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2020 Jaguar F-Pace SVR First Drive: F-Pace Squared

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Nice, France – Upon landing at Nice Cote d’Azur airport for the launch of the 2020 Jaguar F-Pace SVR, we were met by a variety of shuttle vehicles – there were a couple of Mercedes-Benz Vaneo vans, also an Iveco (I think) and for me – and many of my journalist ilk – the coolest of them all: the Jaguar XF Wagon. You see, we car scribes love wagons and any one of us will tell you a million reasons why, and I guarantee you will be met with the same incredulous look from any one of us when we’re unable to convince you of their worth.

Alas, the XF wasn’t for us; it seemed to be reserved for Jaguar reps so the best we could do was take it in in all its glory from outside, basking in the glory of a car we Canadians don’t get but the Americans do.

What we do get, however, is the F-Pace SUV – the next best thing to the XF Wagon. And now, there’s an SVR version. It marks the third Jaguar-Land Rover vehicle to get the SVR treatment from Jaguar’s five-year-old Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and the first time the F-Pace gets a V8. A supercharged V8, to be precise, making use of the same powertrain (although at 542 hp and 502 lb-ft, slightly less power) as the F-Type SVR that blew so many away when it arrived in 2016.

Also like in the F-Type, power is fed to all for wheels (but mostly to the rear wheels) through an 8-speed automatic controlled by fantastically tactile aluminum shift paddles. So, it’s got the powertrain that works oh-so-well on the F-Type, but how well does it make the transition to the larger, taller, heavier SUV form?

Photo: D.Heyman

Luckily for us, we had a network of spectacular driving roads through the mountains of the south of France and Côte d’Azur to find out. If the F-Pace could work on these World Rally Championship-spec roads, then surely it would dominate the wide boulevards of North America once it arrives on our shores this July.

Before setting out, however, it’s worth just taking the F-Pace SVR in because it is a spectacular-looking thing, especially in Firenze Red with 22-inch gloss-black wheels, which help ground the SVR, giving it a nice, low stance.

There’s more – a lot more – to help differentiate the SVR from “lesser” F-Pace models, though you do have to look closely because Jaguar will tell you that this is a car that’s meant to impress the driver more than the passers-by. In that light, every vent you see is functional; they serve to cool the brakes, to improve aerodynamics around those big wheels and to cool the engine.

If you look closely behind the rear wheels, meanwhile, you’ll notice two bumper cuts, which serve as an air diffuser to help force the F-Pace to the ground below. Behind that sit four tailpipes, all functional and all wonderful mouthpieces for one of the most aggressive-sounding SUVs you’ll ever hear. This is so especially if you’ve activated the louder exhaust setting by a press of a console-mounted button, which you can do ether while on the move or before startup – simply press the start/stop button once (then watch as the script on it flashes, mimicking a heartbeat), hit the exhaust button, and you’ll get a proper braaaap on startup.

If you don’t want to wake the neighbours, simply start her up as you normally would.

Photo: D.Heyman

We’ve seen start/stop buttons and paddle shifters in F-Paces before, though. Jaguar obviously knows this so the interior has been given a nip and tuck as well, mainly in the form of low-profile sport seats with diamond-print leather. These are some properly supportive numbers, too, adjustable 14 ways and enough to accommodate pretty much any body type. A moonroof is also standard, along with digital gauge cluster.

Unfortunately for the F-Pace, however, it doesn’t get Jaguar-Land Rover’s new Touch Pro Duo infotainment interface, instead sticking with the older Touch Pro interface, though all F-Paces now come standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Our SVR had the Meridian surround sound audio system that provides rich, crisp sound through its 17 speakers (11 speakers are standard).

Photo: D.Heyman

The question with the SVR, though, is how much all that really matters. Oh sure, I like to bump my tunes as much as the next guy, but when you’ve got an SUV that sounds like this and demands focus like this (if you choose to push it, of course), your sound system tends to take a bit of a back seat.

As I said earlier, the fireworks start right away, as soon as you fire that furious V8 – after all, Jaguar calls this maddest of F-Paces “magnificent beast” internally. A crackling, sharp, bellowing exhaust note greets even the slightest of throttle depressions, so you can only imagine the all-out rage that gets unleashed once you start to really delve into the throttle travel. Which, it should be said, isn’t all that long, as if Jag wanted to make it as easy as possible for you to unleash all that force.

Indeed, upon acceleration, the SVR will force you into that fine quilted leather and keep you there as you bang up through the gears; there’s no hesitation, and no interruption in power delivery either. There’s just constant, persistent torque all through the rev band so you’re never really given a chance to breathe. This truly is a monster of a motor and while machines like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk make more power than does the F-Pace, neither one makes quite as much a show of it – not even that monster of a Jeep.

It may look a little Q-carish, the F-Pace, but as soon as you unleash that motive force, any Q-car aspirations it may have are out the door as quickly as the SVR can sprint from 0-100 km/h, which happens in about 4.3 seconds.

Thing is, on roads like these, it can be tough to reach the upper echelons of speed; there aren’t that many straights, so you’re either left to riskily cut apexes (don’t) or allow the F-Pace to demonstrate its handling characteristics. Which, as it happens, do a damn fine job of following through on the promises made by the powertrain.

In Dynamic mode especially (it’s activated – along with Comfort, Eco and Weather -- by a button press unlike other Jags, which get a toggle switch for the same function), body roll can be felt, but hardly, considering that this is an SUV and not a sports sedan (or wagon).

Photo: D.Heyman

Plus, the seats and their side bolsters do their part to keep you centred so what little body roll there is doesn’t cause too much discomfort.

Indeed, as much as I’d like to sample that XF Wagon, the seating position and ride make it so you really don’t feel like you’re driving an SUV at all. So, in a way, I guess I kind of have. I could carve apexes all day in this thing (especially when on spectacular roads such as these); the steering is dialled in, the active dampers and firm springs perfectly complimentary and of course there’s that powertrain to bring it all home.

“But wait!” I hear you asking. “You said before that this was mainly going to be a boulevard basher in North America. All that performance tuning must make it a bear in these circumstances, right?” Well, if we’re honest, not entirely.

Activate Comfort mode, and the SVR becomes as soft as any other F-Pace, with little to no vibration through the steering wheel or cowl. Indeed, the F-Pace – SVR or no – competes in a segment that requires a comfortable ride as much – if not more so – than a punchy V8 or whip-crack transmission. I expected the F-Pace SVR to feel fast and firm; I didn’t expect it to be able to shift paradigms quite like this.

And, to be honest, at $92,000, I didn’t expect it to run such a bargain, either; that’s less than it will cost you to get either the Porsche or Jeep, not to mention the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 or BMW X5M. Of course, that’s still almost double what it’ll cost you to get a base F-Pace but we really are talking two different vehicles, here – that engine alone is probably worth 10 grand or more. I mean, how many more rockin’ V8s like this are we going to see moving forward? Not a whole lot, it seems, so we may as well enjoy them while we can.

Almost makes me forgive Jaguar for not giving us that XF Wagon, too. Almost.


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2020 Jaguar F-Pace SVR pictures