The sheer, staggering performance capabilities of modern SUVs is, first and foremost, a measure of how far chassis and suspension technology has come. It all started with Porsche’s divisive but profitable Cayenne, the first really decent-handling performance SUV of them all.
It’s even madder today. The latest versions are laugh-out-loud fast, whacking you gleefully around the chops with their boost sticks and demonstrating enough cornering grip to see both your eyes ending up on the same side of your face. The same goes for Jaguar Land Rover’s recent forays into the art of sharp-driving SUVs. The Range Rover Sport set a Pikes Peak class record in 2013 – a record Bentley is now going after with the genuinely incredible (like it or not) Bentayga.
Then there’s the F-Pace. We can’t dispute that it drives well. At its launch, Matt R called it “a gem to drive,” so it’s clearly not without talent. This week we learned that it’s getting an SVR version with the hard-edged, sexy, angry supercharged V8 from the JLR stable. That’ll be 542bhp. In a medium-sized SUV.
What you might have overlooked is that neither the XE nor XF saloons have been granted this honour, yet. As far as we know, wrestling a roaring V8 into both cars (which share chassis architecture) should be possible. So why hasn’t it happened? The truth is, rather predictably, all down to money.
You already know that SUVs are the thing right now. They sit the driver up higher so Joe (or Jo) Average feels more important. They give a better view of the road. They imply greater status and wealth, for some archaic, primal reason no doubt linked to size. In short, people want to buy them. But physics dictates that these taller, heavier cars can never handle with as much directness, balance and panache as a lower, lighter car.
Sure, you can fudge it with fast steering ratios, clever suspension and all the power in the world, but if you put the same developmental muscle into an SUV and a saloon that use essentially the same chassis, as the XE/XF and F-Pace do, the SUV fundamentally couldn’t be better to drive. That, in turn, means that the majority of real people with real money would rather buy an image than a better car. After all, if the driving position and implied status are all you want, why not just buy an Evoque?
We can’t help but think that this is a bit sad. We know the money-spinning F-Pace is good for business, and we’re 100 per cent behind British manufacturing. We also know the F-Pace SVR will be an awesome thing, but an XE SVR would be better, and truer to what physics and tradition say is the best layout for a sports car. It would, to us, have a credibility that no hot SUV ever can, no matter how fast they’ll go around corners.
We can’t afford a new F-Pace SVR, and we couldn’t afford a theoretical XE SVR either, but only one of those cars would have us sitting in front of the classifieds, dreaming of owning one someday. Sorry, Jaguar, but it’s not the F-Pace.