First Drive: 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR
– Carmel Valley, California
Here’s what they don’t tell you about Monterey Car Week: The traffic sucks. Sure, the various champagne breakfasts, auctions, and concourses are only a few miles apart on a map, but the roads are narrow and easily clogged. And being Monterey Car Week, these are traffic jams full of exotic supercars and rare classics – you have a better chance of being rear-ended by a privately owned Pagani than a Pontiac, and that in and of itself is more than a little stressful. If you want to actually drive, you have to get way out of town. Thank heavens for Jaguar’s new 575-horsepower F-Type SVR escape pod.
I picked up the car at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on a chilly Saturday morning, amidst the sensational sights and sounds of the Rolex Motorsports Reunion. Not a race car itself per se, the F-Type SVR nevertheless looked at home in the trackside parking lot, its more pronounced air vents and fixed rear wing showing its intent as a more hardcore version of the F-Type I’ve loved since first sight. I’m about 95 percent sold on the SVR’s looks – the big wheels and low-profile tires, yellow brake calipers, carbon fiber exterior accents, and bulgier bits don’t ruin the impossibly pretty shape of Jag’s small coupe. But that final five percent sits right over the rear deck: functional or not, that wing is an eyesore. You’ll no doubt agree that the F-Type Coupe has one of the most gorgeous arses in all of automotivia; why mess with success? I’m sure the extra downforce the active spoiler adds at 200 kilometres per hour is helpful, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look stupid when parked.
I’m sure the extra downforce the active spoiler adds at 200 km/h is helpful, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look stupid when parked.
Never mind, an ugly spoiler can’t spoil the rest of this outstanding package, and the SVR still grabs the attention of everyone as I slog through traffic just trying to get the hell away from Laguna Seca. From behind the wheel, this hotter F-Type feels just like every other version of the coupe – comfortable and premium, with a beautiful yet functional cabin. The two seats hug and support you. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped with high-quality metal shift paddles attached to the backside. And your passenger has their choice of two “oh shit!” handles to grab, one on the center console, and another grippy handle on the door.
Those come in handy for the faint of heart, considering the immense power on hand – Jaguar’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8 produces 575 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque here. Compared to the F-Type R Coupe, the SVR adds just 25 hp and 14 lb-ft, but it’s 25 kilograms (55 pounds) lighter in base form, and that’s despite larger wheels and some heavier powertrain components. What’s more, if you opt for the carbon-fiber roof and carbon-ceramic brakes, the SVR can actually be as much as 50 kg (110 lbs) lighter than a comparable R. This lightness pays dividends as far as performance is concerned, the SVR running to 60 mph about a half a second quicker than the R (3.5 seconds vs. 3.9, though that feels very conservative) and it’s faster on the top end (321 km/h vs. 300).
The SVR feels just like every other version of the F-Type – comfortable and premium, with a beautiful yet functional cabin.
From the moment you push the glowing red engine start button, the SVR comes to life with Jaguar’s now signature roar. The F-Type R boasts one of the best exhaust notes on the planet today, and for SVR duty, the exhaust system is updated in a number of ways that enhance the aural quality while working to add lightness to the overall car. The new titanium, split-muffler exhaust accounts for a 35-pound weight reduction compared to the stainless steel setup on the F-Type R, and its tone is a bit higher pitched – harsher, in a very, very good way.
The thunder of SVR is all that’s left once I exit Laguna Seca, quickly heading south to scale Laureles Grade, eventually pointing east on Carmel Valley Road out toward the middle of nowhere. The farther you drive past Carmel Valley, the better this road gets, with gradual elevation changes and quick right-then-left-then-right-then-left-again switchbacks that, taken in harmonious, rapid succession, conveyed enough dynamic intensity to cause my passenger to lose feeling in her fingers temporarily (sorry!). “I can slow down or pull over if you need me to,” I’d offer, my lover-of-fast-cars copilot quickly reassuring me, “Nope!” For driver or passenger, the F-Type SVR offers an experience that begs you to keep going, harder and faster.
This car is beautifully balanced, offers heaps of grip, and communicates its action to the driver with light, crisp steering and a taut chassis.
Like the R, Jaguar employs all-wheel drive on the SVR, but it’s hardly damning. The default torque split is 10 percent front and 90 percent rear, and working alongside various traction control settings, the system is not a single bit intrusive unless things start to get hairy. In its standard drive mode, the SVR packs all the punch you’ll need for most street use, with Dynamic mode tightening up the steering and suspension, remapping the shift logic of the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, and increasing throttle response. On the broken stretches of pavement east of Carmel Valley, the Dynamic suspension setting, combined with wide, 265/35/ZR20 front and 305/30/ZR20 rear tires, proved a bit too stiff, but I loved the increased throttle response and improved steering feel. As the road smoothed out, my speed increased, and Dynamic mode became my new default.
Jaguar will happily go into detail about its revised damper control software, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and a totally new rear knuckle that increases camber stiffness by 37 percent and toe stiffness by 41 percent. But from the seat of your pants, it translates to the best-handling, best-driving F-Type yet. This car is beautifully balanced, offers heaps of grip, and communicates its action to the driver with light, crisp steering and a taut chassis. The optional carbon ceramic brakes dig their heels into the road with assertive surefootedness, and yes, a couple of squeaks here and there.
Jaguar, more than many other brands, provides a truly immersive sports car motoring experience.
That said, without testing the two back-to-back on a track, I can’t say that the SVR experience is hugely improved versus the already terrific R. I think in most road-going cases, you won’t really see huge differences, since the R is nearly as powerful and still handles like a champ (and doesn’t have that stupid wing). It’s certainly something to consider, especially given the SVR’s $23,500 price premium.
But on a bright Saturday morning just east of Monterey, the SVR provided the sort of escape I so desperately needed from the hustle and flow of Car Week activities. Loud and fast, the SVR is proof positive that Jaguar, more than many other brands, provides a truly immersive sports car motoring experience.
Photos: Jaguar North America