The Velar SV Autobiograph has what its designer calls a “pumped” look. Picture: MARK SMYTH
The Velar SV Autobiograph has what its designer calls a “pumped” look. Picture: MARK SMYTH

The welcome letter said 2019 is a special year for Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO), “which celebrates its fifth anniversary”.

Actually, SVO began a few decades ago at the Land Rover assembly facility in SA where a cab-only chassis was converted for a range of vehicles including game viewers and military.

Special Vehicles was also launched in Europe to produce military and emergency vehicles and these were all Land Rovers. It was only five years ago that the modern SVO, now including Jaguar, was launched and while its origins might be open to debate, the new and improved SVO is a very different operation indeed.

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We were discussing the origins at the launch of the latest SVO model, the Range Rover SV Autobiography Dynamic. It’s the seventh vehicle from the modern SVO, not counting some of the classic recreations and continuation models and easily the one with the longest name.

It’s the current pinnacle of the Velar range, which Land Rover sold 65,000 of in 2018 and which picked up the World Car Design Award in the same year. According to Jamal Hameedi, engineering director of SVO, it’s more of a driver’s car than the Range Rover Autobiography, because some customers like to be involved in the drive. And Hameedi knows all about driving: he arrived at SVO from Ford Performance where he oversaw the latest GT40.

The rear gets a new bumper to accommodate the larger exhaust system and a surprisingly small badge for such a long name. Picture: SUPPLIED
The rear gets a new bumper to accommodate the larger exhaust system and a surprisingly small badge for such a long name. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Velar is no GT40 though, it’s a Land Rover, which means it can go off-road. We did and it did everything we expected it to do as we utilised the various settings in the Terrain Response system. But no-one’s going to take their Range Rover Velar SV Autobiography off-road so it’s not about rock crawling but power, lots and lots of power.

It uses the 5.0l supercharged V8 producing 405kW and 680Nm, enough to propel it to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds, the same as the recently launched Jaguar F-Pace SVR which shares the same platform, before going on to a top speed of 274km/h.

It’s been extensively re-engineered too, with variable active valves, unique damper settings, smaller springs on the air suspension, recalibrated transmission, SV brakes and steering and revised torque vectoring by braking.

It also has a bespoke Dynamic mode, forged 21 or 22-inch alloy wheels that are 2.5kg lighter than the cast alloys on the rest of the range and an exhaust button, because what’s power without noise.

There are design changes too with slightly changed lower bodywork to make it look “more pumped".

The interior is full of Autobiography luxury and the latest Jaguar Land Rover tech. Picture: SUPPLIED
The interior is full of Autobiography luxury and the latest Jaguar Land Rover tech. Picture: SUPPLIED

There’s also a new front bumper and grille that allow for more air flow and a “chin splitter” that Egan says has been designed to provide the optimum height for on and off-road usage. There are hidden fog lights in the front valance too while the rear has a new bumper to allow for the larger exhaust system.

It is also an Autobiography, which means luxury to go with the Dynamic performance side of it. The interior gets quilted Windsor leather and there are metal weave carbon fibre trim inserts. The steering wheel is thicker and it gets the Autobiography knurling on some of the dials.

“Not huge changes on the vehicle, but a series of curated changes” is how Egan describes it.

On the road the SVAD displayed all the characteristics you would expect. The combination of the V8 and its supercharger means it launches in a way that belies its significant heft, even out of tight corners where the steering was precise and the body roll minimal, although slightly more so than the Range Rover Sport with its anti-roll wizardry.

It felt rewarding without being overly demanding, although as with any performance SUV, it’s important to remember the laws of physics when commanding nearly two tons. Its performance can be as gentle as you like in urban areas or as full-on as you dare when conditions allow and when you find yourself slotting in with a group of Porsche and Lotus owners blasting between Spanish villages.

It’s not as precise as one of the Porsche SUVs or as raucous as the Range Rover Sport SVR. Instead the range-topping Velar is a combination of luxurious and athletic in a way that reflects its award-winning exterior design.

When it arrives in SA in September or October this year at a price of R1,714,000  it’s likely to have an edge over its Jag sibling by virtue of its inherent off-road ability. If you want to brag, then of course it also has a much longer name.