For all its off-road braggadocio, Land Rover is surprisingly insistent on putting its luxurious people movers to the test in a track environment. It’s not enough, however, for the British brand to have recently prescribed a serious crash diet for both its Range Rover and Range Rover Sport SUVs and then given them the option of snarling supercharged V8 horsepower. No, the time has come for an in-house hot-rodding program to rival those of the cross-channel competition. The 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR not only has its sights set on boasting the longest model name in its segment, but it’s also ready to take on premium performers like the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 and the BMW X5 M in the quest for customers unwilling to settle for less than two-and-a-half tons of fun.
STARTING FROM THE TOP
The 2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR is built on the bones of the already-excellent Range Rover Sport Supercharged, which means that while performance has been augmented, it’s not a night and day difference when evaluating the two models. You really have to pay attention to the details surrounding the SVR to derive an appreciation for what Land Rover’s engineers have tried to do with the sport utility vehicle’s platform.
As with any ponderously heavy hi-po model, the key to keeping the Range Rover Sport SVR’s head above water on a track is in its suspension tuning. Specifically, the SVR boasts an air suspension system that can vary the vehicle’s ride height in order to deal with either hot laps or fording streams, along with an extra setting for the standard Terrain Response system that helps to make every Land Rover product such a strong off-road contender. While maintaining its distinct programs for snow, sand, mud and rock crawling, the Range Rover Sport SVR gains an on-pavement mode that reconfigures its various electronic nannies – along with throttle response and the shift habits of its eight-speed automatic transmission – to allow for maximum grip when pushed past the point of reason.
I was given plenty of opportunity to do exactly that at the Monticello Motor Club’s private road course thanks to the Land Rover Range Rover SVR’s 550-horsepower, 5.0-litre supercharged V8. Land Rover boffins will note that this represents a 50 pony upgrade over the Range Rover Sport Supercharged’s version of the same engine, putting the SVR on par with the much-pricier full-size Range Rover in terms of total output. There is 502 lb-ft of torque also on tap from the boosted lump, which sings at the top of its lungs from the quad tail pipes of the SUV’s sport exhaust system, one of the best-sounding evacuators of spent combustion gases you’ll find on a factory model.
Land Rover had us running on the shorter of the three available track configurations at Monticello, which made for tight times behind the wheel of the extremely large vehicle. There was no questioning the straight-line speed of the SVR, which was all too willing to gallop toward impending hairpins with a ‘what, me worry?’ attitude that quickly lost its cool when the truck’s enormous front calipers squeezed down to transform all of that prodigious momentum into heat. This was typically followed by a burst of tire squeal and the almost, but not quite fully-checked sway of the Range Rover Sport’s towering body as its brake-based torque vectoring system did its best to shuttle power to where it would help the most exiting the corner.
To say the SVR was completely composed on the track wouldn’t be entirely truthful, but equal parts dishonest would be the claim that I didn’t enjoy the hooliganish abandon that Land Rover’s design team has programmed into its traction control system. As compared to more clinically-neutered high-speed SUVs like the BMW X6 M, the Range Rover Sport SVR actually challenges the sharpness of your wits by allowing for four-wheel slides and a fair amount of wheelspin should you get back on the power too soon. This makes the Land Rover a far more interesting experience as compared to Teutonic fare when flogged all the way up to its 260 km/h top speed, and it even adds a fair bit of drama to its sub five-second sprint to 100 km/h.
LOOKING THE PART, COSTING THE MOON
With its performance bonafides well in place – and the promise from Land Rover (backed up by a brief trail excursion at Monticello) that none of the changes the SVR model has made to the Range Rover Sport have compromised its off-road capabilities – it’s important to note that this SUV has also been given a cosmetic makeover to go with its muscled-up mechanicals.
The unique bright Estoril Blue hue found on the model I drove is merely one of the attention-getting devices attached to the SVR, serving alongside huge intakes carved out of its front bumper, unique 21-inch (and available 22-inch) rims, a rear diffuser and a bounty of badges affixed both inside and out. The Land Rover’s interior has been upgraded with the kind of top-shelf leather trim and upholstery we’ve come to expect from the company’s craftspeople, with harness cut-outs for each seat and a striking two-tone colour scheme defining the passenger cabin.
And yet, I find myself compelled to be the voice of reason when considering the $124,990 price tag attached to the Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR’s bundle of extroversion. Given that most super-utes are never asked to strain their steroidal selves doing anything more than when merging onto a crowded highway (and certainly don’t see more dirt than a gravel road on the way to a campsite), is there really any benefit to topping the already-competent Range Rover Sport Supercharged’s $92,490 window sticker?
From a rational perspective, the answer is no: the 10 percent power spike vanishes in the shuffle of the SVR’s massive weight, and its suspension prowess is lost on anyone – read, everyone – who won’t abuse it on a track. That being said, in a ‘rational’ world this class of vehicles wouldn’t exist at all, and when compared against its contemporaries, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR provides a uniquely engaging take on the ‘truck that should not be’ concept.
BY THE NUMBERS
$227.25/HP (CALCULATED W/ MSRP)
150 L/100 KM (AUTO – COMBINED)
2015 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR
BASE PRICE: $124,990
ENGINE: 5.0L supercharged V8
HORSEPOWER: 550 hp @ 6,000 rpm
TORQUE: 502 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,500 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Longitudinal 4WD
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 2,340 kg
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 16.8 / 12.4 / 15 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT