Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations takes the F-Type sports car and makes it that little bit more “special.” A boost in power is a given of course, but, fortunately, so is poise and even more style.
Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) is Jaguar Land Rover’s in-house skunk-works – their very own factory-approved tuning arm and bespoke tailoring division as it were. As the chief engineer of SVO said, their job is to take the great cars from both Jaguar and Land Rover and turn up the volume ever so slightly – very aptly put!
They not only turn up the ante under the hood, but also up the exclusivity and collectability as well. For instance, in addition to the fire-breathing Jaguar F-Type SVR and Range Rover Sport SVR, they also conceive and produce cars such as the two-door, limited-edition Range Rover SV Autobiography that was recently showcased at the Geneva Motor Show.
The F-Type R has a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 that produces 550PS, which enables it to accelerate to 100km/h in just 4.2 seconds – so, by all accounts, it a pretty special machine. To create an even more exotic version, then, can’t be terribly easy – especially if you consider that extra power is a must for any in-house tuning arm, think M from BMW or AMG from Mercedes. Well, I already consider the F-Type R a bit of a beast in wolf’s clothing. Let’s just say that it doesn’t need SVO treatment to feel like the last of the unhinged sports cars. Respect it, and it’ll reward you. Take it for granted, prod the throttle like a ham-fisted buffoon and it’ll return the favour by spinning all the way around and flashing your life before your very eyes – if you’re foolish enough to turn off the electronic safety net that is.
As far as I was concerned, the F-Type S, with its supercharged V6 motor, was always the sweet spot in the F-Type range. It’s lighter, still very powerful, and much more balanced – making it a more involving machine that allows you to explore its limits far easier than the V8. Suffice to say it’s a lot less intimidating. The F-Type R, then, needs an extra dose of power like you need a hole in your head!
So, SVO not only upped the power output (to 575PS and 700Nm), but also reigned it in by ensuring that all this brute force is channelled to all four corners of this beautiful machine – and not just to the two rear wheels. SVO also put the F-Type on a diet, ensuring that the SVR is not only more powerful, but lighter as well. A new titanium exhaust reduces mass, and also enables engineers to fit a massive diffuser at the back. To further improve downforce, there’s also the option of a fixed carbon fibre wing – as opposed to the deployable rear wing on “lesser” F-Types.
2018 model year SVRs also get a new pair of bucket seats that have magnesium frames to reduce weight. Fortunately, they’re beautifully padded and improve comfort as well – and that’s quite a telling trait. But more on that in a minute. This SVR boot camp shaves 25 kilos off the F-Type R AWD. You can take an additional 25 kilos off by opting for the carbon fibre roof and ceramic brakes.
But, enough talk about titanium, ceramic and magnesium – what happens when you put all these exotic materials together? Well, thankfully, we were testing this car at Jaguar Land Rover’s proving grounds at Gaydon, in the UK, so we could truly find out. We started out, appropriately, at a one-kilometre drag stip. It was quite simple really. Arrive at the start line, mash the loud pedal, and turn the scenery into a blur. Needless to say, the power and noise is addictive. 100km/h comes up in just 3.6 seconds. And there’s no sign of the urgency of the acceleration waning anytime soon. The only thing more thrilling than the speed is the sound. Oh the sound!
I’ve always been a big proponent of the V6 S, and while it sounded great in its own right, it just didn’t have the drama of the V8 – with its bark on the throttle, and it’s crackle & pop off the throttle on the overrun. The 8-speed ZF transmission works beautifully with the motor to offer a seamless, and seemingly endless, surge of power. This truly is the best gearbox in the world at present. Speed, then, simply isn’t an issue with this machine – no surprise there. But, just to reinforce that, we got onto the high-speed test track and accelerated all the way up to 183mph (292km/h) – multiple times for good measure. Not only is the speed so imminently accessible, but the stability is equally impressive as well – as is the reassurance provided by the well weighted steering. It’s sharp and responsive, while at the same providing a heft that gives you tremendous confidence.
Next, we got onto another track that was riddled with potholes, bumps, abrasive surfaces, and other such obstacles that should have brought the F-Type to its knees. The most enlightening thing about this test wasn’t that the SVO team had managed to reign in the F-Type, while making it even faster, but the fact that they’ve made it even more compliant than before. You can accelerate all the way though an off-camber bend, with a bump mid-corner, and it won’t upset the chassis at all. And you don’t have to come to a grinding halt to traverse through every bump and pothole either. The F-Type truly feels like a near perfect mix of hard-core sports car and continent carving gran turismo. And that’s where the new seats come in too. They’re incredibly supportive and hip hugging, but they’re also compliant enough to ensure that you really can spend several hours in the F-Type without needing to see a chiropractor afterwards. Likewise, the complaint ride not only means that you can feel what the chassis is doing, but it also prevents the F-Type from being skittish and nervous.
Next, we headed to the slalom course, and it’s here that I found the only fly in the F-Type ointment. You see, while the all-wheel drive system is rear-biased, as soon as it senses any slip whatsoever, it immediately transfers torque to the front axel – which results in a safe and predictable four-wheel drift led by the nose. And this means you can be safe in the knowledge that the F-Type no longer wants to dismember you, but it also takes away a little bit of that thrill. Sure, it makes it more capable, however it also results in making it less exciting. Now, I’m not suggesting that SVO revert back to the rear-wheel drive lunacy of the F-Type R, I just wish they had kept the transition of torque a little more gradual. They could have allowed for a little more slip at the rear, before sending power to the front. This would have enabled a small, controlled power-slide – making the driver feel like a hero – before toning it all down and yielding to the all-wheel drive system.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this car. And I could absolutely drive it every day – it’s that usable! And I don’t actually miss the fear-inducing nature of the F-Type R. I mean, I don’t actually want a sports car to try and kill me, but I do want to feel like I’m living on the edge just enough to get my heart racing. It’s a delicate balance, but one that is achievable – if the brand new all-wheel drive BMW M5 is anything go by.
If, on the other hand, I were to compare the F-Type SVR with a 911 for instance, I would have to admit that the Jag feels that little bit more usable – in our conditions especially – thanks largely to its more compliant ride. And that’s to say nothing of its exhaust note that still gets under your skin and keeps you awake at night just thinking about it. That said, while the 911 Turbo produces 540PS versus the 575 on hand here, 100km/h in the Porsche, with its PDK gearbox, comes up in a staggering 3.0 seconds. Both cars are priced within an arms length of each other. The Porsche is 2.4 crore (ex-showroom) at present, whereas the Jag is expected to be in excess of 2.5 crore when the 2018 model is launched in June this year. So, if you want a precision instrument, the Porsche is still hard to beat – but if you want a machine that’s oozing character and style, and now comes with an added dose of usability, the F-Type is very tempting indeed. This certainly is the new sweet spot in the F-Type range – ‘Special Vehicle’ indeed!
Engine: 5,000cc / V8 / 32 Valves / Direct Injection / Supercharged
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 567bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 700NM @ 3500rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h – 3.6 secs
X-factor:The exhaust note is worth the price of admission alone. This is a machine that’s as much about emotion and passion as it is about speed and precision. All-wheel drive ensures that it’s a lot more usable and precise than it ever was in the past.
• Exhaust note to die for
• Ludicrous speed
• Very composed & usable
• Handling is too safe perhaps
• Interior still not as special as the exterior