Talk about bad timing. CarAdvice got to drive the new, range-topping Velar SV Autobiography was on the very same day that Ford announced the impending closure of the plant that makes its V8 engine.
The Bridgend factory in Wales will be shutting in September 2020, which goes a long way to explaining why the new Velar SV is only going to be produced for a year. It’s also a reminder for anyone considering any other V8 JLR product that they shouldn’t wait too long to realise the dream.
Developed by JLR's Special Vehicle Operations division, the SV Autobiography Dynamic is closely related to the existing Jaguar F-Pace SVR, with a 405kW version of the long-serving V8 and what’s meant to be a more relaxed demeanour.
Plus, being as it wears Range Rover badges, a respectable supplement screwed onto the pricetag; at $175,322 before on-road costs it is $35,000 more than the sportier SVR.
But it's still barely half the price of the Range Rover SV Autobiography, and usefully cheaper than the Range Rover Sport SVR, yet arguably has more visual presence than either.
Because, like the lesser members of its clan, the Velar Autobiography has serious charisma and what are pretty close to street-stopping looks. Visual changes are fairly minimal and there's none of the steroidal aggression of the SVR models; instead the SVA gets a front bumper with bigger inlets and an integrated bottom edge spoiler, while the rear gains four huge exhaust finishers and a small badge.
Big 21-inch wheels are optional, but Land Rover would far prefer buyers ordered the forged 22-inchers that we tested the car on, and which look remarkably good within those vast arches.
The interior has been given a similarly subtle reworking, with most of the Velar's options kit thrown at it. Seats use quilted pattern leather and are larger and more comfortable than the hard, tight-fitting buckets of the F-Pace SVR; there are also nice-feeling alloy gear-shift paddles and some subtle carbon-fibre detailing for doors and dashboard.
But for the need to get your head around JLR's woefully unintuitive InControl Touch infotainment system, it's a mega place to spend time.
But not a spacious one. The full-sized Range Rover SV Autobiography is designed for passengers as much as drivers, especially those who choose to travel in the back of the long wheelbase version.
The Velar’s dimensions put it between segments. At 4806mm in length it almost perfectly splits the Macan and Cayenne, with the interior feeling closer in dimensions to the smaller Porsche. The SVA’s sleek roofline gives a seating position lower and more laid-back than the Range Rover norm and space in the back feels tight for adults.
We drove the SV Autobiography in Spain, with Land Rover basing the event around its Las Comes Experience Centre in the mountains near Barcelona.
That gave a chance to confirm that, despite its sporting bling, this gussied-up Velar can still cut it in the wild, with some impressive off-road performance when asked to scramble up rocky tracks while wearing its standard 21-inch wheels and all-season Pirelli Scorpion tyres.
Adaptive air suspension, which can vary ride height by up to 46mm, plus a battery of off-road driving aids mean this is a high-performance SUV you really could use to venture at least some way into the wilderness.
While hugely confident when the going gets rough, on the road the Velar felt slightly less focused. Performance is huge, but there’s markedly less dynamic focus than you’d find in a Macan Turbo, a Stelvio Quadrifoglio – or that cheaper F-Pace SVR. Refinement is good and the engine remains a star, pulling strongly from the basement to the penthouse and making some appropriately muscular noises as it does so.
The exhaust note is less aggressive than that of the SVR’s products – the Autobiography doesn’t do the fusillade of pops on a lifted throttle. SVO claims a 0-100km/h time of just 4.5-seconds, but subjectively the Velar doesn’t feel as quick as the angrier-sounding alternatives, even though it actually is.
Handling is similarly grown-up. Switchable driving modes include both Comfort and Dynamic, with obvious differences between them. In the softer mode, body control feels lacking over rougher surfaces, although high-speed refinement on Spanish Autopista freeways was excellent – and an 82-litre fuel tank should give decent range, even with the engine’s thirst for petrol.
Under enthusiastic testing we saw 16 L/100km on the trip computer, but at a cruise it should get closer to the official 11.8 L/100km NEDC rating.
Dynamic mode sharpens responses, stiffening damping and tweaking the behaviour of the electrically controlled locking rear differential. This tightens up noticeably, making the Velar feel keener to turn on the test mountain roads we drove the car on, helping it to put up a determined fight against understeer.
In slower turns, the Velar’s rear-biased power delivery is obvious, in faster stuff it feels impressively stable. Brakes are good, the chunky discs and four-pot calipers withstanding impressive abuse on some long descents and the eight-speed auto shifts cleanly under manual command as well.
But although it is composed and hugely competent when asked to go fast, it does feel like it’s missing a Plus setting to turn it into the beast it almost is.
Of course, SVO argues that the F-Pace SVR is the one that’s meant to provide the biggest thrills and the SV Autobiography’s brief is to be more luxurious and laid-back. Spinning such different models from the same core architecture – the two cars are almost identical under the skin – gives a chance to see which approach is more popular.
It’s not been plain sailing at SVO recently; the plan to build a two-door coupe version of the Range Rover were axed after insufficient interest from buyers, the proposed V8-powered Discovery SVX being similarly stillborn. With JLR losing serious amounts of cash, and rumours of new ownership soon, SVO has to deliver success to justify its continued existence.
The Velar SV Autobiography will reach Australia later this year and looks certain to be the last model JLR will launch to use its long-serving V8. We will miss it when it’s gone.
Nuts & bolts
- Engine: 4999cc, V8, supercharged
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Power 405kW @ 6000rpm
- Torque 680Nm @ 2500rpm
- 0-100km/h 4.5-sec
- Top speed 274km/h
- Weight 2160kg
- Economy 11.8l/100km (EUDC)
- CO2 270g/km (EUDC)
- Price: $175,322 (before on-road)