3/11/20 UPDATE: This review has been updated with test results.
Anyone who wants Jaguar Land Rover's long-serving supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 in a vehicle fresh off the production line should hurry. The 2020 Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic edition is likely to be the last new model ever fitted with that engine. Ford, which originally engineered the AJ-V8 and has been building it for JLR since 1996, has confirmed that the factory that makes the blown eight will be closing in September. Given the 2020-model-year-only Velar SV's fetching looks and impressive straight-line performance, JLR is giving its most powerful engine the sendoff it deserves.
Produced by JLR's Special Vehicle Operations, which works across both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, the Velar SVAutobiography is closely related to the existing Jaguar F-Pace SVR. It shares the same core mechanical package, yet it is intended to be more genteel. The idea is to create an understudy to the full-sized Range Rover SVAutobiography at a more accessible starting price: $91,815 versus $179,795 for the big Rover SV. Factor in a smattering of driver assists, a head-up display, and a few small extras and our test vehicle's as-tested outlay came to $94,655.
A Fine Looker
Beginning life based on the Velar sets the SVAutobiography up well. The base vehicle already possesses the sort of visual appeal that steals attention from its grander siblings. SVO's designers have, sensibly, made few visual changes over lesser models, making this unlike the steroidal CrossFit transformation given to the Range Rover Sport SVR. The Velar SV gets a new front bumper with bigger inlets and a neatly integrated lower spoiler, while the rear gains four huge exhaust finishers. Big aluminum wheels measure 21 inches in diameter as standard with 22s optional.
The Velar's cabin still feels a measure tighter than a Range Rover or Range Rover Sport, but the SVAutobiography has been given generous standard equipment and a trim makeover befitting its place at the top of the Velar range. The shift paddles behind the steering wheel are made from metal instead of plastic, and there are now knurled metal finishers for the rotary controllers. The door panels have carbon-fiber inserts with woven metal wire to give extra color and sparkle. The only real downside is the unintuitive dual-screen InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which we only somewhat came to terms with on our long-term 2018 Range Rover Velar P250.
The interior is beautifully finished, but limited headroom for rear-seat passengers dings what is meant to be a sense of effortless luxury. Even an entry-level full-size Range Rover will make adult occupants in the back feel more special. Dimensionally, the Velar sits between the compact Porsche Macan and mid-size Cayenne SUVs. The Velar's cargo capacity remains competitive at 29 cubic feet, down from 34 cubes in other Velars, with its overall packaging feeling close to a synthesis between an SUV's and a station wagon's.
It's difficult to dislike any V-8, especially one as charismatic and effective as this one is at churning out 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque. The AJ-V8 might be most of the way through its third decade in production, but in supercharged form it still delivers. It pulls strongly throughout its rev range and, thanks to an all-new active exhaust system, sounds particularly aggressive when pressed hard. SVO wisely hasn't tuned the Velar's pipes to produce the excessive pops and bangs that Jaguar's SVR models have when lifting off the throttle. Instead, there’s simply 89 decibels of deep, muscular growl when you mat the accelerator. Take it easy and the noise level drops to a relatively calm 68 decibels at a 70-mph cruise.
Performance is predictably strong: Our porky, 4770-pound test vehicle shot to 60 mph in an impressive 3.8 seconds—besting SVO's estimate by a half-second—and covered the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at 115 mph. Despite carrying an additional 115 pounds, the Velar SV beats the Jag F-pace SVR to 60 mph by 0.3 second and is 0.2 second ahead at the end of the quarter, though traveling at the same speed.
More impressive is how the supercharged V-8's sense of effortless muscularity comes without a hint of lag. The AJ-V8, however, is a thirsty thing if you regularly poke it with your right foot, especially when saddled with the substantial mass of an SUV. Our example averaged just 15 mpg while in our care. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, it returned 20 mpg. That matched its EPA estimate but is nothing to brag about.
Despite its rather racy on-road comportment, the Velar SV also impresses in the dirt. Its standard air springs can increase the Velar's ride height by up to 1.7 inches in its rock-scrambling drive mode. Even when wearing diamond-finished 21-inch wheels, it can scramble up and down slippery tracks on the same Pirelli Scorpion Zero All Season tires (sized 265/45R-21 at all four corners) we used on the road. This is a high-performance SUV you can take at least some way into true wilderness.
A Conservative Character
Yet, on pavement, the SV is softer and more laid back than any obvious performance rival, including the F-Pace SVR. In Comfort mode the adaptive suspension struggles to maintain discipline when dealing with rougher road surfaces. Although switching to Dynamic mode made the car feel sharper, there was still far less of the connection that comes in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio or a Porsche Macan Turbo. A light covering of snow on the skidpad meant we couldn't quantify the lateral grip of our SV test vehicle. But we don't expect its adhesion to break any records among hot-rod SUVs. The regular Velar on 20-inch all-season tires posted just 0.84 g of grip in our testing and the F-Pace SVR could only do 0.01 g better on its 22-inch all-season Pirellis.
Like that Jaguar, the Velar gets brake-based torque-vectoring. The system's effect can be felt with the SV in its Dynamic setting, giving an almost unnatural feel in corners. Though it is certainly effective at combatting understeer. The brakes also are worthy of praise, with the big 15.6-inch rotors front and rear proving tireless even when tasked with the thermal loads of long, spirited drives. Stops from 70 mph come in a respectable 165 feet. High-speed refinement also is excellent, with the suspension seeming to work best when maintaining rock-solid stability at triple-digit speeds. Travel in the Velar SVAutobiography can be both rapid and relaxed at the same time.
While the Velar SVAutobiography surely won't help JLR's red-tinged bottom line nearly as much as the new Land Rover Defender is expected to, it is likely to be the company's last V-8 model—and a fine one at that for ending the long association with what remains our favorite of its engines.
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