Jaguar wants you to think it just loves to be bad. It even hung a whole advertising campaign on that notion. So really, the biggest surprise about the new F-Type SVR is not its bewildering aggression, or its newly sharpened handling. The real shock is that it took Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations two years to try and deliver on the implicit promise their name insinuates; to finally produce a special F-Type that doesn’t hold back. An F-Type with no limits.
Think of SVO to Jaguar as the M to BMW, the Quattro to Audi, or the AMG to Mercedes. Or at least that’s how they billed themselves to the journalists assembled at Motorland Aragón in Spain. But is it just hot air, or is there some substance to this upstart crew?
Sideways on a racetrack, at 90 degrees, all four expensive forged 20-inch alloys, spinning vainly forwards under the load of 575 barking supercharged horses, I would have to say YES.
Yes, there’s some substance to this promise. And, as tire smoke finally begins to curl in through the dashboard ventilation, I conclude that the new SVR is properly mental. But maybe not as mental as it could be.
(Full Disclosure: Jaguar needed Jalopnik to test this car so badly that they booked me four flights with Lufthansa when I could have flown a return flight with a budget carrier. Then they put me up in a hotel that could have doubled as a Bond villain’s lair, gave me two days with their latest creation, and left some rather pretentious leather driving gloves on my bed. I did rescue a Jaguar baseball cap that was left on the back of a car.)
Which is surprising, because when I first drove the car across the Spanish landscape this morning, it felt pretty much just like an F-Type R. The standard, run-of-the-mill, bonkers Jag grand tourer with “only” 550 horsepower. You know, the car that only slightly concusses you with accelerative forces.
From the driver’s seat of this Millionaire’s Miata, the SVR, it’s hard to differentiate from its less well-off cousin the R. A proper luxurious cabin, acres of leather, only some snazzy 14-way adjustable SVR seats (with Lozenge Quilt pattern, and isn’t that fancy) set the new flagship apart internally. You can still hook up your Apple device to lock, unlock, check where you parked it, and the 770w Meridian stereo stands ever ready to orgasm your eardrums.
Hit the start button, though. Dear God. The noise, the wonderful, beautiful roar. The sounds behind me only serve to re-iterate the 2300 words of technical information sitting in my inbox, detailing the impressive and elaborate changes the SVR model brings.
Because when you plonk your extra $20,450 down on the dealer’s desk—base price is $125,950, so it ain’t cheap—you’re definitely getting more than the standard car. From stiffer hubs with bigger wheel bearings, to that 35-pound (16kg) lighter titanium and Inconel exhaust system, this sporty Jag brings its A-game to the spec sheet battle. Power is up 25 HP, and mass is down a minimum 55 pounds (25kg) and maximum weight savings are 110 pounds (50kgs) with options like the carbon-ceramic brakes in play.
I know we’re well inside the realms of diminishing returns here, with a 20 percent price increase for what feels like a small power increase, but bear with me here.
Back to that lightweight exhaust though, the one that just erupted glorious V8 noise. It serves two purposes in replacing the stainless system of the R. It’s not just a paper-thin (0.6mm walls) piece of F1 technology for your luxury coupe.
The original single backbox has been split into two, with a big central gap that allows enough space for a real diffusor to be slotted into the rear floor. Add to that some bigger hood vents, bigger intakes in the front bumper and even extra apertures in the wheel arch liners. You know, because aerodynamics, more cooling, less drag, and more race car. Or something.
Admittedly, the whole package does feel reassuringly sharp when you get a wriggle on. Steering input is so ludicrously direct at speed that your brain might need time to recalibrate what’s possible. Like Porsche, it’s at state-of-the-art for an electrically boosted system. And of course you can change steering modes from within the main controls, but hitting the big “Dynamic” switch for the first time on a twisty is still a rude wake-up call for your skills.
It feels that bit sharper and crisper on turn-in than the R, less likely to push wide on the dozens of hairpin bends we encounter on every mile of our spectacular 100-mile-plus mountain test route. Grip from the bigger bespoke Pirelli P-Zero tires is one reason for that. They’re up 10mm at each end now to 265 at the front and 305 at the rear. The ride too has been tweaked, ever so gently, to the sportiest end of the Jaguar experience. Fear not, the spring rates remain unchanged, and the luxurious AMG-ish feel is still there in spades.
What the chaps in vehicle dynamics did was change the rates in the anti-roll bars front and back. Just five percent softer in the front and five percent stiffer in the rear, I was told. Now that might not sound like much, but it is. Really it is.
