Nobody needs a high-performance SUV, but that doesn't mean that nobody wants one. In recognition of the stunning regularity with which the well-heeled will pay a premium for the wide-tire edition of any given people mover, the 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR serves as the battering ram intended to knock down the door of the elite club thus far reserved for continental letter combinations like AMG and M. The Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) team at both Land Rover and its sister company, Jaguar, intend the Range Rover Sport SVR to be the first of several high performance editions of existing models, all of which will wear the SVR badge.
Nobody needs a high-performance SUV, but that doesn't mean that nobody wants one.
Naturally, Land Rover was eager to prove that its latest SUV was just as capable at conquering corners as it is chugging through the mud and the muck of an off-road trail. To make their point, I was given the opportunity to drive the Range Rover Sport SVR from New York City's SoHo district out to the Monticello Motor Club race track, where both on- and off-pavement excursions awaited me.
The nth Degree
Any clear-headed analysis of the 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR's (even if we make it an acronym it’s still an incredibly unwieldy name: LRRRSRVR) performance must recognize that it's really a question of degree as compared to the Range Rover Sport Supercharged that sits below it in the SUV-builder's pecking order (the pricier Autobiography Dynamic model represents a more luxury-oriented branch of the family). The heart of the SVR model is its 5.0L supercharged V8 engine, which has been massaged to produce the same amount of horsepower that it does in the big-daddy Range Rover Supercharged: 550 horses and 502 lb-ft of torque. This output is corralled by a revised, quicker-shifting version of the brand's ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, as well as a full-time four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing. The extra oomph under the hood knocks the SUV's 0-100 km/h time down from just over five seconds in the Supercharged model to just under five in the SVR.
Helping to keep 2,300 kilos of British steel… er, aluminium on the straight and narrow are a standard air suspension system, locking rear differential, brake-based torque-vectoring system and new ‘Dynamic’ mode for the vehicle's Terrain Response system. The latter sculpts the same transmission, stability control, throttle, and traction control parameters typically aimed at facilitating off-road driving but this time with a bent towards tarmac performance. Oh, and the SVR also comes standard, of course, with Land Rover's active exhaust system, which transforms even the slightest breath on the go-pedal into a delicious and cannonading assault on the eardrums of anyone within 100 yards.
Track To Trail
My favourite word to use when driving a sport-utility vehicle in anger is “problematic.” To overcome the refrigerator-on-stilts weight distribution of these massive people-moving beasts, automakers often to turn to all types of electronic gimmickry, with varying degrees of success. Worst-case scenarios see performance SUVs transformed into frightening-rapid freight trains offering stupendous grip and prodigious acceleration from computer-controlled AWD systems, but delivering all of the road feel of a steel wheel locked onto a sub-asphalt rail.
The 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR is an example of how keeping an engineering team back from the brink of letting Skynet take control of a vehicle's driving experience can pay dividends. More John Connor than T-1000, the SVR's electronic nannies work their subtle magic in the background while still allowing for a livelier-than-expected amount of lateral movement when applying the throttle on corner exit. The tight course I ran behind the wheel of the Land Rover at Monticello didn't allow me to stretch the truck's legs all that much, but it did demonstrate the SUV's willingness to round the bend with a respectable amount of ferocity (and, after a few laps, a predictable amount of brake fade).
Monticello Motor Club is also host to a set of Land Rover Experience trails intended to educate drivers about the perils and pleasures of off-road driving. Traipsing through water-filled ruts and clambering over a mild outcropping or two using the same tires that delivered so much grip out on the track showed that the SVR hadn't left its all-terrain heritage in the rearview mirror when barrelling down the quarter mile. Indeed, Land Rover claims that its sportiest of SUVs is just as capable as a standard-issue Range Rover Sport once the pavement disappears.
Dress For Success
Although performance is the backbone of the 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR's marketing message, as with all high-horsepower SUVs image is everything. Since only a tiny percentage of SVR drivers will ever attempt a track day or ford a stream with their $124,990 luxury ride, it's befitting that the Land Rover looks fast even when parked by one’s favourite café or boutique. The Estoril Blue paint of the model I drove was pleasantly eye-searing, and the air intakes at the front of the Range Rover Sport SVR – necessary to keep its intercoolers, brake ducts, and engine bay free of power-sapping heat – are big enough to stick your head into (or at least they would be, if they weren't covered in a protective black mesh to keep people like me from doing exactly that).
The SVR's cabin is a similar exercise in slick modern luxury. Power-adjustable sport seats featuring cut-outs for safety harnesses have been installed both front and rear, and the vehicle's two-tone leather upholstery is so pervasive it makes you thankful none of your relatives are of the bovine persuasion. The rest of the interior is borrowed for the most part from the Range Rover Supercharged, which unfortunately means you have to deal with the shortcomings of its slow-to-respond touchscreen infotainment system. You can't order a third row of seating with the Range Rover Sport SVR like you can with other RRS models, but I suspect that won't be an issue for the majority of buyers.
Is It $33K Better?
The near-$125,000 ask for the 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR would have most reasonable folks pointing at the $92,490 Supercharged trim and ask whether the $33K price difference is worth the half-second that the SVR slices off of the truck's sprint to 100 km/h. The short answer is of course “no,” but the real response to a question like this is to point out that anyone shopping above six figures for an SUV doesn't really have to worry about concepts like “value.” The Range Rover Sport SVR is a lifestyle accessory for the (private) jet set, and as such it fits in quite comfortably with its German rivals questing for the dollars of well-heeled buyers.
Given that despite its performance pretensions the SVR coddles occupants as well as any other Range Rover Sport when stuck in traffic or cruising down the highway, it's easy to see the full run of these super-SUVs finding homes without too much delay once they go on sale later this year. If you have to have ‘the most’ anything, then the SVR is certainly ‘the most Range Rover Sport’ you can buy, and if you have ‘the most money’, you’re not going to care about much else.