Character. Personality. Soul? Whatever: cars have attributes that make them feel the way they do. The Porsche 911 is the only sports car that feels like a Porsche 911. The Ford Ka – the original one – was the only city car with the vibrancy it had when it was launched. The Mk3 Toyota MR2 was, for me, more engaging than any Mazda MX-5 of the same era. Drive any one today and you will still feel it: character.
And this week, Jaguar proudly said that its new F-Pace SVR is the only car in its class to have a 5.0-litre V8 – and not just that, but with a supercharger, too. And it’s true. Any SVR Jaguar’s character – Project 7, Project 8, F-Pace, F-Type – is defined more than anything by that tremendously appealing (if not very efficient) big engine in its nose.
It defines a lot. The car’s general layout, of course, but also its driving characteristics. Longitudinally mounted and driving most of its power backwards, it gives a car that front-engined, rear-driven balance that I like so much, even when mated to asymmetrical four-wheel drive.
The amount of power and torque it produces pretty much obliges the use of a limited-slip differential. That the engine is big means the wheelbase is, typically, long. And the weights aren’t central, as they are in a mid-engined Ferrari, which changes direction much more quickly and willingly. In a Jaguar, masses are pushed towards the ends of the car, which makes for a bigger and lazier moment of inertia.
The weight in the nose would cause the car to push onwards into understeer in a corner in its steady state, but Jaguar’s engineers work on the dynamics to quell that a little – and the driver can help, too, by getting the entry speed right and trailing the brakes gently towards the apex, which keeps weight on the nose, gets purchase in the front tyres and eases off grip at the rear.
Then you get back on the throttle, the V8 makes a noise like thunder and the car gently starts to move around a little and straighten itself. It’s involving, engaging, alluring. It’s character. Personality. Yes, I’ll say it: soul.
What happens to this, then, I asked Ross Restell, Jaguar’s SV dynamics manager, when you lose the engine? Where does the character come from?