If you’d have told me a few years ago that in 2020 Jaguar Land Rover would still have a big family of cars powered by supercharged V8s, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. With downsizing and ever-tighter emissions rules leading to the death of V8s and other big engines, it just didn’t seem possible, and the Range Rover Velar seemed like a model that was launched too late to get the 5.0-litre treatment.
I was sure the 3.0-litre TDV6 and P380 petrol engines were the heftiest units it’d ever receive, and yet here we are with an eight-cylinder V8 Velar, launched to the market within a year of JLR’s contract with Ford to make the engine expiring. We’ve been assured by Jaguar before that there’s a plan in place to keep supercharged V8s going past that point, but that’s something to worry about another day. Right now, I just want to get behind the wheel of this big-engined Velar, warm it up, and put my foot down.
Once I’m finally at that point, the Velar SV Autobiography Dynamic (let’s just call it ‘SVA’, shall we?) pitches its nose upwards, unleashes a demonic noise and promptly disappears into the distance. Curiously, you can hear more supercharger whine in this than is audible in the 5.0-litre V8 2020 F-Type. And while the soundtrack isn’t quite as filthy as it is in the Range Rover Sport SVR, it’s still thoroughly delicious.
0-62mph happens in 4.5 seconds, which you’ll have no trouble believing under full load. Gear changes are taken care of with a reasonable degree of efficiency via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is mostly on the ball when left up to its own devices. Chop through enough cogs and find some tarmac long enough, and the V8 Velar will hit a top speed of 170mph.
To go with the big V8, the Velar gets near-400mm brake discs all round squeezed by four-piston calipers, which feel just about up to the task. It retains the same air suspension setup of the standard Velar, treated to thousands of hours of fine-tuning and complemented by bigger anti-roll bars.
When the going gets twisty, it quickly becomes clear why this is a Velar SVA rather than an SVR. It doesn’t flop over on its door handles like an SUV of old, but the hot Velar has been quite conspicuously left fairly soft. It doesn’t have the RR Sport’s ability to stay weirdly flat during hard cornering, and the 2160kg kerb weight often catches out the front end and pushes the SVA into understeer.
The super-sharp throttle response afforded by avoiding turbochargers also doesn’t do the soft setup any favours - get too greedy with the right-hand pedal at the wrong moment, and the SVA can feel a little aloof and almost sketchy. Time your inputs a little better, though, and the all-wheel-drive system will feel the need to chuck a load of torque to the rear and enable some surprisingly lurid powerslides.
The Velar SVA may still be the product of JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations skunkworks, but it has a different agenda. It can still be driven very quickly on a country road, you just need to keep your expectations in check. The upshot of the hot Velar’s less focused setup is that when you’re just driving it around normally, it rides superbly.
It doesn’t glide as smoothly as other Velars - not helped by the 22-inch alloy wheels - but it’s a magnificent capsule of leather and metal to waft around in. Although even driven extremely gently on a longer run, you struggle to get much more than 25mpg out of it. At least it has an 84-litre fuel tank.
Standard Velar issues remain, notably the tech which, while a hell of a lot better than the stuff JLR was putting out a few years ago, still isn’t as fancy or easy to use as competitor systems like BMW i-Drive. The Velar doesn’t ride all that high either, meaning you don’t get that lofty driving position the buyers of these sorts of cars crave.
There’s also the positioning of the thing to consider. On paper it seems like a sweet spot in the Range Rover range, but it has so many cars to compete with in its own camp, and chucking a V8 at it doesn’t exactly ease the confusion.
But for those who can look through the convoluted V8 super SUV JLR line-up (we have to lump the F-Pace SVR in with that lot, remember), the £86,685 Velar does have its own appeal. It looks fabulous, and it’s significantly cheaper than a Range Rover Sport SVR while also being significantly less obnoxious.
The same goes for the BMW X5 M Competition, which is even more expensive and brash than the top Range Sport. It’ll be more capable, but do you really need the extra dynamism? I doubt it. Be classy. Be comfortable. Get the Velar. Just be prepared to set aside a little extra cheddar for those fuel bills.