Ash Westerman finds the Jaguar F-Type SVO Coupe further enhances the famous marque’s new image as one sexy cat.
It’s an inexact science, trying to carbon-date the point at which a car company like Jaguar transitioned from struggling ‘pipe ’n’ slippers’ outfit to the epitome of cool Britannia. But let’s call it around 2007, with the introduction of the slinky, fine-driving XF sedan. There’s more than a little irony in the fact that it took the ownership of Indian conglomeration Tata to resuscitate the then-struggling Pom from dowdy to properly desirable.
Since then, it’s been nothing but upswing for Jaguar, at least in terms of the product pipeline. That XF sedan – similar in size and price to a BMW 5 Series or Audi A6 – helped spawn the more compact XE line-up, which has been acknowledged by plenty of critics as the handling and dynamic benchmark in a segment once utterly dominated by the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Yet it was the debut of the F-Type convertible back in 2013 that really took Jaguar back to the core goodness of its sporting roots. That open-top F-Type quickly morphed into a coupe, and new variants, including some with all-wheel-drive for more secure traction and roadholding, have since joined the now 14-strong line-up.
But for any customers wanting more performance than what was on offer from the former flagship – the supercharged V8 R version – there’s now this, the new king of the F-Type line-up: the SVO, offered as a $308,000 convertible, or as driven here; the $298,590 Coupe.
The SVO bit in the name pertains to Special Vehicles Operation, a Jaguar division that is a little like what HSV is to Holden Commodores but more Brits in lab coats and wind tunnels than bogans on burn-out pads.
Essentially, the SVO Coupe is a carefully tweaked and massaged version of the F-Type R all-wheel drive Coupe, taking its character from ultra-swift and raucous GT to all-out brawler primed to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Porsche’s 911 Turbo, Ferrari’s California T, Mercedes’ S63 AMG Coupe, and Audi’s R8. The power hike over the regular V8 R is not massive, but it didn’t need to be. The supercharged 5.0-litre V8 already hammered out 404kW and 680Nm of twist; now, thanks to revisions to cold-air ingestion and electronic management, those figures plump out to 423kW and 700Nm. The sprint from 0-100km/h is pruned to 3.7seconds; top speed a nice round 300km/h. Ample, then.
Arguably more significant, and even more immediately apparent to the driver, are the changes to the car’s chassis, intended to make the SVO even more planted and confidence-inspiring. We won’t bore you with all the oily hardware details – the need-to-know is this version steers with more precision and a reassuring wriggly tactility through the wheel; there’s more cornering grip on offer from massive, upsized Pirelli tyres; and the option of fade-free carbon-ceramic brakes if you’re a demon on the picks.
It all comes together to make the SVO a ferociously fast car point to point, yet the real triumph is that it doesn’t result in a too-stiff, too-loud, one-trick pony – well, cat, actually – that brings pain when touring. Quite the opposite, the suspension changes still leave this version with a supple initial layer of ride compliance that soaks up pretty much everything Australia’s often crappy roads throw at it. The engine develops so much torque that you can surf around comfortably ahead of traffic without revving it past a mere 2000rpm. With the switchable exhaust in the muted position, it’s almost quite stealthy.
And when you’re done with stealthy, try volcanic. Pressing a button to open the exhaust flaps is like shooting a dart into a bear’s backside. Give it a bootfull and you’ll laugh yourself stupid while asking, “can this really be legal?” The shove in the back factor is relentless, and the noise when you lift off the gas and hit the brakes is just nuts, like some irate customer pushing over shelves in the Bunnings paint department.
Start shoving the nose hard into corners and there’s ample info through the wheel where the limits are; while they are high, it’s no lightweight, and respect still needs to be paid that this is a very focussed sports-GT, rather than an outright sports car like a Porsche 911. With the front end keyed in, however, the all-wheel-drive system can really be leaned on to provide mid-corner power-down and stunning traction in the exit phase. It’s all pretty intoxicating, and really only leaves persistent and occasionally intrusive tyre roar as a slight downer to take the edge of the SVO as a sensational high-speed tourer. Well, that and
the value equation, which starts to look a little ropey against the $70,000 cheaper rear-drive V8 R coupe.
But if you have the means, this cat has the claws.