It certainly took a while, but with the arrival of the 2016 Range Rover Sport SVR, British off-road marque Land Rover, has finally released a fire breathing, crackle and pop version of its luxury SUV.
Not only is it the first Land Rover to emerge from the brand’s newly formed Special Vehicle Operations, it’s also the fastest, most powerful and most dynamically focused Land Rover ever produced.
As you might expect of this 2333kg extra-special Rangie, the $224,110 (plus on-roads) SVR has got grunt by the truckload, powered by an engine borrowed from the Jaguar F-type R that has been given even more boost.
A combination of old fashioned cubic inches and forced induction sees the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 dish out a thumping 405kw and 680Nm (up 30kW/55Nm on the standard supercharged V8 Range Rover Sport) to all four wheels.
Nail the throttle from a standing start and this otherwise demure luxury SUV will hit 100km/h in a blistering 4.7 seconds – rain, hail or shine. Top speed is a claimed 260km/h (electronically limited). That said, it’s less about the numbers with the SVR and more about the visceral effects on those lucky enough to be in the driver’s seat.
No doubt it feels mighty quick, but it’s not intimidatingly so, such is the refinement of this drivetrain. For me, there isn’t a finer automatic transmission on the market than the smooth ZF 8HP70 eight-speed unit mated to this hugely capable engine.
Move the shifter into 'Sport' mode and the SVR launches without even a single chirp from the tyres, before rocketing through the quarter-mile mark in 12.5 seconds flat (as timed at Sydney Dragway). And that’s in auto mode – only for fear of not being quick enough on the draw with the paddle-shifters, and spoiling the run entirely.
Then there are the associated aural fireworks. There’s no better sound than winding up this powerhouse of an engine in the most manic 'Dynamic' setting, while moving up and down the cogs using those quick-shifting paddles, especially on the downshift. It’s a sound that’s hard to describe – part battle tank and part GT racer, though the result is pure bliss to the ears, like no other SUV before it.
That said, for those less manic journeys to and from the office, you can travel in stealth mode, or there’s a wonderful switch decorated with an image of two exhaust tips – tap it, and you still get that pronounced crackle on the overrun at lower speeds.
The SVR is also surprisingly smooth. Unlike some of its turbocharged V8 rivals that deliver their boost in a more aggressive fashion, the SVR is wonderfully linear in its power delivery, and there’s a level of supercharger-driven surge that simply refuses to let up, even under a sustained full-throttle run at the dragway.
Mind, it’s not the fastest luxury bus on the market, that somewhat irrational prize goes to the $284,300 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, which needs just 4.1 seconds to get to 100km/h, while the value for money $185,510 BMW X5 M claims 4.2 seconds for the benchmark sprint.
Mind blowing, isn’t it? Here’s a bunch of practical, family-hauling SUVs capable of blowing off some of the world’s most revered sports cars – and not only in a straight line.
Take the SVR, which was developed at the famed Nurburgring, with world-class handling and dynamics a key requirement for the vehicle.
In 2014, during initial tests as a prototype, it lapped the legendary Nordschleife circuit in an official 8 minutes 14 seconds, one of the fastest times ever recorded by a standard production series SUV. To provide some perspective, that’s a second quicker than the revered BMW 1 Series M Coupe.
To handle the intense lateral loads this SUV is capable of generating, the SVR gets a number of chassis enhancements. For starters, it rides 8mm lower than the Range Rover Sport, though it looks to sit even lower in the metal. SVO’s chassis engineers have also fettled the air springs and adaptive damper settings, for less body roll and more agility.
And therein lies the magic of this vehicle. Sure it’s a tad (and I do mean just a tad) firmer, but it’s still nothing less than a luxury ride even over the firmest of bumps, or busted-up roads. And just like its two-tonne-plus German rivals, the SVR’s ability to carve up corners like a well-sorted hot hatch is what most boggles the mind. Lean on it hard into a nicely cambered bend and there’s simply no need to throttle back.
It’s not quite as sharp as its Porsche or BMW rivals, but body control and weight balance feels well sorted - despite the driver being acutely aware of the SVR’s substantial weight, but there are no nasty surprises in store if it all goes a bit wrong. The 380mm Brembo brakes are very capable, with a reassuring pedal feel to boot, though they’re no different to the front stoppers fitted to the standard V8 supercharged Sport.
Here’s why. The front fog lights have been replaced with sizeable vents, which direct significantly more airflow to cool those dinner-plate-size discs.
The revised electric power steering system on board the SVR features variable ratio with speed-sensitive assistance and added weight for better feel when you’re hustling along through the twisties. Again, it’s not as precise as the Cayenne, but it also feels less manic and more suited to the daily drive.
There’s a huge amount of grip from the optional 22-inch alloy wheels shod with 295/40 series ContiSportContact tyres - it’s a $4800 package, but you also get flared wheel arches, which supersede the standard-fit 275/45 series all-season rubber on 21-inch alloys. It begs the question as to why the larger wheel and tyre package isn’t standard fitment, given the SVR’s inherent focus toward on-road performance and handling.
However, despite the enormous engineering work that must go into creating super SUV’s like the Range Rover Sport SVR, I’d be surprised if any will ever be let loose on the track or venture farther off road than a dirt driveway at the weekend property. That’s not to say this highly-strung version of the Range Rover Sport isn’t as capable as it’s less-powerful siblings off the beaten track. I’ve driven the Sport in rivers and up steep muddy slopes and it didn’t miss a beat, at least on the standard issue rubber.
But then, that’s not really what these vehicles are about, are they?
It’s the styling, craftsmanship, comfort and exclusivity that go hand-in-hand with the performance credentials, and frankly, that’s where the SVR starts to pull ahead of the competition.
The intense Estoril Blue paint finish is superb, and the lowered ride height signals the SVR’s performance intentions better than any other. If that alone doesn’t provide the right level of attention, then let the industrial-size quad exhaust pipes do all the hollering.
The deep, vent-laden front splitter is a telltale sign too, though somehow, the carbon-fibre insert on our vehicle’s grille went missing over the course of our test period – it remains an unsolved mystery at this point.
Inside, it’s all top-notch materials from floor to ceiling, with lashings of the softest leather and Alcantara, along with beautifully lacquered carbon-fibre panels throughout, which add to the bespoke nature of the SVR and replace the standard aluminium trim.
Creature comforts are plenty, too, such as the sliding panoramic roof and an 825-watt Meridian audio system with 19 speakers that produces one of the finest sounds ever heard in an SUV.
There are also adaptive headlamps with automatic high beam; a surround camera system, heated seats front and back and an eight-inch high-res touchscreen that accommodates all of the infotainment functions.
There’s comfortable seating for four adults, with individual-style racing buckets upholstered in premium Oxford leather, though a fifth person can be squeezed in for shorter trips if necessary.
Luggage space is decent and able to swallow a wide 6-foot 8-inch surfboard, as well as beach gear and a couple of soft bags. The only hassle is that the rear seatbacks don’t fold properly flat, which is more a nuisance than an outright problem.
Safety is well catered for, too, with side, front-seat, thorax and pelvis airbags for both front seat passengers. Electronic driver aids include Roll Stability Control, Blind Spot Monitoring system, Cornering Brake Control, Hill Decent Control, Electronic Traction Control and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring system.
It might not be the fastest brick in town, but it is the most exclusive. From pace to space and comfort on and off the beaten track, there is simply no other vehicle with a mix of talents so broad as the Range Rover Sport SVR. And for that you pay a premium.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke.