Niches seem to be something of a fashion these days – particularly in the automotive world. Just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable to imagine any manufacturer would be brave enough to morph supercar power and speed within an SUV designed to cruise city streets on the school run or occasionally bumble over a muddy field on the way to the races. Lamborghini tested the waters 30 years ago with the LM002 – the world was not ready. Now we have almost a dozen offerings from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW and even Bentley with more expected from other prestigious marques such as Lamborghini (again), Rolls-Royce and Maserati.
When looking at SUVs few are as well known as Range Rover and they have had a go at filling the engine bay of one of the most successful SUVs on the market with some serious power. The results were the Range Rover Sport SVR and I was fortunate enough to experience the beast for a few days through three countries and a great mix of environments.
The Range Rover Sport has proven to be extremely successful and it is not difficult to see why. The car is an item that the masses aspire to, an SUV with connotations of wealth and success, an image that is propped up by premier league footballers and Hollywood stars. There had never been a real flagship Range Rover Sport, until 2014 where the SVR broke cover. The car was seen at The Goodwood Festival of Speed under a rather simple camouflage and shocked everyone with its thunderous V8 that powered up the famous hill.
It was not just the aggressive looks or aural pleasure that had everyone surprised, Range Rover and the newly created Special Vehicles Operations department launched the car with a very bold claim. The Range Rover Sport SVR supposedly lapped the Nurburgring in 8:14, making it the fastest SUV to ever lap the famous circuit. This time has since been eclipsed by the tenacious Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, considering this is Range Rovers first attempt at such a car, being compared to the much more mature Porsche is flattering company to keep.
What makes such a vast machine so fast I hear you ask. The answer is a very hairy chested 542bhp supercharged 5-litre V8, the same as the one found in the F-Type R, that allows the Sport SVR to power from 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds. Consider the 2.3 tonnes of metal and leather that is being launched and it is remarkably impressive that such a car is capable of such athletic acceleration. That is not all, the SVR will power on to a limited maximum speed of 260 km/h.
When first jumping behind the wheel of the car and hitting the start button the first thing that caught my attention was the explosive V8 bark. Push the exhaust button and the valves open allowing the car to breath free and immediately induce a grin with the sound of unburnt fuel backfiring through the angry quad tail pipes. I merged onto the German Autobahn, shifted the stick into Sport and depressed the accelerator. The acceleration is bombastic and the sensation of speed to amplified with by the unbelievable sounds that blare through the cabin. The sharp xenon lamps boosted the intimidation levels further and traffic swiftly succumbed to the lairy face of the SVR. The paddles behind the steering wheel allowed me to take control and shift through the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. This gearbox is nothing short of exceptional, it is lightning fast and reacted with no hesitation to my inputs. When left to its own devices it seemed very keen to downshift at the slightest increase in throttle input, but I am being pedantic.
I peeled of the Autobahn as I approached Innsbruck on the road to Italy. Some of my favourite roads in Europe were close by and it seemed rude not to put the SVR through its paces on more demanding roads. The surfaces were not the best, but once again, the Range Rover took it in its stride. The car sits on 21 or some very cool 22 inch wheels. On this occasion we had been equipped with the smaller wheels wrapped in winter tyres, something that came into use in my snowy drive back to Munich. I shifted back into sport and locked the valves open, it was time to see if car was more than just a bark without a bite. Body roll is a factor that you have to allow for but not to the extent that the 2.3 tonne curb weight would suggest, you are simply not conscious of the bulbous weight. The car handles surprisingly well, the Nurburgring lap time became more and more believable as confidence inspired me to push harder and harder. The steering was quick but lacked feel, nothing unusual for a car of such size. The brakes were one aspect that felt strong but began to struggle heading back down the mountain passes.
Following the Autobahn for hundreds of kilometres is often rather draining, I closed the exhaust valves and the punishing soundtrack was surprisingly muted, the ride was supple and the cabin extremely comfortable. When focusing on the cabin there is very little to fault, the ergonomics are great and the seats are very comfortable. The Meridian sound system is a treat and handled everything from the latest Drake hits to classical string quartets with great balance. When facing tighter bends a little more shoulder support from the sporty seats would have been ideal, but the biggest downfall of the interior is one that had me pulling my beard out – the infotainment system. Where the majority of manufacturers have stayed away from touchscreen systems, Jaguar Land Rover are very much still using the touch screen. The frustration arises every time you reach to change anything from the Navigation destination to scrolling through any menus. It is difficult to maintain focus on the road when having to divert all your attention to touching the right corner of the screen that is not the most responsive.
Aside from my gripe with the touch screen, something I guess owners adapt to, I was left overwhelmingly surprised by the Range Rover Sport SVR. The driving experience is dominated by the addictive sounds it makes that still to this day echo through my mind as they did in the Italian tunnels.
As a car that can do everything from chauffeuring a Bride to a wedding to embarrassing a lot of sports cars, the SVR is a very tempting proposition. There are a number of alternatives on the market, but we doubt there are many that are as well rounded or characterful as the Range Rover. We faced snow and every trundled over a muddy quarry and the Range Rover never once struggled. This may be their first attempt at such a machine, but the SVR is certainly not an option to be ignored.