It had to happen. Land Rover, a brand borne of mud and built for decades on its peerless all-terrain ability, is now quoting Nurburgring lap times. The new Range Rover Sport SVR takes a 5.0-litre, supercharged V8 heart, dons some automotive Nikes and proves that weighing 2.4 tonnes need not be an impediment to going quick.
WHAT IS IT?
Range Rovers are SUVs for posh folk. These high-riding four-wheel-drive wagons are sumptuously kitted out and priced accordingly, selling more these days on their ability to enhance the owner's image than any desire to go to the Outback.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
This high performance SVR model takes the Range Rover list of accomplishments in a very new direction – the racetrack – though it's doubtful any owner will ever live that dream either.
High-performance SUVs are big business, and very profitable. That’s why the Mercedes-AMG ML63 and Porsche Cayenne have been playing here for a while. More recently, BMW joined the gang adding bona fide M models to the X5 and X6 ranges. It's only a matter for time before Audi adds an 'S' or even – gasp – an 'RS' to its Q7 equivalent.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
You have to admire Range Rover's technical nous. They've taken a 2.4-tonne off-road wagon and turned it into a high-performance track star: Ferociously quick, impressively capable and kitted to the gills with luxury. The SVR is not as enjoyable to drive fast like a true sports sedan or wagon, but its incredible breadth of talent will win buyers, even if they never venture onto the track – or beyond the bitumen.
PLUS: Astonishing breadth of ability; sounds raucous; goes hard; luxurious
MINUS: Lifeless steering; leans a lot
THE WHEELS REVIEW
LAND ROVER, a brand born in the English mud and built up over decades around the all-terrain ethos, is now talking Nurbrugring lap times. Madness, surely.
Which is what I felt during my laps of the Monticello race track west of New York at the Range Rover Sport SVR launch. I was laughing out loud. Like a loon.
How in the world can a 2.4-tonne brick on wheels standing 1.8m tall lap the world's toughest race track faster than a Honda NSX? Faster even, than a Porsche Cayman S?
I mean, I know how. Tyres and thunder. And two decades of automotive development.
The SVR rides on 22-inch wheels and tyres that grip like a gator – try getting snow chains for those next time you go skiing – and a monstrous 5.0-litre supercharged V8 that surely can move mountains. Or move you over mountains, at least. It's even got a thundering bi-modal exhaust to ensure all that pesky mountain wildlife get outta the way when you're doing 0-100km/h runs in 4.7 seconds.
But still ... why?
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Four-wheel drives like the Range Rover and its Discovery kin have for a long time sold on the power of dreams. The dream of one day going off the grid, and safe in the knowledge that your big SUV, which in reality will spend its entire life firmly rooted on the bitumen, can deliver that dream.
Now, the big SUV dream appears to have swung completely the other way.
What if I dream of lapping the Nurburgring in 8min 14seconds? Will your SUV realise that dream? This one will. (And, as of January this year, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S will too – 7min 59sec – but we're not talking about that teutonic all-terrain titan here).
The fact that you'll murder those expensive 22-inch Continentals and toast those dinner-plate Brembo brakes to ashes in one lap seemingly doesn't matter. Nor does the fact you'll probably empty the entire 107-litre tank before making it back to the pits. But hey. Dream the dream bro!
To demonstrate this bizarre duality of purpose, Land Rover asked us to drive through the muddy woods around Monticello. Then – after a quick water bath to clean said mud from the SVR's nether regions – we hit the racetrack for a few quick ones.
And, of course, the Range Rover Sport SVR lapped it all up.
It didn't feel particularly thrilling to be belting this behemoth over ripple strips, or whipping it through the bends. Despite sports-tuned air suspension, it leans a fair bit, although more supportive sports leather seats do their best to counteract a claimed 1.3g cornering force and keep you behind the wheel. It also dives under brakes, and has a tendency to rear a bit out of corners, but you would too with a 405kW supercharged V8 bellowing at you to get a hustle on. And the steering is, well, let's just call it effective. You turn the wheel, the car responds with an arc. Any communication of said response is purely visual.
I don't get this car. But I get why cars like the Range Rover Sport SVR – and the Porsche Cayenne and their M and AMG rivals from BMW and Benz – exist. Some people are very greedy. They want everything. And the Range Rover SVR has, without a doubt, the biggest bandwidth of any vehicle I have ever driven. It's a very fast sports wagon, an all-terrain mauler, and a luxury conveyance all-in-one. If that sounds like your ideal vehicle, dream on buddy.
Model: Range Rover Sport SVR
Engine: 5000cc supercharged V8, dohc, 32v
Max power: 405kW @ 6500rpm
Max torque: 680Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Economy: 12.8L/100km (combined)
On sale: July