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Superheated F-Pace takes aim at Alfa’s and Mercedes’ finest performance SUVs

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The Jaguar F-Pace was a bold move from a marque whose history is so sharply defined by some of the best-handling saloons and sports cars the world has known.

There are few bigger risks to take with such a reputation than by launching a tall, heavy SUV, and no doubt the prospect of putting such a vehicle into production was the source of more than one sleepless night for Jaguar’s top brass. Nonetheless, the move was a necessary and thus far fruitful one, and had it not been made who knows where the firm would be now. 

New Variable Valve Active Exhaust System is 6.6kg lighter than that of the regular F-Pace and allows for increased gas flow, which in turn contributes to the SVR’s performance. Soundtrack is suitably awesome.

Not only has the F-Pace now carved out a name for itself as one of the sweeter-handling and more engaging SUVs of its size and type, but it has also become Jaguar’s strongest-selling model. Across the 2017/18 financial year, the F-Pace accounted for some 42% of the marque’s global sales. Even with the launch of the smaller Jaguar E-Pace SUV in late 2017, it continued to account for the lion’s share of Jaguar’s sales numbers across 2018/19. 

Against this backdrop, the arrival of the F-Pace SVR feels like something of a logical progression. Jaguar has proved it can make an entertaining and expressive everyday SUV that can also sell. Now, this Special Vehicle Operations version sets out to establish whether Jaguar can make the most entertaining and the most expressive performance SUV bar none. At the same time, however, the retention of a healthy dose of everyday usability will be crucial to success here – something the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio learned the hard way when we road tested it earlier this year. 

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Were it not for an unspecified ‘component supply problem’, you would have been reading this road test much sooner. Nevertheless, roughly a year after what should have been its original launch date, the snarling F-Pace SVR has finally had a date with the Autocar timing gear. So has it been worth the wait?

The Jaguar F-Pace range at a glance

While the mighty supercharged V8 SVR crowns the F-Pace range, the majority of the line-up is far humbler in terms of engine spec. Four-cylinder diesels in various states of tune account for the bulk of engines on offer here, with a V6 diesel and two petrol four-cylinders also available. Depending on the engine specified, there is a selection of either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive from which to choose. All make use of an eight-speed automatic gearbox, apart from the base model.

Price £75,335 Power 542bhp Torque 502lb ft 0-60mph 4.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.6sec Fuel economy 18.0mpg CO2 emissions 272g/km 70-0mph 43.5m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Jaguar F-Pace

DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - hero side

If ever there was an SUV that would lend itself well to being transformed into a bona fide performance vehicle, the Jaguar F-Pace is it. This car is built on a platform shared with the Jaguar XF saloon, remember. Moreover, the standard model is already one of the most handsome examples of the breed out there, so it’s unsurprising to find that the SVR version also cuts a particularly fine shape. 

What is interesting to note, however, is that this latest SVR-badged model – the third to emerge from Jaguar Land Rover’s in-house tuning skunkworks – doesn’t seem to shout about its performance credentials quite so loudly as some of its rivals. Aside from larger 21in alloy wheels (with optional 22s on our test car), the quad tailpipes of the lightweight active exhaust system and some reasonably reserved aero and cooling-related bodywork tweaks, the F-Pace SVR isn’t drastically different from the standard car. Next to the wide-boy Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and even the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the Jaguar could almost be called reserved. Exceptionally good-looking and suitably purposeful, yes, but nowhere near as outlandish as those rivals. 

Optional 22in forged alloys (£840) save 2.4kg at the front and 1.7kg at the rear compared with the standard 21s. This reduces unsprung mass and aids agility and responsiveness.

That said, there’s nothing reserved about the F-Pace SVR’s engine. It’s the same 5.0-litre supercharged V8 you’ll find at the nose of the Range Rover Sport SVR and Jaguar F-Type SVR, albeit in a slightly different state of tune. Where those cars both develop 567bhp and 516lb ft, the F-Pace SVR makes do with ‘just’ 542bhp between 6000 and 6500rpm, while its 502lb ft is spread between 2500 and 5500rpm. This is delivered to all four wheels by an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

While the F-Pace SVR’s power figure trumps that of both the Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the previous GLC 63 S Coupé we road tested last year (both with 503bhp), at a claimed 2070kg it’s also the heaviest car of the three by a fair margin. We’ll discover what sort of effect this weight penalty has on the Jag’s straight-line performance in a few sections’ time. 

The front and rear springs have been stiffened by 30% and 10% respectively for greater body control, and a new electronic active differential and brake-based torque vectoring system help maximise cornering traction. Larger brakes provide the stopping power to match the pace, while SVR-specific software governs the adaptive suspension, EPAS and Dynamic drive mode. 

