2020 Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic First Drive: SVR Lite
Jaguar Land Rover’s director of its Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) sub-brand, Jamal Hameedi, describes his outfit as an amplifier for the company’s products. If the product in question has a sporty bend, SVO turns it into an SVR. If comfort or style are the overarching goals, then an SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition (SVAD) is born.
Admittedly, in most cases the determining factor on whether a car becomes an SVR or an SVAD isn’t always that clear. Sure, an F-Type SVR makes sense, just like a Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition does – those two vehicles sit at the opposite ends of the JLR performance-comfort spectrum.
But after driving the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition – yes, that’s its full name – the difference between SVO’s two treatments seems pretty arbitrary. And it’s that lack of clarity that haunts the latest Velar. This is a joy of a vehicle, but its fraternal twin, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, covers the performance angle too well. After a day driving between Malibu and downtown Los Angeles, it feels like SVO could go further in distinguishing its new SVAutobiography Dynamic’s luxury focus.
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With a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 with 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, as well as an exhaust note that can shatter the fillings of passing drivers, simply accelerating in the Velar SVAD makes apparent the thin line between SVO’s high-performance jobs and its slightly-less-high-performance cars.
This variant of the Velar can scamper to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds, matching the Range Rover Sport SVR and coming in just two-tenths of a second behind the Jaguar F-Pace SVR. At the same time, the Velar is a tick of the seconds-hand quicker than its V6-powered counterpart. All of this is to say that the Velar SVAD is pretty damn quick.
The blown 5.0-liter can thunder off the line with immediacy and the power never ebbs as the engine’s speed increases. The supercharged V8 is a refreshing change of pace in a world where turbochargers are becoming increasingly common. We wish the Land Rover had more supercharger whine, but the lack of lag and the way the engine seemingly never runs out of steam makes up for the missing sound from the blower.
The good news is that this engine isn’t really going anywhere.“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Hameedi tells us.
“We actually prefer [the supercharged V8] to some of the other technologies out there. It gives a purer exhaust sound you can’t get with turbo engines. We plan to use it for the near future.”
Sounds good to us.
No, really. It sounds better, because SVO fettled with the Velar’s exhaust setup to suit the V8 engine. The Variable Active Exhaust isn’t only 15.6 pounds lighter than the Velar’s standard setup, but it also allows the driver to adjust the system independently of the drive modes, so it can go from sonorous and rich to subdued and calm at the tap of a touchscreen.
The exhaust setup is also the most obvious visual change to the Velar SVAD. While this vehicle looks broadly similar to lesser models from every angle, its four huge, rectangular housings in the rear bumper are a dead giveaway that there’s more lurking under this Velar’s hood. These bits of trim – the exhaust pipes don’t actually have any contact with them – are almost comically large and look out of place on a vehicle that enjoys such effortlessly good looks.
Those exhaust finishers are the one bit of obvious performance-focused tinsel on the Velar. It’s impressive how restrained the aesthetic updates are, though. Impressive, and good. This is an exceptionally attractive vehicle, and SVO should be commended for making the larger intakes in the front fascia – for force-feeding that V8 and keeping the uprated brakes cool – so unobtrusive. The standard 21-inch wheels are handsome, but the optional 22s are a bit – as the kids say – “extra.” The Velar SVAutobiography’s most unique touch is a small one, though: the Range Rover badging on the nose and tailgate have a lovely knurled finish.
The overall cabin layout, much like the exterior, is largely unchanged from the standard Velar – aside from a sportier-looking steering wheel and a pair of metal paddle shifters. Instead, SVO ups the luxury quotient with more pleasant materials, from Windsor leather upholstery on the seats and dash to knurling on the round gear selector and physical knobs. There’s even a bit of digital knurling, with the all-digital instrument cluster’s graphic dials getting the touch, as well.
The overall cabin layout, much like the exterior, is largely unchanged from the standard Velar.
Unsurprisingly, the cabin’s limited changes make for a similar experience passenger experience to the SVAD’s lesser siblings. The Velar’s 20-way seats are immensely comfortable, whether driving off-road or down the highway. There’s ample support and plenty of space in both rows of seats, while sightl ines are good forward and laterally, although a little tight rearwards.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, while SVO has enhanced the Velar’s straight-line speed, its approach to the model’s aesthetics is more conservative. Changes to the vehicle’s other systems land somewhere between these two extremes.
According to SVO, the Velar SVAD gets firmer air springs and tweaked adaptive dampers, and uprated brakes with red calipers and larger rotors (the fronts increase from 13.8 inches to 15.5 inches and the rears go from 12.8 to 15.6). Engineers also adjusted the Velar’s all-wheel-drive system, fitting a stouter transfer case that’s better able to handle the V8’s torque. The system can divert up to 100 percent of the engine’s grunt to the rear axle. Finally, the Velar’s Dynamic driving mode makes the steering, suspension tuning, and transmission behavior more, um, dynamic.
The reality is that unless you’re routinely flinging the Velar around Malibu’s canyon roads, as we were, you’d be hard pressed to notice these improvements. This biggish, 4,595-pound SUV is definitely agile, with direct, well-weighted steering and a minimal amount of body roll. It’s fun, but hardly a revelatory driving experience. Instead, the Velar wows with its versatility as we go from Malibu canyon carving to commuting down the 101 back to our hotel in downtown Los Angeles; enjoying the cabin’s extreme comfort and the smooth, relaxed ride.
Unless you’re routinely flinging the Velar around canyon roads, you’d be hard pressed to notice these improvements.
It’s hard to look at the Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition as anything but the better choice between Jaguar Land Rover’s two high-performance mid-sizers. While this car’s fraternal twin, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, is inarguably sharper and more fun to drive, the Velar’s balance of those attributes along with a more conventionally attractive style and a prettier, more luxurious cabin overshadow its dynamic deficits.
They do not overshadow its hefty price premium, though. The Velar SVAD starts at $90,750, and there’s no easy way to say it, but that’s over $10,000 more than the $80,600 F-Pace SVR. Even at this price point, that’s a significant difference; enough to get us to at least consider the F-Pace SVR. And if that happens, a test drive of these two might reveal the Jag to be the more immediately likable, even if the Velar is the better choice for most people.