I'm standing bleary-eyed and jet-lagged in the lobby of a luxury hotel in Spain. Through pinhole-sized pupils, I try to focus on the gleaming orange manifestation of a fantasy sitting between the bell desk and a candy buffet. The Jaguar F-Type SVR beams performance under the harsh studio lights. I think back a couple of years to mingling on the grass at Pebble Beach at the unveiling of Jaguar's ambitious Project 7. Besides unveiling the low-volume unicorn of a car, Jaguar and Land Rover presented a short manifesto for the future plans of SVR vehicles. The idea of the still re-emerging English brand going head to head with the likes of AMG, M, and Audi-Sport seemed a bit optimistic at the time.
The F-Type Project 7 was an enormous, sellout success. Although how could a $165,000 car from a storied manufacturer, limited to just 250 units, not be? The F-Type SVR is the first mass-production model from Jaguar's new performance arm; this car will be the litmus test that really matters. In the opening press briefing, we hear about how successful the current lineup of F-Types has been, although saying it outsold Boxsters in one region and Audi R8s in another seems as though someone might be selecting data as bespoke as the interior trim.
Jaguar selected a hotel in the Spanish countryside for the launch. The hills are covered in alternating splotches of golden and green grass torn and upturned by jagged dark rock. Ruins of ancient castles are interspersed with ruins of abandoned factories. In many cases, the castles look to be better preserved after centuries of wear and tear compared to the modern buildings only a few years of being vacated. From a naturalistic standpoint, I can't help but think how similar this area is to California, except Spain has far more abandoned infrastructure, but ironically, it looks to have more brand-new windmills producing electricity.
Our first drive of the F-Type SVR will be a road tour to the Circuit Motorland Aragon. I originally misheard the pronunciation of Aragon and felt a little silly sporting my screen-accurate replica of the Ring of Barahir. I start the road drive in the passenger seat of what Jaguar calls the 1+1 cockpit—a similar idea to the 2+2 but even less social. The SVR gets 14-way adjustable performance seats finished in "Lozenge Quilted Leather." They are supremely comfortable, but I would give up at least four ways of adjustability to get them closer to the floor for some needed headroom. A few of the dashboard panels are covered in suede instead of more pedestrian leather and the SVR logo is embossed in the headrests. Apart from a few extra metallic splashes, including larger shift paddles, this interior isn't much different from the already excellent version in the less-exclusive F-Types.
At normal speeds on normal roads, the SVR is a good grand touring car. The new titanium and Inconel multi-mode exhaust in normal mode is always present, but doesn't drone. The new metallurgy and exhaust design gives the SVR a slightly different sound, but it can still be described as fully V-8 snarly. Open the valves on the exhaust and it transforms into the "hey, everyone look at me and cover your child's ears" mode that we've all come to know and love with modern Jaguars. It rips out nasty snarls on throttle and sounds like anti-aircraft fire on overrun. As much as I enjoy the rips and pops, it is nearly to the point of being a caricature of itself. The high-tech exhaust shaves 35 pounds off the lowest and least advantageous point of the car, however, switching to two rear mufflers instead of a single large box has allowed for a big rear diffusor—but more on that later.
The damping, active steering, all-wheel-drive system, and even the rear torque vectoring electronics have all been recalibrated for the SVR. The front antiroll bar is roughly 5 percent softer than on other models. The rear spindle has also been reworked and is a beautiful die-cast hunk of aluminum. Being 37 percent stiffer in camber and 41 percent stiffer in toe, they give the rear axle a much need boost in stability. The forged aluminum wheels are lighter and stiffer than wheels on other F-Types and the carbon ceramic brakes shave roughly 40 pounds from unsprung and rotating mass. If you spring for all the lightweight options, the SVR is up to 110 pounds lighter than a comparable F-Type R.
