally adept at being a comfortable machine that can dispatch big distances with ease. In its standard mode, performance is dialled back enough to make it a civilised machine.
The F-Pace SVR isn’t short on competition these days, but Jaguar’s talent has managed to find an outstanding balance between outright pace, communicative and rewarding handling that results in a car that is greater than the sum of its parts and hugely fun to drive. Yes, it has been a long time coming, but it has certainly been worth the wait.