2015 Range Rover Sport SVR Review

The Range Rover Sport SVR is the most dynamic Range Rover to date. How does it fare as a potential Cayenne-killer?
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Is the 2015 Range Rover Sport SVR all the flagship high-performance SUV it could be? The answer is no it isn’t. Not quite.

If you’ve come in (fashionably) late to the party, the Sport SVR presents a formidable set of credentials. It’s the fastest and most-powerful Land Rover ever produced, has scintillating 4.7-second 0-100km/h acceleration potential and a 260km/h top speed.

Further, this most “dynamically focused” of its breed has obtained a remarkable 8 minute, 17 second Nurburgring Nordschleife lap time, and happens to be the first model to bear SVR markings by way of Jaguar Land Rover’s new Special Vehicle Operations division.

It certainly hammers its credentials to the go-faster mast in no uncertain terms.

Keen buyers late to the order the $218,500 plus on-roads SUV now have roughly a four-month — and growing — wait as the 60 units vouched for represent most of Land Rover Australia’s 2015 stock allocation. Read the pricing and specifications story on the Range Rover Sport SVR here.

If you have ordered one, here’s hoping you optioned the 22-inch wheels fitted with fat, sticky 295/40 R22 Continental SportContact 5 tarmac rubber. That’s because the 275/45 R21 all-season Cross Contact tyres, as standard fitment, seriously undermine the Sport SVR’s handling prowess, of which we only had glimpses at the local launch held on a closed test circuit.

Those multi-terrain tyres aren’t all bad news. The brief for SVR isn’t simply raw performance, but a package capable of the sort of levels of luxury and off-road ability expected from the Land Rover fold.

And even a brief excursion on our road-like test track in Auto drive mode suggests the sort of quiet, cosseting isolation, superb refinement and gentile ride quality shared with the rest of the Sport range. At a cruise, it’s absolutely serene in character, and hardly the hard-edged, comfort-compromised package you might reasonably have presumed given the prodigious performance claims.

It’s 405kW rating is officially one kilowatt higher than the hardest-core Jaguar F-Type Coupe R with which it shares its supercharged 5.0-litre V8, and probably by marketing design. Add 680Nm and the Sport SVR certainly has the measure by the numbers of established benchmark large SUVs in BMW’s X5 M, Porsche’s petrol V8 Cayennes and Mercedes-Benz’s ML63 (soon to be GLE63). Unlike these German rivals, the Sport SVR is utterly British in design, package engineering and build.

The revised face – specific angular front bar with trapezoidal intakes, dark finished grille, xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights – and vented bonnet and front guards add purpose without detracting much from the Sport’s inherent styling sophistication, while the rear ‘diffuser’, roof spoiler and quad tailpipes makes the SVR variant quite distinguishable from the rear.

The visual effect of the optional Santorini Black roof finish, subtle wheel arch extensions and monstrous wheels fattens the stance of the already handsome Sport exterior design. It looks particularly purposeful in SVR-exclusive Estoril Blue, one of seven available body colour combinations.

The comprehensive exterior enhancements typify the long list of equipment and SVR-specific alterations fitted as standard that can be found here.

Central to changes inside are the front bucket seats, which look and feel thoroughly race ready, yet offer plenty of seat back and squab support and are very comfortable once you’ve fiddled amongst its 16-way electric adjustment. You do sit very high, however, robbing it of the low-slung sportiness experienced in the rival X5 M and Cayenne.

The second-row seating mirrors the first-row design, complete with reclining functionality and race harness cutaways, to create a faked four-seater theme (the central rear position is usable at a pinch). They’re as comfortable and purposeful as the fronts despite lacking the same multi-adjustment, and though the arrangement isn’t as practical as a rear ‘bench’ it suits the performance theme and separates the SVR from regular Sport stock. Both rows are roomy and airy, and head, shoulder and knee room abound.

The Oxford leather trim is quite sumptuous, and while our test cars were fitted carbonfibre accoutrements, there’s also a choice of slick turned aluminium. The all-black with white piping of our test car is particularly fetching in an almost sinister manner, though more adventurous tastes can option two-tone black/white, black/red or black/tan schemes.

Fit, finish and materials are absolutely top line. Far from a stripper, this Rangie feels absolutely full-frills, which bears out in its 2338kg kerb weight.

