Crouch down low, and you can see lots of daylight beneath the underside of the F-Pace SVR. Even though this is the sportiest model in Jaguar’s crossover lineup – more powerful, even, than any direct rival – a lowered suspension was not among the measures that give the SVR the cornering to match its towering straight-line speed.
The trail-capable ride height is the same as in every other F-Pace, and that’s not an oversight.
“People buy an F-Pace because they may want to drive down a dirt track now and again, and we didn’t see the point of compromising that,” explains Ross Restell, the Jaguar special vehicle operations engineer who oversaw the SVR’s ride-and-handling development. (Before Jaguar, Restell’s résumé also included similar work at Lotus, a career 1-2 that ranks him among the high priests of performance-car dynamics.)
“It has to have a level of compliance and comfort all the time” Restell continues. “We couldn’t see the point of having a sporty SUV that wasn’t nice to be in.”
All well and good, but if this tall, heavy SUV can be athletic, think what a cracker Jaguar could have if it applied the same engineering to the F-Pace’s compact-sedan sibling, the XE (without going to the extremes of the 592-horsepower, $208,000 limited-edition XE Project 8).
If anything like that is in the works, Restell won’t be drawn.
“People want practicality now,” he counters. “Sporty SUVs make more sense than they used to because there’s not so much of a compromise any more. In fact there isn’t any compromise. The car is capable of being comfortable and also, when you want it to be, sporty and fun. So what’s the negative?”
We’re having our conversation after an intense 250-kilometre morning’s drive that had included serial switchbacks and S-curves through the hills inland of the Côte d’Azur – and a coffee stop atop a mountain at a para-gliding launch site. The detour up to Col du Lachens hardly constituted off-roading – Jaguar’s sister brand Land Rover has that covered – but the track was rough enough that I already believe Restell’s claims for the SVR’s rough-road comfort. Achieved, he points out, on optional 22-inch wheels, as if the standard 21s aren’t big enough.
It did feel stiff over French-style speed bumps, and frost-cratered Canadian roads may prove a greater challenge to the comfort claims. But arguably the even greater challenge for most Canadian SVR owners will be finding places to savour the SVR’s winding-road talents.
Beyond the old-school upgrades such as stiffer springs, a thicker rear stabilizer bar, harder bushes and huge tires, Restell says the chassis mods were at least 50 per cent software – that is, coding the computers that govern the continuously variable dampers, brake-based torque vectoring, steering effort and response, as well as the drive distribution front-to-rear and side-to-side in the rear axle.
With so many variables master-minded by code, the result could have been a car that feels artificial and robotic. Miraculously, the special vehicle operations team achieved the exact opposite; the greatest appeal of the SVR is not just its athleticism on writhing pavement, but how easy and intuitive it is to drive hard – a rare fusion of agility and fluency amplified by a seating position that almost hardwires the driver into the car.
Then you’re back in the daily grind, you prod the Comfort mode button and the SVR goes back to being Restell’s useful, nice car to be in. At $92,000, the F-Pace SVR isn’t cheap but it is special – and it will be on sale this summer.
- MSRP: $92,000
- Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
- Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): TBD
- Alternatives: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, BMW X3 M, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, Mercedes-Benz GLC 63 S, Porsche Macan Turbo
The F-Pace’s shape earned it the World Design of the Year award in 2017, so Jaguar has wisely avoided tacky go-faster cosmetics on the SVR. Still, the front and rear bumpers and the rear spoiler are unique, as are the quad round tailpipes, and the functional vents in the hood and the front fenders.
Slimline performance seats and a toggle gear selector distinguish the SVR interior. The 14-way seat adjustment positioned this driver perfectly, wholly at one with the car, but not buried low at the expense of visibility. Traditional buttons regulate the HVAC, but audio mostly relies on the landscape proportioned centre-dash 10-inch touch screen. Rear seat room is a little below par among all compact luxury CUVs but competitive with direct hot-rod alternatives.
Although the SVR’s 550 horsepower domineers the 450-505-hp competition, its claimed 0-100-km/h time of 4.3 seconds is a tick or two behind some. But those numbers represent fractions on a test track; I suspect the Jaguar would feel and be quicker in most real-world driving. Credit that to its large-displacement V-8 boosted by a supercharger – a combination that promises instant torque without the lag of most rivals’ smaller turbocharged engines. The accompanying sound track may not be as charismatic in max attack mode as some rivals but it’s not offensively loud either – and reverts to almost luxury-car silkiness when you dial back to Comfort mode.
All the expected connectivity and infotainment features are standard but Jaguar is less generous with driver-assist tech; items such as blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise, high-speed emergency braking and rear traffic monitor are extra-cost options.
The seats-up cargo volume of 650 litres is respectable by overall segment standards and among the largest in the high-performance subset. The 40/20/40-split seatbacks fold flush with the cargo deck, albeit not entirely flat. The 5,300-pound maximum tow rating is the same as other F-Pace models.
The verdict: 9.0
An expensive, exclusive but worthy jewel in the crown of the 2017 World Car of the Year.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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