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2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Review: The Saber-Toothed Cat of Sporty SUVs


May 3, 2019 Cars By Photo by ERIC ADAMS
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This year could very well go down in history as the year of the legitimization of the super-sporty SUV. The new Lamborghini Urus is enough to make the case for that on its own—but others from Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, and BMW abound as well, bringing such high-powered enablers as active anti-sway bars and hyper-responsive suspension systems to the crossover game.

Now, Jaguar is entering the fray with the SVO—that’s Special Vehicle Operations—version of its F-Pace. It doesn’t deploy many fancy performance parlor tricks, but it uses a lot of engineering finesse and know-how to reign in this SUV’s top-heavy mass and make it a legitimate performance vehicle…one that can also make Ikea runs.

The Good: Significant grunt from the supercharged V-8 makes this an unquestionably fun SUV. Its sleek aerodynamic treatment, including functional hood vents and side ports, work to keep temperatures in check and improve aerodynamics. That means plenty of power and grip under hard driving. It’s got ultra-growly acoustics, of the sort not seen on a Jaguar seen since the F-Type roadster popped onto the scene with its crackling, popping exhaust note. The F-Pace SVR isn’t quite that over-the-top, but it’ll still grab people’s attention.

Who It’s For: Anyone who wants a morning blast of giddyup on the way to work. The F-Pace delivers both the commanding view of an automotive high-rise along with the firm cosseting of a true performance vehicle. In other words, it feels like a fantastic place to be—and conquer the world from. So the meek shall not apply. (Nor should the particularly eco-conscious, as the supercharged V-8 delivers a scant 18 miles per gallon combined.)

Watch Out For: The F-Pace’s occasionally awkward design touches—though “quirky” is a more generous interpretation. Example: the window controls, which are used frequently, sit high up on the door sill out of natural reach—while the seat memory controls, used only rarely, are right at your fingertips on the armrest. 

Alternatives: The Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S would be a good start, followed by the BMW X5 M. Both offer similar power and performance numbers, but for tens of thousands more than the Jag’s $80,000 price tag. Also, consider the basic Porsche Cayenne, which isn’t as fast or powerful, but is still fun—and comes in more than $10,000 less than the F-Pace SVR.

Review: Southern France, I found, has some of the best roads in the world. Of course, this is entirely personal preference; some drivers love abundant hairpin turns in mountain twisties, others are all about 12-mile-long desert straights. I prefer long stretches of gently swaying racing lines and sweeping arcs—speed over acceleration, with a reasonable expectation of being able to push the steering to the limits at ridiculous speeds as you dive into the occasional bend. But by any objective measure, the pavement of the French countryside just north of the Riviera is enthralling, adequately challenging anyone with an itchy right foot. So testing the F-Pace along the countryside near Nice and Saint Tropez yielded much in the way of perspective—and visceral thrill.

The thing that struck me first about the F-Pace SVR was actually the seats. They’re tight, firm, and remarkably thin, compared with the bulky thrones most luxury vehicles arrive with. Once my drive partner and I set off on our test drive, I suddenly found myself fixated on the F-Pace SVR’s headrest, noting how remarkably thin it was, and how that must have major benefits for rear-seat room and overall cabin airiness. I’m sure my drive partner was freaked out by my fixation on his headrest, but I couldn’t help it. I’d never seen one so slim. (Turns out, of course, that Jaguar is well aware of the benefits; the slimline performance seats are standard on the SVR SUV.)

It’s only once the person in the driver’s seat starts to engage with the Jag that things really spring to life. Pushing the SVR through its paces proved that the tweaks are far more than skin deep: The chassis enjoys new tuning with better damping and spring rates, while the aero package adds lower, sharper sides and a rear spoiler. An assortment of functional vents enhance brake and engine cooling and zap pressure from inside the wheel well, cutting drag and helping contribute to the downforce generated elsewhere.

When powering up a mountain road, the electronic active rear differential combines with the rejiggered responsiveness of the chassis and the engine’s mighty power to deliver sublimely persistent acceleration, with no interruption to the power flow or hiccup in its targeted application. The big Jag simply kept pushing, taking whatever the mountain could throw at it in stride.

Ultimately, that’s the real value of the F-Pace SVR’s improvements—the way SVO adjusts the tuning and calibration to created a highly advanced performance package. You see it in the steering, in the lightened brakes and wheel systems and the adaptive sport suspension designed to work with them, and the promptness of the eight-speed automatic transmission’s shifts. It’s not a dual-clutch affair—that’s the current gold standard for performance cars—but it worked exceptionally well in this vehicle, and never left me wanting for something faster or more punchy. There are plenty of aggressive, ’roided-up SUVs out there, but one that can give you such smooth yet forceful performance without breaking traction or the bank is a valuable machine indeed. 

Verdict: Jaguar’s performance-oriented SVO division has been kicking in earnest since 2014, developing hard-charging variants of the cars like the F-Type and the wicked XE-based Project 8. If those machines got our attention, then the F-Pace SVR held it, mile after mile. It’s a fun, aggressive, hyper-responsive trouble magnet of a crossover, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Specs

PRICE: $79,990
POWERTRAIN: 5.0-liter supercharged V-8, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
POWER: 550 horsepower, 502 pound-feet of torque
0-60 MPH: 4.1 seconds
TOP SPEED: 176 mph

Jaguar hosted us and provided this product for review.

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