► Range Rover Sport SVR UK review
► Land Rover deploys F-type R V8
► High-performance SUV: 4.7sec 0-62mph
The fastest Land Rover ever. That’s the tag-line for the new Range Rover SVR, and were this 1955 rather than 2015, that might mean celebrating the fact a Landie could actually crack 60mph, not how quickly it got there. But times change; expectations, too. Fifteen years ago we demanded our SUVs drive like cars. Now they have to be able to flip-off Porsche Caymans around the Nürburgring.
That’s a tall order from a tall car that shares its kerb weight, centre of gravity, and aerodynamic qualities with a mobile blood bank. Which is where the SVR bit comes in. SVR is one strand of JLR’s Special Operations division, whose remit includes handling personalisation requirements that couldn’t be dealt with on the main production line and building limited run cars such as the Project Seven F-type and £1m lightweight E-types.
Unlike those cars, SVR models, of which there’ll be a slew dotted across the JLR portfolio in the coming years, go down the main production lines, and are an answer to the output of BMW’s M, and Quattro GmbH. Whether they wear a Jaguar or Land Rover badge, SVR cars will always have more power and less weight than the cars on which they’re based, asserts SVR boss and ex-Williams man Paul Newsome, and will always be more engaging to drive, but never at the expense of usability.
Crucially, they’ll also always be four-wheel drive, Newsome hinting at an acknowledgement within the company that power levels are now too high for Jaguar’s rear-wheel-drive chassis – or perhaps, more pointedly, the cars’ owners – to cope with.
Range Rover Sport SVR: the spec changes
The engineering changes wrought to imbue a Range Rover Sport Autobiography with those qualities weren’t huge. Pretend bucket seats (far more comfy than they look) contribute to a 40kg weight reduction, as do the wheels. Standard rims are 21inch, clothed in mud and snow tyres, but most buyers will go for the optional 22s, with bespoke Continental SportContact tyres that are 20mm wider, triggering the addition of colour-coded arch spats on all four corners.
Even so equipped, and matched with a pair of gaping front air intakes and large rear spoiler, the car looks a little disappointing, at least to my eyes, as if it’s undone its top button, but the tie’s still in place. That’s surprising, given the company’s readiness to embrace the baroque in recent years, and also since this is its answer to aftermarket stuff from the likes of Kahn and Overfinch as much as it is a riposte to AMG.
Where it does shout loudly, it’s hideously out of tune, witness the foul red striping on the interior of some cars that makes the seats look like the things they sit on in the dugout at Old Trafford. The Germans do a much better job of telegraphing their cars’ abilities, the irony being that the SVR is dynamically light years better than any SUV Quattro GmbH could ever come up with.
The biggest indicator of its ability is how quickly you forget you’re in an SUV. The body control is superb, the steering beautifully weighted with that confidence-inspiring definition just off centre that JLR is so good at. Making SUVs accelerate like 4 sports cars isn’t difficult with enough power. Where they fall down (or off, or even over) is usually in direction changes and under braking. But the SVR is absolutely controlled. It’s an enjoyable car to drive, with no ‘for an SUV’ caveat.
Depressing the Terrain Response rotary controller and twisting it one click to the left throws a pair of red rings around the virtual instruments (which still don’t do really anything worthwhile, four years after JLR first introduced the tech), increases roll resistance, firms the steering, tweaks the shift-map and sharpens the throttle response. You can clearly feel the benefits, but it’s pleasing to see that you miss very little by leaving the dial in its default auto position.
And we can’t think of another production SUV that sounds anywhere near as wicked as this. Active flaps in the exhaust open under extreme load (or 24/7, if you press the dash button with the tailpipe motif) and unleash a proper V8 bellow that’s only slightly less demonic than the sound of the Jaguar F-type R that donates its engine. It’s exquisitely judged: hair erecting when accelerating, absolutely imperceptible at other times.
Is it quick?
The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 makes the same 543bhp and 502lb ft it does in the F-type R, up from 503bhp and 461lb ft in the RR Sport Autobiography, receiving only minor calibration changes from F-type tune to suit its off-road driveability. The acceleration is relentless, but never overwhelming. Zero to 62mph takes 4.7sec, making it 0.6sec quicker than the £11k cheaper Autobiography, but a couple of tenths slower than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo. More to come, then? ‘We’re quite close to the limit of what the ZF gearbox can take,’ says powertrain expert Dave Warner, whose lengthy Jaguar Land Rover career is bolstered by stints at Lotus and Cosworth’s F1 team. ‘We’ve had 600bhp from this engine in racing versions, but we can’t make that power with the air intake system we need on this car to preserve its off-road ability.’
After a day criss-crossing A and B roads the SVR has amply demonstrated its on-road prowess. This a genuinely entertaining hulk of machine which asks only that you accept a slightly firm – but never harsh – low-speed ride in return for devastating A-to-B performance. But this being a Land Rover product, the team was keen to show us that the Sport’s off-road ability hasn’t been compromised.
At this point they usually switch us from a car wearing sticky road rubber into an example wearing the sort of tyres you’d normally see on the Dakar Rally, with predictably excellent results. But this time we drove straight onto the course, fitted with the boots that are worth 10sec at the Nürburgring over the stock tyres – and not because they let you cut through the forest to straight-line the bit between Pflanzgarten and Döttinger Höhe.
It wasn’t the world’s toughest off-road course, but the deep muddy trenches, turns so slippery they made the lead Defender squirm, and steep slimy climbs made it an honest reflection of the worst kind of situation in which you might realistically find yourself. The SVR breezed it.
Objectively, the Range Rover SVR must rank as one of the most absurd cars ever built. All that effort to produce a car that’s compromised twice over by a need to be able to wade through swamps in the morning, then nail a lap of the Nürburgring the same afternoon, when maybe one in a hundred owners will attempt either.
But to dwell on the pointlessness of it is to miss the point. There’s a market for cars like this – around 3000 Sport SVRs per year, Newsome thinks – and Land Rover has produced a great one. Poach some guys from Quattro or AMG to tickle up the visual detailing and bin the archaic multimedia system, and it’d be exceptional.