Pointless Pursuits

Jaguar unveils 176mph off-roader… and is swiftly eclipsed by Maserati

Diesel might be dying and saloons might be struggling, but if there remains anything in this industry that remains a sure-fire, slam-dunk, no-brainer guarantee of a sales success, it is an ultra high-performance SUV. Indeed the list of premium and luxury brands without such a car either in production, or heading that way, used to contain only Ferrari and McLaren. And now we know we can remove Ferrari from the list.

As if to make this point, two new such SUVs have been launched in the last month alone, both at the New York International Auto Show: one was expected, the other definitely not.

The car we knew about was the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, the high-performance version of the successful SUV the firm once claimed it would never make. But it is not alone in changing tack to make the most of rapidly evolving market conditions, so I don’t think it can be blamed for that. The car is exactly what you’d expect: an F-Pace fitted with the five-litre supercharged V8 used in all Jaguar and Land Rover SVR product. In this £76,835 SUV it generates 542bhp. Put another way, 25 years on here is a Jaguar off-roader with the same power as an XJ220, once the world’s fastest car. It weighs more than two tonnes but will still hit 62mph in 4.3sec and not stop until its doing 176mph. If you want to understand the strength of the market in which it now sits, consider that the F-Pace has been given the SVR treatment despite the fact that I am unaware of any parallel plans to do the same for the mainstream XE and XF saloons.

But in a strange twist on the familiar theme of Jaguar producing show stars from nowhere, and using them to steal everyone else’s thunder, in New York it was forced to swallow a spoonful of its own medicine when, out of nowhere, up popped another ultra-high performance SUV whose numbers eclipsed even those of the Jag.

It could be found on the Maserati stand in the form of the Levante Trofeo and appears tailor-made to rain on Jaguar’s parade. Its V8 engine may be a whole lot smaller at just 3.8 litres, but this is a Ferrari engine, designed and built in Maranello for use in the new Portofino convertible, so it has to be able to produce enormous power. Interestingly enough, while the Portofino engine uses the flat-plane crankshaft layout favoured by every V8 Ferrari since the 1974 Dino 308 GT4, the Levante uses a cross-plane layout as found in the vast majority of all other V8 road cars. It’s not the first time this has happened, as those who remember the 308-powered Lancia Thema 8.32 will recall and, then as now, expect the Levante to thunder rather than scream as a result.

Either way, it produces an SVR-humbling 582bhp – just 10 fewer than the Portofino – enough says Maserati to fling the Levante to 62mph in 3.8sec and on to 187mph all out. Even five years ago this would have seemed the stuff of science fiction, but now it merely puts it on a par with the Bentley Bentayga and slightly behind the forthcoming Lamborghini Urus, so goodness knows what Ferrari’s SUV will be capable of when it arrives. Will it be the world’s first 200mph off-roader? I wouldn’t bet against it. For now however, and as some comfort for Jaguar, the Levante Trofeo will probably occupy a slightly different part the market with a price tag likely to be close to £90,000.

New-Look Focus

Twenty years after Ford replaced the awful Escort with the superb original Focus, the fourth-generation car has now been announced with a claim from Ford of Europe chief Steven Armstrong that it is “Quite simply the best car in our 114-year history.” When that history includes cars from the Model T to the GT40, that’s fighting talk to say the least.

Like its predecessor the new Focus will come to the UK in five-door hatch and estate form only and, in time, a hot ST model will follow. There is no news yet about a new Focus RS, but read nothing into that because even if one is in development, Ford would not be talking about it now. My guess is that it will come and probably be the first in the series to hit 400bhp.

In the meantime, the cars that go on sale in September will be similar in size to the last Focus but more space-efficient and up to 88kg lighter model for model. This is thanks to the new C2 platform that will go on to underpin a range of new products, including the next Kuga compact SUV. All petrol engines will have three cylinders at launch with 1.0- and 1.5-litre capacities and outputs all the way from 84bhp to 179bhp. Diesel models have four cylinders of 1.5- and 2.0-litre capacities and 94bhp and 148bhp respectively.

Interestingly, and for the first time in a Focus, multi-link rear suspension is only available on more expensive models, namely those fitted with 1.5-litre petrol and 2-litre diesel engines. Everything else comes with a basic beam axle, presumably for cost-saving reasons. We will have to see what effect it has on the Focus’s perennially class-leading handling, but either Ford has refined the simple technology to a point not yet reached by any other manufacturer, or it is risking the erosion of its reputation in this area.

Müller Out At VW

The Volkswagen Group has fired its chief executive Matthias Müller, the man brought in from his role as boss of VW cars and formerly Porsche, to guide the company through the mess created by the dieselgate emissions debacle. Considerable speculation surrounds the reason for his departure, much of it suggesting that while he did a good job negotiating the stormy waters created by the scandal, he has not done enough to streamline the business and focus it on becoming the leaner, cleaner organisation mandated by its supervisory board. Some also believe that as a long-term VW man he could still be connected to dieselgate at a time when the company wants only to concentrate on the future, and it is true he has been investigated by prosecutors in Stuttgart to determine if there was anything he knew but failed to disclose at the time.

No such problems exist for his replacement Herbert Diess, who was at BMW at the time it all went wrong. A well-known industry hard man, not afraid to tough it out with the unions, VW clearly believes he is the man with the strength and vision to reinvent Volkswagen and finally put the most difficult period in its history firmly in the past.

BMW’s Pocket Rocket

Pictures of BMW’s new M2 Competition have leaked on line, revealing a 405bhp version of the coupé, a hike of 40bhp compared to the standard M2 with a commensurate increase in torque. Its 0-62mph time is said to have been cut from 4.5sec to 4.2sec, making it 0.1sec quicker than the more powerful but heavier M3. Although there is no news on price or sale date, it’s clearly not far away and will come with suspension mods, cosmetic addenda (to make sure no one mistakes it for a normal M2) and a choice of manual or automatic gears.