Features and infotainment are generally aligned with other Sport models and the eight-inch infotainment interface works well enough if you have a preference for touchscreens, which can be much more attention-robbing than using centre console controllers as favoured by BMW (iDrive) and Audi (MMi). Thankfully the voice recognition system bypasses finger-prodding for some functionality, such as sat-nav, phone and radio control. Premium touches include surround sound audio courtesy of a whopping 825-watt, 19-speaker Meridian sound system, stainless steel sports pedals and neat, configurable mood lighting.

With the rear seats folded, the SVR is claimed to have 1761 litres, though unlike some stablemates the powered tailgate is a single- rather than split-style arrangement.

There’s a pleasant, muted throb from the ‘active’ exhaust system, which has larger diameter (60mm) pipes than the regular Supercharged V8 over which the SVR engine claims a 30kW and 50Nm benefit. Sink the boot, though, and at around 3000rpm electronically controlled valves open two of the available four pipes, unleashing sonic fury right out of a Motorsport’s Greatest Hits soundtrack right through to the 6800rpm redline. Quite handily, the ‘loud’ mode can also be overridden for high-engine-load off-road work, or engaged permanently for Ride of the Valkyries sonic fury during light-throttle cruising.

The Sport SVR certainly feels quick, though working hard for its supper against the hefty kerb mass. And that supper is a claimed combined consumption of 13.8L/100km that balloons out to 20.6L/100km for the urban cycle, let alone the kind of thirst you might imagine during a proper belting around a circuit.

The transmission is an eight-speed stall convertor automatic, the rather brilliant ZF-sourced ‘8HP’ unit as used in more performance large SUVs than you might be able to name. It’s operates smoothly cruising, shifts crisply when called to arms — even rev-matching on manual downshifts — and is nicely matched to the torquey character of the V8.

Engaging Dynamic mode — the only red-hot tarmac setting in Terrain Response 2’s suite of otherwise off-road/broken surface presets — alters the Sport SVR’s character noticeably, though the heightened responses of the handling package aren’t as hard-core as expected.

Despite the specific SVR tuning applied to the air suspension, active roll control, torque vectoring and electronic rear differential, the Dynamic mode is less hard-edged and urgent than many German rivals. In fact, while the chassis does firm up and flexes its muscles somewhat, there’s plenty of body roll and pronounced dive under braking.

That said, it’s quite a well-balanced vehicle, it leans on outside rear tyre with poise in the mid-corner, and is quite adjustable in how the front and rear ends respond to throttle inputs. The all-wheel-drive system, using an electrically controlled multi-plate-clutch centre differential, shuffles ample torque (up to 100 per cent) rearward just when you want it to, when exiting a corner with all guns ablaze.

The systems at play behave in manners that you’d expect a performance-bred vehicle should. You just run out of grip on those standard fitment tyres….very quickly and surprisingly suddenly. Without ‘those 22s’, the chances of getting close to a claimed, supercar-like 1.3G peak lateral cornering load, even for a nanosecond, is pure fantasy.

Instead, the Sport SVR runs out of front grip before you expect it, so you lift off the throttle and the tail swings with alarming urgency, usually lurching against the ESP system. You can sense much electronic intervention going on beneath even at a modest clip in compensation for a lack of core ability: meagre road-holding grip.

As a result, when pedal-ed hard the Sport SVR, thus tyred, demands consummate driver accuracy with a fair measure of restraint to get its hustle on. And a flurry of inputs to keep its mass in check should a driver put a foot or hand wrong. In short, it’s not as fun as it could — and should — otherwise be. And you sense the greatest and most ferocious Range Rover yet devised is only a set of tyres away from fulfilling its rightful legacy.

Less tyre-centric, and quite notable, is the lack of steering feel from the electric-power-assisted steering. And if there was a vehicle that would really benefit from amplified communication through the direction finder, it’s one capable of high speed yet hampered by modest front-end purchase into the road below.

So the Sport SVR gets full marks for maintaining Range Rover’s high levels of comfort and luxury, scores well on feel-good character and straight-line pace as has been promised, and cops a couple of crucial markdowns in dynamics, some of which is an easy, rubbery fix. However, with a local launch program concentrated purely on off-street hot-lapping, the jury is out regarding the depth of the SUV’s off-road abilities.

As tested, it’s a superb and flexible all-rounder. And would make a fantastic daily driver along High Street. But then again, so do the less-heroic, more regular Sport variants.

In the Sport SVR form, though, the sort of greatness it aspires to is quite close. Yet not quite close enough where it counts.