Let’s start this review of the Jaguar F-Pace SVR by noting what it’s not. That being, a high performance SUV that is so freakishly agile you wonder if it’s somehow not bound by the usual laws of physics.
To take one of its rivals as a prime example of this phenomenon, look at the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Here we have a car that stands almost 1.7 metres tall and weighs 1,830kg, but steers, handles and grips like a roadster half its height and a third its weight. It’s a remarkable machine, as all the sharpest performance SUVs are. And yet, curiously, the fact the F-Pace SVR doesn’t subscribe to this formula is precisely why I liked it so much.
THE COST OF UNNATURAL AGILITY
You see, the thing about cars like the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is that their unnatural agility comes at a cost. There is a hyperactivity about them. They’re like spaniels that bound about the living room, never slowing down or settling in. They are always on, wired and edgy, with hard suspension that thumps through potholes and over-pointy steering that sends the front wheels darting this way and that with the tiniest unintended inputs.
They become tiresome. The F-Pace SVR never does, because it doesn’t try to overcome its physical attributes. You get the impression when driving the thunderous Jaguar that the engineers at Special Vehicle Operations – the separate Jaguar Land Rover unit tasked with designing and developing the F-Pace SVR – said to one another very early on that they wouldn’t try to make the car something it didn’t want to be. They made peace with it being tall and heavy and high-riding, and agreed to work within those constraints.
They were perfectly capable of fitting far stiffer suspension and tauter anti-roll bars, of wrapping the wheels in very sticky tyres and making the steering much more sudden. But in that case they would have produced a far less likeable machine. Instead, the springs are only a little harder than those you’ll find on a base model F-Pace, while the more tangential systems like the brake-based torque vectoring and the parameters for the dynamic driving mode have been tweaked here and there to inject what agility the F-Pace SVR does need, but at no great cost to comfort or refinement.
The result? Set the Alfa Romeo and Jaguar off around a lap of a dry racing circuit at the same time and the Alfa will most likely arrive back at the start/finish line before the Jag had worked out which way the first corner went. Which, for anybody planning to use their very expensive performance SUVs at a track day, is all well and good. For the rest of us, it means the Jaguar is far more cosseting in normal driving, every bit as quick along a stretch of public highway because you can only go so fast on the road, and not really any less fun to drive since no SUV will ever be truly entertaining the way a purpose-built sports car is.
You experience the F-Pace SVR at its very best on the motorway. The four fat tyres slap the ground hard and create a fair amount of road noise, but as tyre roar always does it fades into the background soon enough and you stop noticing it. But you always appreciate the amazingly fluid ride quality, which sees the Jaguar skip lightly along the road surface rather than thud and thump heavily across it. For a very long journey the F-Pace SVR is a supreme companion, more like a tall grand tourer than a sporty 4x4.
F-PACE SVR INTERIOR
Which isn’t to say this car is not without weaknesses. The dashboard, for instance, is so simplistic in its overall shape and layout it’s almost utilitarian. Modern BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi interiors feel lightyears ahead. And with this test car’s optional 22-inch wheels, the ride quality at very low speeds told you more about the road surface beneath you than you’d ideally want to know. But that’s about it.
The bucket-style seats with their quilted leather upholstery appear as though they’ve been lifted straight from the F-type sports car. With their thin backs and sizeable bolsters they’re not only comfortable to sit in and supportive in corners, but also great to look at. The touchscreen infotainment system might not be the most modern of its type but it’s loaded with functionality, the menu systems are intuitive to navigate and everything seems to work. Meanwhile, the seating position gives you the lofty view of the road ahead that SUV buyers like so much without making you feel perched awkwardly on top of the car.
IS THE F-PACE SVR FUN TO DRIVE?
While the F-Pace SVR doesn’t have the preternatural immediacy and precision when driven along a country road that makes the Stelvio Quadrifoglio so eye-widening, it is still game enough to make you want to explore its performance across that sort of terrain. Compared with the Alfa it runs out of front end grip a little earlier and it leans more in corners, and its body heaves up and down in response to undulations in the road far more readily, but it never feels short on control or lazy in its responses. There is enough grip and traction, plus sharp enough steering, that you can thread the F-Pace SVR along a narrow road with confidence and commitment… just not quite as much as you’d find in the Alfa Romeo.
THAT V8 ENGINE…
But what you won’t find in the Alfa Romeo is a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine that’s so elemental in the noises it makes and the performance it bestows upon the Jaguar that for the first few miles it’s borderline intimidating.
This is the same V8 that in its basic form has been making fast Jaguars, Land Rovers and even certain Aston Martins some of the most characterful vehicles on the road for more than 20 years. With 542bhp it’s a malevolent, fearsome thing, rippling with power and torque and bellowing loudly when given its head. It’s not especially sophisticated, but it is wonderful all the same.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox it diverts its gravitational forces through is blessedly a more modern piece of technology, being both smooth and refined in everyday driving and every bit as responsive as you’d ever need it to be when hustled.
What’s so clever about the F-Pace SVR is that it subverts the ongoing trend of sporty SUVs becoming ever harder and sharper, understanding that for the vast majority of drivers the vast majority of the time, sports car-like reflexes are actually not at all necessary. Less agile than some but more relaxed, more characterful and better judged than them all, the F-Pace SVR is the high performance SUV I’d choose over any other.
Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Price: from £75,335. As tested £78,030
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 176mph
Fuel economy: 22.6mpg (combined)
MODEL HISTORY: JAGUAR F-PACE
The F-Pace SVR is Jaguar’s first high performance SUV, simply because the F-Pace was its first SUV of any type. In production since 2016, the F-Pace has always been praised for its deft handling and quietly handsome styling, but criticised by most for its outmoded technology and unremarkable cabin. For Jaguar, some things never change. Until the SVR model arrived the fastest F-Pace you could buy was the supercharged V6 model with 375bhp.
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