The car’s part-time, ‘hang-on’, rear-biased four-wheel-drive system can send as much as 90% of engine torque to the front axle in low-grip conditions, while adaptive dampers should help to provide decent comfort during everyday use.

INTERIOR

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - front seats

The underlying architecture of an SVR’s cabin is no different from that of any other F-Pace and dates back to the standard model’s introduction in 2016. This needn’t be particular cause for concern, though. Along with the high, wide window ledges, the elevated transmission tunnel gives the place more of a reassuring saloon-like ambience than might be expected, and yet the view out of the windscreen feels expansive in a way a lower-riding car could never hope to match. Fundamentally, this is a terrific environment for transcontinental journeys. 

If there’s one new element you simply cannot miss, it is the fitment of heavily bolstered and quilted bucket seats, which come as standard and give the SVR a good degree of supercar wow-factor when you swing open a door. Slide in and you’ll find the hip point a good deal higher than it would be in a Stelvio Quadrifoglio and in many super-SUVs besides, but the seats themselves grip in such a way that you never feel unnecessarily perched. Some testers found the integrated headrests were positioned too low and protruded too far forward to be ideally comfortable, but the support of the seats, along with the positioning of the pedals and good adjustability in the electric steering column, was universally liked. Few comparably large SUVs feel so immediately natural to operate from behind the wheel – and certainly none with an intimidatingly big-capacity V8 in their nose. 

A new Sport Shift Selector replaces the rotary dial that appeared in previous versions of the F-Pace. From an ergonomic perspective, this works far better.

Meanwhile, rear head and leg room is identical to that of lesser F-Pace derivatives and therefore generous to an extent that adults should have no qualms about travelling substantial distances as a rear-seat passenger. At 650 litres, boot space sits between that which you would get in a Stelvio and a Porsche Cayenne. Material quality also lies between the respective standards of those two models. Meanwhile, it’s noticeable that Jaguar has elected not to fit its new dual-screen Touch Pro Duo infotainment system to the flagship F-Pace, retaining an older set-up.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - engine

The SVR’s soundtrack makes much of its performance potential, its tone being more suggestive of something from Talladega than what you might normally associate with rural Warwickshire. And in fairness to Jaguar, the figures – 542bhp and 502lb ft – are every bit as serious as they need to be in order to compete with those rival efforts from Porsche and Alfa. A 5000cc displacement and supercharging also help deliver that motive force over a deliciously broad spread, with peak torque arriving at 2500rpm and lingering until 5500rpm before power peaks 500rpm later. 

It’s a wonderful powerplant in practical terms, too. Were it any more responsive to the throttle in Dynamic mode, it might even make the driving experience uncomfortable – at least in the context of a car weighing well over two tonnes. As it is, you’ll not find any turbocharged competitor so crisply reactive, and yet the swell of torque at low engine speeds makes progress graceful even when the eight-speed gearbox doesn’t kickdown, as it won’t so readily in the car’s less energetic drive modes. The torque converter unit doesn’t have quite the rapidity of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but its graceful shifts are more in keeping with the SVR’s composed character, and, more importantly, it is refined at low road and engine speeds. 

Disappointing that the SVR’s engine doesn’t assert its dominance more forcefully, but rest assured: the F-Pace is quick. It needs to run all the way to the standing km mark to overhaul a GLC 63 S – but it gets there eventually.

Just how quick is this super-SUV, then? Without a launch control function, our best 0-60mph of 4.1sec betters the official claims but can’t match our figures for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio (4.0sec) or the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupé (3.7sec). Through the important real-world metric of 30-70mph, the Jaguar was again slower than those rivals both through the gears and when locked in fourth, but the margin was a matter of mere tenths. The SVR – larger and heavier than those rivals – also stopped supremely well, with less pitch than we were expecting and its 295-section front Pirelli P Zero tyres biting hard into the surface of the test track. 

Ultimately, the SVR never feels quite as explosively quick as its fierce exhaust tuning would have you believe, but at £75,000 there can be few complaints about the level of performance on offer. Moreover, this powertrain blends docility with theatre, and engagement with the kind of breadth of ability that makes every daily trip an easy-going pleasure. The ‘AJ133’ V8 is now a decade old and its days are surely numbered, but it remains a deeply loveable anachronism, and when it finally goes it will be sorely missed.

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - OTR front

BMW will tell you it wants the hot SUVs it makes to feel like an M-car on stilts. Likewise, Alfa Romeo has done a terrific job of injecting the raw dynamism of the Giulia Quadrifoglio into the 503bhp Stelvio range-topper. But while these cars are impressive and uncompromising feats of engineering, after a short drive in the F-Pace SVR you’re left wondering if either rival represents the right dynamic philosophy, or the most gratifying approach, for tuning such a big, heavy and family-oriented performance car. 

With this SVR, Jaguar has not sought to replicate the handling attributes of its quickest coupés and saloons. The result may not be a car that will power oversteer or dive into corners at a mere flick of the wrists, but it is one that handles both reassuringly and very enjoyably within the context of an immensely stable, fine-riding SUV. 

The F-Pace SVR lacks the outright incisiveness of some rivals but it instils welcome feelings of confidence and control; optional 22in rims do the secondary ride no favours.

Jaguar has cut its cloth with the F-Pace SVR. The electromechanical steering is naturally weighted and conservatively paced but never feels short of response, and, as with so many quick Jaguars, it gives supreme confidence. There is greater lean through quicker corners than you might expect, although the roll rates are linear so a well-hustled F-Pace SVR doesn’t feel as though it’s teetering on the brink of control. Direction changes unfold in a GT-car style and invite the driver to settle into a quick flow, managing the weight of the body and conserving momentum (but don’t worry too much – that can quickly be restored). 

With rear-biased four-wheel drive and generous contact patches, roadholding is excellent and traction rarely an issue, although the SVR’s first instinct is always to err on the side of safety and understeer gently under power. It’s possible to tease some attitude out of the car with trail braking, but ultimately this set-up is tuned for stability before agility – and as anyone who’s ever frightened themselves during a ‘moment’ in a Porsche Macan or Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio will confirm, that’s just as it should be.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

Jaguar hasn’t forgotten why people buy SUVs, and despite its wild image, the F-Pace SVR’s road manners are respectable – better than respectable, even, and not just in the context of a rip-snorting performance derivative. With the Bilstein dampers set to their Comfort mode, the car will lope along motorways with a composure and poise that belies the stiffened spring rates and 22in wheels. It’s a gait underpinned with a sinewy resolve, but it is only over the worst corrugations that you are reminded this is chassis that ultimately needs to match a powertrain very nearly worthy of a modern supercar’s. 

Neither is the SVR as tiresomely loud as its quad-tip exhaust suggests. Admittedly, never can you entirely escape the eight-cylinder soundtrack – and neither would you ever really want to – but the tyres generate impressively little roar and at a 70mph cruise our recorded 67dB for the Jaguar sits between the figures obtained from the more eccentric Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the beautifully refined BMW X5 30d. Equally, at the 6500rpm redline, the Jaguar is louder – and more theatrically, richly resonant – even than the Alfa Romeo. It’s an impressive feat of duality, with the balance between comfort and charisma very well managed. 

Inevitably there is a trade-off, and it’s one you’ll notice the first time you drive into a 30mph zone or venture into any city centre. The SVR’s low-speed ride is far from poor but, on such enormous wheels as these admittedly optional 22s, it labours over manhole covers, potholes and the like, where a standard F-Pace, with its taller sidewalls and more pliant suspension, wouldn’t. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - hero front

Next to the likes of the 503bhp Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, the F-Pace SVR nearly looks like a performance SUV bargain. The Jag is more than £10,000 cheaper and its supercharged V8 makes more power than the Merc and is at least a match in terms of character. An Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio is cheaper, but its cabin lacks the Jag’s premium appeal. 

The F-Pace SVR’s standard spec is incredibly generous, too, but buyers will of course still be able to hike the price by several thousand pounds should they choose to. 

Jaguar is outperformed by the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio in terms of retained value but also betters the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S by a solid margin.

CAP forecasts predict the Jaguar will retain some 51% of its value after three years and 36,000 miles. That will outperform the new GLC 63, which is expected to hold 48% of its value over the same period. The Alfa, however, is expected to retain 58%.

VERDICT

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 2019 road test review - static

Contrary to expectations, the F-Pace SVR is a lesson in the art of compromise. That a car so rich in character and performance should go about its business with this level of comfort and versatility makes it unique in this neck of the market and proves that the best performance SUVs embrace their core attributes rather than attempting to obscure or overcome them. This Jaguar is neither as quick nor as agile or exhilarating as some rivals, and perhaps a sliver more dynamism wouldn’t have gone amiss, but more often than not you’d take its smooth-riding composure and stability over sharper-handling but less well-mannered alternatives. The fact that this potent, bombastic V8 doesn’t need always dominate the driving experience only demonstrates just how rounded the F-Pace SVR package is. 

The Jaguar does just enough, then, to be our new pick of the super-SUV crop, despite the fact its attractive interior can’t quite match German rivals for technology and material quality. Jaguar seems to know what prospective owners want in their luxury, everyday-use performance car, and here it is executed almost to perfection.

Broad-batted and can vividly thrill but hasn’t forgotten its SUV roots.

Jaguar F-Pace SVR First drives