Normal mode on this car is closest to Dynamic Mode in lower spec F-Types but still usable in daily driving duties. The steering is a bit darty and the nose a bit too pointy for relaxed cruising, but this car might suffer from a press-launch alignment. In the numerous long sweepers on the drive route, my co-driver and I cycle through suspension settings; there is definitely a difference. In Normal Mode, you turn in and the suspension rolls and settles into a groove before you know exactly how much steering lock you will need. In Dynamic Mode, you turn the wheel and the car goes, no settling in, just commitment. In Normal Mode, the car tends to gyrate over mid-corner bumps, damping rates not quite stiff enough to control the motion. Stiffen them up with the mode selector, and suddenly every bump is one and done without being so stiff that it unsettles the car.
As you might expect, the 575 hp is more than you would or could ever use on the road. Superchargers, while not as efficient as turbochargers, provide beautifully linear torque. The boost and consequently the thrust resulting from it are ever present. The eight-speed ZF transmission is as good in this as it is in all the other cars you'll currently find it in, and ironically will zip up and down through all the gears in a car with so much torque that it could likely perform nearly as well with a four-speed.
Driving into Circuit Motorland Aragon is like a teleportation gate. You leave the Spanish ruins for a brand-new luxury race circuit. All the signage is in English and the asphalt on the roads considerably smoother.
The track is fast, the downhill backstretch especially so. There is considerable elevation change and linked corners that require either point-to-point straight-lining with big power and brake applications or gentle and patient use of power and brake in big sweeping arcs. Not being that familiar with the car at limits, and wanting to keep my reputation intact, I go for point-to-point shooting on the most challenging sections.
This is the best track-focused Jaguar road car, probably since Steve McQueen was driving his around L.A. If you're the type of person who still insists rear-wheel drive is superior to all-wheel drive for track driving, you need to drive an F-Type SVR. It will kick the back end out when you ask it to, but it will also get all 500-plus horses to the ground in a way even the best sorted rear-drive car can't. It is well balanced and has huge braking abilities; so much so that if you use all that braking power, the rear end gets light and will dance around a little more than I would like.
If you aren't standing the car on its nose with the brakes, the SVR is incredibly stable. It produces 15 percent more downforce than an R-model while also producing 2.5 percent less drag. A big part of that is the redesigned front bumper that was widened to cover more of the front tires. Remember that when you're trying to stick those aftermarket wheels out the sides of your car with aggressive offsets. That wider front bumper also has larger air inlets for increased cooling, which normally results in more drag, but the vented hood allows that air to be extracted from the engine bay and channeled up and over the car. At the back, an active spoiler works with a larger rear diffuser to keep everything planted.
I did manage to overrun the tight left-hander at the end of the back straight just once. I got the car pitched into the turn with the lightness I had mentioned and the car rotated around dutifully, but the brakes were so busy trying to keep the car in check that they wouldn't let me do anything to get the car back with throttle. It felt a bit like a video game that gives you a brief time-out after a mistake. With that said, the Jag would have saved anyone in the car, just not the lap time.
It's worth noting that I never overheated the brakes during the longer than normal for a press trip lapping session. More importantly, the Pirelli Pzeros weren't showing any signs of abnormal or uneven wear, which is generally an indicator of how well a car behaves on track.
After the track drive, we headed back to our hotel on much different roads than we saw in the morning. This route was far more technical with tighter turns and narrower lanes. After the SVR felt accurate and nimble on the track, the car was suddenly overgrown for its surroundings. With no shoulder on the road, tire placement was critical. We traveled from one tiny village to the next on roads canopied by trees. Was this the same country?
In the tiny villages, the exhaust echoed off the stucco buildings and cobblestone streets. I'm sure the procession of sports cars probably shook items off of shelves while we tried to negotiate tight corridors during siesta hours. Thankfully, our drive route finished at a Spanish monastery. At first, it seemed disrespectful to go rumbling into a place of worship with big fire-breathing V-8 symbols of automotive gluttony. Then we saw the old, traditional buildings had been supplanted with giant structures of modern architecture, which housed a pay-per-tour museum and fully stocked gift shop. I almost bought a 24-karat gold St. Christopher but decided that money should be put toward my savings account to pick up an SVR in a couple of years as a certified pre-owned.