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MAGALIESBURG – Let’s deal with the new flagship Velar’s name first: it should really sport the SVR label, reserved for Jaguar Land Rover’s most powerful performance models. Because the Velar SVAutobiography is an SVR in all but name. As evidence, consider the 405 kW and 680 N.m produced by the archaic but thoroughly wonderful 5,0-litre supercharged V8. Or the claimed 0-100 km/h sprint of 4,5 seconds (despite the premium-midsize SUV tipping the scales at well over two tonnes). Or the 274 km/h top speed. Of the fact that it looks suitably menacing as it hunkers down on its darkened 21-inch alloys housing a high-performance braking system compromising 395 mm discs at the front and 396 mm units aft.

New niche, new challenges

The Velar SVA enters a segment that didn’t exist only a few years ago. The market for midsize performance SUVs is bustling: Jaguar recently joined with the F-Pace SVR (sorry, Velar), Mercedes-AMG has facelifted the GLC63 S, BMW now ships its X3 M and X4 M here and Porsche offers the Macan Turbo. Even Alfa Romeo has quietly added the Stelvio QV to its local line-up. It’s a curious sector of the market because a performance SUV is a perfect contradiction. Take a vehicle developed to fulfil a family’s myriad space, comfort and convenience needs, then bastardise it with a spiky, thirsty performance engine, firm suspension and a raucous exhaust note.

Only, the Velar SVA strikes a fine balance between these polar opposites. On one hand, it retains all those qualities which make the standard Velar such a pleasure to live with and drive: a spacious cockpit; class-leading refinement; great seating and rolling comfort (there’s some pitter-patter you won’t find on Velars with smaller wheels and more compliance in their suspension but, still, the ride is as good as it gets in this sub-niche).

Squeeze the throttle, however, and the quad exhaust outlets drone, roar and then shriek as the V8 slingshots this solid block of metal, aluminium, wood and leather to the horizon, the bonnet lifting ever so slightly as the Velar settles on its haunches and flies. The sound is addictive, the performance equally so. Sure, the Velar SVA isn’t especially quick by class standards – a GLC63 S will leave it choking in costly unleaded fumes – but the quality and character of its performance is what sets the Brit apart. 

The handling is ever so slightly less impressive. There’s grip aplenty and – typically JLR – the steering seems perfectly geared and responsive, but the laws of physics plus the need to have a characteristically tranquil ride dictate the body will list onto the outside corners. I’ve driven an X3 M and the BMW is several degrees more dynamically talented but it can’t match the Range Rover’s natural responses, instead bludgeoning the surface underneath its bespoke tyres.

What of the cheaper F-Pace SVR?

How does the SVA compare with the F-Pace SVR to which it’s so closely related? Again, the Range Rover feels like the heavier, more refined vehicle. The Jaguar, if memory serves me correctly, is even louder still, but its interior simply can’t match the Velar’s material richness. The latter boasts beautifully stitched and quilted Windsor leather, seat heating and cooling, knurled finishes aplenty and the opinion-splitting Touch Pro Duo infotainment system (I’m one of the naysayers; the screens take your eyes off the road for simply too long).

Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the contemporary performance SUV, you and I can spend hours debating whether they should or shouldn’t exist. Give me an Audi RS6 Avant or an equivalent sports wagon any day of the week.

However, the performance SUV is here to stay and, despite not wearing an acronym it so obviously deserves, the Velar SVAutobiography is one of the best of this peculiar breed. If the world turned upside down, we were all millionaires and the performance SUV was the only option (hey, it might happen), this is the one I’d choose.   

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