Whining twin-vortex supercharger at full attack, 5,0-litre direct-injection V8 bass note filling the gaps, Continental CrossContact tyres squealing for grip as the high-riding SUV scythes along a typical Western Cape meander… this is a brief snapshot of life in the absolutely fantastic Range Rover Sport SVR. Despite the overt agro of the drivetrain, integral-link rear with standard-fit air suspension ensures the car is always level and composed, allowing the chassis to translate all 423 kW and 700 N.m to the tarmac. A real iron fist in a velvet glove scenario then.
Which, if you look at it from the outside, isn’t far off the truth for this SVO-customised offering. Aesthetically, our test unit gains R246 200 of exterior optional extras, including Stimela sa Sebusuku matte-black paint. Land Rover made this vehicle available to us to highlight the near-endless colour spectrum available to JLR customers in search of bespoke commissions. It commissioned 24 custom Range Rover Sports in a variety of one-off hues. These locally inspired colours include Sibudu Stone, Namaqua Orange, Egoli Gold, Sudwala Eve and Bantry Blue and were painted at JLR SVO in Warwickshire, England.
The deep satin black finish of Stimela sa Sebusuku can be loosely translated from isiZulu to “midnight train” and was chosen to “underline the Range Rover Sport SVR’s athletic lines”, according to the press material. Besides looking great, it has an extraordinary ability to not show watermarks after rain. That’s some black magic for you. The test unit also wears an SVR carbon-fibre pack and 22-inch gloss black rims for a black-on-black-on-black look that made photographer Peet Mocke wring his hands before the photoshoot.
A photographer’s medium is light, of course, and our Peet much prefers some colour – any colour – to an all-black car. It’s difficult to spot any styling nuances beneath the black exterior. Yet, there is a roof-mounted spoiler, a pair of menacing bonnet nacelles and protruding front bumper to aid airflow to the big engine, and six-piston Brembo brakes upfront with callipers finished in red, all of which underlines the SVR’s uprated performance as well as its outright showmanship.
Finished in blood-red leather, with an array of ambient lighting colours to choose from and carbon-fibre accents throughout, time spent inside this particular SVR is like being in Caligula’s sitting room. These colours might not be to everyone’s taste but the SVR dishes up a stylish and luxurious cabin that’s all elegant lines, architectural forms, clean screens and soft-touch materials. It features the firm’s Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system, which is not only better to look at, but also easier and faster to use than its clunky predecessor’s. The gear lever is lifted straight out of a Jaguar F-Type and a high centre console rises up and envelopes the driver like any good sports SUV should.
The interior extras from the SVO portfolio are worth R80 000, including SVO treadplates and badging on the inside of the B pillars. However, taking pride of place are two gorgeous Recaro sports bucket seats up front, which are well worth the price of admission for their aesthetics, comfort and lateral support.
The next item from our tester’s notes was big and bold so there would be no doubt on the matter: High-riding, 4WD F-Type. As mentioned up front, body control is excellent for the 2,4-tonne leviathan and the steering, while erring towards the light side, is well weighted in the palm of your hands. And, by Jove! It does feel impossibly grippy when you hook it up right and slingshot out of a corner with maximum traction. The standout to the SVR, though continuing the company’s enviable reputation for the fruitiest exhaust notes around is its sonorous V8 soundtrack, enhanced as it is over a garden-variety Range Rover Sport thanks to a 60 mm underfloor pipe and two-stage active exhaust featuring electronically controlled valves feeding the quad outlets. Put simply, the SVR is the best-sounding sports SUV of its ilk … and then you lift off the throttle to a cacophony of crackles and booms and it sounds even better.
Once you start flicking the steering wheel-mounted paddles of the supple eight-speed ZF gearbox mostly so you can provoke the bombastic engine – you’re in for nothing less than a sportscar-like experience. At slow speeds, the throttle response is perhaps a little too sensitive for our liking but, once on the move, the distribution of power and torque to all four wheels lends it a dexterity and dynamism that is nothing short of exhilarating. You just need to look at the standard fitment of all the SVR’s performance-enhancing goodies to know an inordinate amount of time was spent honing its handling. Corner brake control, dynamic stability control, cross-linked auto-levelling electronic air suspension, torque vectoring and adaptive dynamics from the Terrain Response system. This car is kitted to the nines to ensure you can monster over a mountain pass with total confidence and safety, before turning off the bitumen to take the lesser-used gravel road back.
Assuming the SVR was a triathlete; however, out of its three disciplines, it’s not corner-strafing dynamism where it earns its gold medal. Really hard cornering in this high-riding SUV is an exercise in front-tyre-vaporising understeer, as the Continental CrossContacts protest if you turn in too suddenly. Even in the sportiest drive setting, with your right foot planted hard on the throttle, only when the computers have decided the steering angle and lateral G force are safely aligned, will it dole out power as you unwind steering lock. Likewise, as capable as any Land Rover is with myriad drive programs from the Terrain Response electronics, its off-road agility is not its USP. Why you ask? To be honest, who would want to take it somewhere gravelly and dirty and risk messing up the pristine paint job?