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Range Rover and racetrack – not two concepts you’d expect to see put into the same sentence, and yet the 2018 Range Rover Sport SVR is exactly the vehicle that encourages such folly. Don’t worry, you’ll have a hard time getting your head around the fact that a big heavy SUV can travel as quickly around a racetrack as this thing can, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
First, though, let’s have a look at the raw numbers. You can read our full pricing guide for the 2018 Range Rover Sport here, but the numbers alone are worth examining.
Starting with the price, the Sport SVR kicks off from $238,200 before the usual raft of on-road costs, so it’s not for the faint-hearted, but then performance of this magnitude rarely comes cheap. Options aren’t cheap either: the raw carbon-fibre bonnet costs more than $14K, and the exterior carbon-fibre trim pack is another $10K should you desire it.
The most powerful and obnoxious – there’s another word you don’t expect to see associated with the Range Rover brand – example of the breed is a heavy-hitting performance weapon. That’s the case even before you take into account the fact that it’s a 2310kg 4WD wagon. The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 thunders out 423kW and a monstrous 700Nm, while it will nail the 0–100km/h run in a scant 4.5 seconds.
Take in those numbers again. It wasn’t that long ago supercars were making less power and torque, and taking longer to get to 100km/h from a standstill. This, from a large SUV that can just as easily tackle a muddy off-road jaunt – as we tested at launch. It’s staggering when you think what can be extracted from a vehicle so capable in two polar opposites in terms of driving proficiency.
Range Rover has put the SVO on a diet too, despite that rather portly weight figure. The full carbon-fibre bonnet is part of the weight-loss programme, and the overall figure for the SVR is 25kg lighter than its predecessor. The seats, for example, are 30kg lighter than before thanks to the adoption of magnesium frames.
The price isn’t cheap and the SVR itself isn’t for shrinking violets. Even with the exhaust in its most muted setting, it bellows to redline, wakes up the neighbours and scares anyone in its path into the shrubbery.
The engine note is as intoxicating behind the wheel of the Sport as it was when we tested the Jaguar F-Type SVR recently, and it certainly doesn’t jar with the SUV surroundings of the cabin. Open the exhaust up or move into Dynamic mode and the soundtrack deepens, increases in crescendo and gets even more urgent. Enticed to drive like a lair? Absolutely.
While subtle changes have been made both externally and inside the cabin, the SVR story is all about the drive experience.
On-road first, we’re genuinely surprised by how calmly the SVR tackles rough B-roads. Its ability to soak up ruts and bumps and manage unseen potholes is at complete odds with what we know it to be capable of on-track. It’s sharper than a Range Rover Vogue, or regular Sport sure, but nowhere near as harsh as you’d expect.
The steering is meaty, the brakes exceptional, and the general road-holding capacity as good as, if not better than, any other sports SUV. If you like your daily commute to feature a measure of theatre (not to mention luxury), and an SUV is your kind of thing, your shopping list will only consist of one vehicle. The SVR can tool along in relatively quiet luxury at town speeds, insulated, the world around you nicely muted as you’d expect from a Range Rover. And yet, nail the throttle and everything gets blurry very quickly. It’s a constant transition between Jekyll and Hyde.
You can flow through wide open country lanes or tighter mountain roads with ease, and there’s a strange precision to the way the SVR ploughs forward relentlessly. Strange in that it’s the last thing you expect from an SUV at this end of the spectrum. Body control is taut and turn-in is surprisingly sharp too.
You will notice the nose heading skyward and weight transferring hard to the rear under heavy acceleration, but once the nose settles back down toward terra firma, the SVR is deceptively easy to pedal rapidly on a public road.
The usual Range Rover niceties remain apparent – as sir or madam would expect, no doubt. Cabin opulence, beautiful leather trim, lashings of carbon fibre, and high-tech instrumentation all ensure you feel special when you’re seated in the front or back row. It’s a vital part of the Range Rover DNA no matter how performance-oriented the platform, and the Sport SVR nails the brief very nicely indeed.
Coming in for special mention is the Touch Pro Duo combination of two 10.0-inch touchscreens in the centre console and the 12.0-inch TFT driver’s display. There’s also a detailed 10.0-inch head-up display. We love the head-up display, and the driver’s instrumentation is excellent, but the twin touchscreens are amazing in their clarity and breadth of control display.
The fire and brimstone all take place under the skin, though, some of which is raw carbon-fibre via way of option, and you’d be mad not to tick that box. The 5.0-litre V8 is mated to an eight-speed automatic, with the 21-inch wheels standard, while lighter 22s are optional. Those exceptional brakes I mentioned measure 380mm up front and 365mm out back, and on-track you need every bit of them to haul the mega SUV down from speeds approaching insanity.
Head to the racetrack, as we were lucky enough to do, and there’s definite ability to access the thunderous performance on hand. If you drive smoothly, as any race instructor will ask you to do, you can coax the big Sport along at wicked pace. We cracked 250km/h heading toward the 36-degree banking at Jaguar/Land Rover’s test track in the British Midlands. Ease onto the brakes, then lean into them harder as you feel them working, and you can wash off serious pace quickly, before tipping into the banking at 110km/h.
The Sport SVR does float a little up at that speed over surface imperfections on the test track, but then you’d almost expect a sedan to start moving around a little at that speed too. It never feels uncertain or floaty, and doesn’t wander around in the lane either.
It’s a reassuring vehicle to push hard. In fact, you really have to wrestle with your brain, which is screaming at you that you should be slowing down, braking earlier, turning in slower and not standing on the throttle so early in such a large SUV. It’s a riot at speed, exhaust note cracking off the walls and fencing as the big V8 hammers its way up to redline.
Most surprisingly after our track thrash, Land Rover set up a challenging, slippery and technical off-road course. It’s the last place we’d expect to point the SVR and we’d expect owners to avoid puddles, let alone mud bogs. On performance tyres, at road pressures, the SVR eats up the sloppy, muddy inclines and descents with ridiculous ease. Using the same off-road mode, low-range and extra ride height of the Vogue PHEV we tested the day before, the Sport SVR is as much a weapon off-road.
That’s the rub too. Forget whether buyers will ever use the SVR off-road. They probably won’t ever stretch its legs on a racetrack either. The reality, though, is that the SVR can do both – and do both very well. It’s a unique buying proposition.
The noise is intoxicating, and you’ll be giggling like a loon every time you crack the throttle open. If you don’t, you should probably be checking for a pulse.
Does the Sport SVR make sense? Not really, but then again you’re not buying a performance SUV for reasons of sense. You’re buying it for the statement it makes and the knowledge of its performance potential. The Sport SVR is one of the best, if not the very best, in this segment and its off-road prowess puts it a class apart from any other performance-focused SUV.
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