01 JAGUAR F-PACE SVR

Go-fast off-roader packs supercharged punch

BY TONYO KANE

ďWE PUT AN ENORMOUS V8 in itĒ Thatís Ross Restell, the lead vehicle dynamics engineer for the F-Pace SVR, summarising what he and the rest of Jaguar Land Roverís SVO team did to create Jagís first-ever tilt at a hi-po SUV. A former head engineer at Lotus, heís got clout when it comes to making cars go fast.

Standing next to him at the Jaguar F-Pace SVRís international launch in Southern France was Jamal Hameedi, former chief engineer at Fordís performance skunkworks. You might know him as the force behind the Blue Ovalís coolest rigs, including - but not limited to - the F-150 Raptor, Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Focus RS, Shelby Mustang GT350 and the megadollar, megaexclusive Ford GT. Quite a resume.

Hameediís a new arrival to SVO, and he joined after the bulk of F-Pace SVR development was completed. In fact, the car was meant to have launched over a year ago - issues with an unspecified part supplier pushed it back to 2019. Even so, his presence at the SVRís launch is a signal of Jaguarís intent to challenge the German luxoperformance establishment, as well as keep aspiring upstarts honest.

But letís get back to that massive engine. It is indeed large - the biggest in its segment now that Mercedes-AMGís 6.2-litre atmo V8 is well and truly buried, and the only eight-cylinder performance SUV to forgo turbocharging. It is, of course, supercharged, and its 405kW/680Nm are near the top of its class. Do those outputs sound familiar? Theyíre the same as those boasted by the $270K F-Type V8 R AWD, which essentially donates its entire powertrain/drivetrain to the F-Pace SVR.

The Range Rover SV Autobiography, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus make more grunt, however, they also cost a lot more, too. Considering the F-Paceís $139,648 retail sticker itís actually considerable muscle for the money, especially against direct rivals like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S - both of which subsequently laid claim to Nurburgring SUV lap records.

Is it as fast as those two? Jaguar wonít quantify the F-Pace SVRís speed with a Nordschleife metric, and Restell says developing a performance SUV to dominate a circuit just results in a horrifically compromised family wagon. However, our first experience behind the wheel indicates that Restell and his team have nailed the brief. The SVR is wickedly quick.

THE F-PACE SVR AT FULL NOISE MUST SURELY BE OF QUESTIONABLE LEGALITY

And theatrical. Thereís nothing quite like a supercharged V8 for sonic pleasure, and the F-Pace SVR at full noise with the exhaust baffles opened all the way up emits a bassy, blatty eight-cylinder throb with a supercharger whine overlay, the combined decibelage of which must surely be of questionable legality.

The acoustic aggression is matched by its turn of speed. From standstill the 100km/h barrier is breached in 4.3 seconds, and top speed is claimed at 283km/h. Launching it is simple too - with its conventional eight-speed ZF gearbox set to Sport, simply mash the throttle into the firewall. The centre differential, normally set to direct most of the torque to the rear axle, imperceptibly feeds more drive to the front wheels with the end result being a smooth, clean - but brisk - sprint.

In corners, that AWD hardware is programmed to behave more like a RWD. In sedate driving the rear axles take virtually all of the engineís torque to the road, and the front differential is there more to help out when slippage is detected, rather than to lessen the rear diffís burden. A torque-vectoring rear differential also helps reduce the need to send torque to the front by overdriving the outside rear wheel when cornering, aiding turn-in and actually easing the load on the front tyres in the process. Brake vectoring adds even more agility on top of that.

The SVRís steering feels a little divorced from the front wheels when it comes to communicating feedback to the driver, but stupendous grip levels mean itís rare youíll breach the traction threshold of those front hoops.

Nor will you challenge the rear tyresí vice-like hold on the tarmac. Coaxing oversteer from the F-Pace SVR isnít impossible, but it takes either incredible commitment and familiarity, or a particularly greasy corner. A lot of that has to do with those massive 295-section rear tyres, not to mention the suspension tuning wizardry of guys like Ross Restell. Itís hard to unstick.

And that makes the SVR feel supremely car-like along a bendy country road - the kind of road thatís plentiful amongst the granite canyons of the French alps. Youíre forever conscious of its mass - and the Jag actually feels somewhat heavier than that advertised figure - but the chassis is taut and lively, and that front-end changes direction like an F-16. It feels big though, which can make threading it along the often-narrow French roads a bum-puckering exercise - especially when local Scanias seem to be fond of the same routes.

NEMESIS

GLC63 S

4.0-litre twinturbo V8, AWD, 375kW/700Nm, 0-100k m/h 3.8sec 1935kg, $164,530

Not that Nurburgring times should matter in an SUV, but the Mercís time of 7min 49sec makes the GLC63 S the fastest around the íRing. Itíll reach 100km/h in 3.8sec and has a soundtrack to rival the F-Pace SVR

But thankfully French drivers donít take it personally when another motorist overtakes them, and the F-Pace SVR is a device that relishes overtaking. Its 0-100km/h number is impressive enough, but with some revs already on the tach, its rolling acceleration is truly mighty.

Are there downsides? Yeah. Despite its adaptive dampers the SVRís aroundtown ride quality can be brutally firm. The impact of sharp bumps is keenly felt at urban speeds, especially so given our car was equipped with the optional 22-inch alloys and not the default 21-inchers. It rides nicely at higher speeds, but with SUVs primarily being used for city schlepping it seems the F-Pace could use a slightly slacker ĎComfortí calibration.

And then thereís the interior. SVRspecific touches like that pistol-grip shifter and beautifully sculpted front seats are nice, but the cabin ambience is still quite plain-Jane for the segment. You couldnít accuse the exterior of the same offence though, for its swollen, vented bodywork not only stuffs more air into the engine compartment and cuts aerodynamic drag and lift, but it looks both butch and dignified.

Yet those quibbles donít diminish the standout value offered by the F-Pace SVR. It costs about the same as an M4 Pure and is nearly as fast in a straight line, yet has big-wagon practicality and that SUV form factor that every man and woman in Australia seems to want right now. Jaguar has hit a bullseye with its first throw, and it would seem that sales will probably be limited entirely by how many Jaguar Land Rover Australia can secure.