Anyone wanting to experience Jaguar Land Rover's long-serving supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 in a vehicle fresh off the production line would be well advised not to delay placing an order. The new 2020 Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic edition, which we've just driven in Europe and will be going on sale in the United States later this year, is likely to be the last new model ever fitted with it. Ford, which originally engineered the AJ-V8 and has been building it for Jaguar since 1996, has just confirmed that the factory that makes the blown eight will be closing in September 2020. That's why the Velar SV will only be offered for a single model year, and it may even become a collector's edition.
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, sharing 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 considerably more accessible price: $91,815 versus the big Rover SV's $179,795 asking price.
A Fine Looker
Being based on the Velar gives the SVAutobiography the best possible start in life, the base car already possessing the sort of visual appeal that can steal attention from its grander siblings. SVO's designers have, sensibly, not made too many 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 hierarchy. 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 need to acclimate to the nonintuitive dual-screen InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which we're still working on with 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. Dimensionally, the Velar sits between the compact Porsche Macan and mid-size Cayenne SUVs, and even an entry-level full-size Range Rover will make adult occupants in the back feel more special. The Velar's cargo capacity remains good at 29 cubic feet, down from 34 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 that is as charismatic and effective as this one is at churning out 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque. The AJ-V8 might be most of the way through its third decade in production, but in supercharged form it still delivers, pulling strongly throughout its rev range and, thanks to an all-new active exhaust system, sounding particularly good when pressed hard. SVO wisely hasn't tuned the Velar's pipes to produce the excessive pops and bangs that Jaguar's SVR models do when lifting off the throttle. Instead there’s a deep, muscular hum when the engine's under load. Performance is predictably strong: SVO claims a very believable 4.3-second zero-to-60-mph time and a 170-mph top speed. More impressive is the sense of effortless muscularity from the supercharged V-8 that pulls hard without hesitation or a hint of lag.
While the engine suits the Velar beautifully, its chassis feels less resolved. We drove the SV in Spain, on quiet mountain roads about an hour inland from Barcelona, and also on Land Rover's Las Comes Experience Centre. The Velar impresses in the dirt, with its standard air springs able to 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 proved willing to scramble up and down slippery tracks on the same all-season Pirelli Scorpion tires we used on the road. This is a high-performance SUV you could take at least some way into true wilderness.
A Conservative Character
Yet the Velar SV lacks true dynamic focus on pavement. It is softer and more laid back than any obvious performance rival, including the F-Pace SVR. In Comfort mode we found that the adaptive suspension struggled to maintain discipline when dealing with rougher road surfaces, and 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.
Like the F-Pace, the Velar gets brake-based torque-vectoring, and this can be felt working with the SV in its Dynamic setting, giving a rear-biased feel to the power delivery in order to combat understeer. The brakes also are worthy of praise, with the big 15.6-inch rotors and four-piston calipers proving tireless even when tasked with the thermal loads of long descents and multiple hairpin turns. High-speed refinement also is excellent, and the suspension seems happiest when ensuring stability on the Spanish autopistaat speeds more normally seen on the German autobahn. Travel in the Velar SVAutobiography can be both rapid and relaxed at the same time.
SVO is in need of a hit. In recent months it canceled plans to build a two-door version of the Range Rover after finding insufficient interest from potential buyers. It also quietly nixed what was meant to be a V-8–powered SVX version of the Discovery. With JLR's balance sheets running blood red at present, the performance division will have to deliver success if it is to enjoy a future that extends beyond the short term. Regardless of that, if the Velar SVAutobiography is JLR's last V-8 model, it seems like a fine place to end the long association with what remains our favorite of its engines.
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