MONTICELLO, NEW YORK – Blasting around a racetrack isn’t usually the place you’d find an SUV. But the Range Rover Sport SVR isn’t your usual SUV.
What you are looking at here is the fastest vehicle Land Rover has ever built; it’s also the first production vehicle created by the Jaguar Land Rover group’s new Special Vehicle Operation skunk works.
Basically an AMG/M Division equivalent, this team has created a Range Rover Sport that last year circulated the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit in eight minutes and fourteen seconds. To put that into perspective, that’s a mere one second slower than the time posted by BMW’s mighty V10 E60 M5 sedan.
Such heroics weren’t on the cards for me though. Here at the Monticello Motor Club circuit in upstate New York, getting to grips with an extremely quick and somewhat heavy SUV around an unfamiliar circuit called for some prudence.
The standard Range Rover Sport’s supercharged 5,0-litre V8 has been tuned up from 375 kW to 405 kW and the torque increases from 625 N.m to 680 N.m. It also comes with a revised eight-speed ZF auto transmission that’s been beefed up to handle the extra firepower and boasts shift times decreased by up to 50%.
It retains the Range Rover Sport’s air suspension, but the adaptive damper settings have been reprogrammed and the suspension equipped with stiffer springs to trade some ride comfort for extra grip. The rear electronic differential now sends more power to the rear wheels and their proprietary Toque Vectoring By Braking system has been recalibrated. This works with the ESC system, say Land Rover, to better balances the distribution of engine torque between the four wheels, combatting the dreaded understeer during cornering.
Indeed, in Dynamic mode, it certainly has grip by the bucket load wearing optional 22-inch 295/40 tyres it handled most of what the undulating Monticello circuit could throw at it. You can definitely feel the more aggressive torque vectoring system kick in – particularly through the longer corners –slowing the inside heels and ushering power to the outside ones to aid turn in.
Of course, all that electronic wizardry can’t disguise the fact that you’re behind the wheel of a 2,3 ton car and that understeer is always on the cards if you enter a corner too hot. That said, poise and balance through both the high-speed and technical corners is genuinely impressive – especially for an SUV – with the SVR feeling taut and responsive to a degree that belies its mass.
It’s also very, very loud. Huge-smile-enducing, pedestrian-scaring loud. Under normal circumstances, the two-stage, active exhaust system produces an impressive enough bark through the quad pipes, but press the little exhaust button on the centre console and every step on or off the gas pedal is met with a semi-automatic machinegun-like staccato that would make a hardened member of the SAS dive for cover.
Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations’ first effort will no doubt have its detractors and on one level it certainly makes little sense. It’s way, way quicker than an SUV ought to be, it’s ridiculously loud, and very expensive. You’d need to fork out a whopping R257 600 premium over the top spec Supercharged Autobiography.
The sensible money would be on the standard Range Rover Sport – a performance orientated SUV that’s already impressively fast. Besides, unlike the standard car, this SVR has no optional third row of seats, essentially making it a four-seater.
Personally, I love cars like this and people who pose the “what’s the point?” question just don’t get it. There is no point. It’s bonkers. But this is one car that you’ll always drive with a big smile on your face.