I could waffle on more about incredible vistas, sweeping roads, reverberating V8 cacophonies from granite canyon walls, in a convertible... but let’s cut to the chase.
Accelerating hard down the one-mile launch ramp that serves as Motorland’s back straight and the F-Type SVR coupe feels as planted as a race car. Even when speedo is leisurely sweeping towards 180 mph. The recalibrated ZF 8-speed automatic transmission feels even quicker to shift than ever before, quick enough to dismiss any cries for a PDK/DCT/DSG system in this car.
My compulsory co-pilot, one hand blocking the ESC button at all times, must have had balls of steel to sit there at this speed. But pushing the typically soft Jaguar brake pedal to the floor results in a retina-detaching deceleration. The pedal feels a bit soft, but there’s no arguing with the results of the optional CCM brakes. I doubt the standard fit 398mm steelies would pull the same trick more than once, but Jaguar were unwilling to let us try. So we’ll have to leave that question open.
So the power and the brakes should be no surprise at all, but maybe the Ken Block style four-wheel drift through the next corner should be. I was fortunate enough to test the original F-Type R around another MotoGP circuit, Estoril in Portugal. I remember that it had the wonderful feeling of a RWD car, but it needed a little help to get the oversteer started, and the drift swiftly ended the moment you hit the gas pedal hard again.
The SVR requires far less help to slide, just a bit more speed. Oversteer is standard fit in most scenarios, hard acceleration out of low gear corners, or simply lifting the loud pedal a little in a high-speed bend. Those tweaked sway bars are just enough to hooliganize the handling of the SVR, and it’s joyful.
Torque vectoring through braking on the fast bends can still be a pest at times, requiring the committed speed freak to lift and re-apply the gas manually several times. But my co-pilot was under strict instructions not to allow me to disengage the stability control nannies (and I understand completely why). But the ceaseless intervention and my insistence on braking late and trying to drift every corner took its toll.
Red lights flashed—brake temperature warning, the dash told me, and we limped back to pits, the SVR’s Inconel tail tucked between its 20-inch wheels.
Now, I’ll be the first guy to say I do drive like a bit of a dick at times, but that’s my job. And in my opinion the job’s not over after only four laps of the Aragon circuit. So I asked for special permission to drive the car once more. For photos, I told them. And also to disengage the stability controls and feel the true car.
There was a little umming and ahhing, but a few of the pro drivers already know me, and we came up with a plan. When every other car was safely off the circuit, while the other journos were being fed and watered with no view of the track, and in the least-visible corner of the circuit, I’d be finally allowed to go “Full Hoon.”
And much to the Pirellis’ dismay, the SVR was finally unleashed.
The next few minutes disappeared in a cloud of tire smoke, but the true nature of the SVR shone like a light through the fog. It’s a backstreet brawler hiding behind a well-tailored suit. It’s like Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall. Well presented, well mannered when required, but should the need ever arise, it’s nothing more than a thug in fancy pants.
After one particularly graceless slide, the SVR flashed a warning. “Rear wheel drive only!”
The center differential cried Uncle, and the SVR gave me a fleeting taste of the F-Type SVR my own heart desires—one that only sends power to the rears. It’s an F-type that shouldn’t sell, and it might be crashed a lot. But it’s a taste, and it’s good. Really good.
All that effortless power, flowing just to the rear axle, and the F-Type SVR was alive underneath my hands. A driver’s car. Barely controllable, but controllable enough to make you feel like a hero. Next time we stop, the system resets, and it’s back to normal. The moment is lost, like tire smoke in the clouds.
But I can’t escape the feeling that Jaguar could have gone a little further with SVR: more feelsome steering, a firmer brake pedal, and some more track day-friendly brake cooling.
Currently my favorite F-Type to drive on road or track is the humble $80,000 V6 S model, spec’d with the manual gearbox and mechanical LSD. The SVR, as awe-inspiring as it is, hasn’t changed that preference at all.
That’s because the SVR is just too good, too easy to drive to fast, and too polished. The only way to connect with it is to drive like a maniac, not like a racing driver. SVO have pushed the limits of performance, but they’ve not pushed to the limits of their customers.
Let SVO build us that 575 HP V8 with a manual ‘box, mechanical LSD and rear-wheel-drive. Then I’ll show you just how good it is to be bad.
Dale Lomas is the man behind Bridge To Gantry. He lives at the Nürburgring where he drives the RingTaxi most days of the week. This year he’s racing a Fiesta ST in the VLN championship and has just finished the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.