Land Rover has arrived late to this game.
Porsche and Mercedes have been producing ludicrous-speed versions of their SUVs for almost a decade, and BMW and Audi almost as long.
Not all have been good - for every brilliant Cayenne Turbo there are at least two alternatives that drive like weaponized sideboards - but, thanks to prodigious price tags, they almost always succeed in turning their makers a massive profit - and, bizarrely enough, carmakers quite like that.
Before now if you wanted a jacked-up Land Rover you’d have had to turn to third-party tuning companies such as Overfinch and Kahn, but JLR has recently seen sense and created Special Vehicle Operations (or SVO) - the department specifically set up to stop the money falling through its fingers. The SVR-badged Range Rover Sport is their first go at a properly monstrous volume production model.
The most powerful Land Rover ever
No matter what you think of performance SUVs as a genre of car, there’s really only one way to do them: loud and massively proud. Therefore the good men and women of SVO have been right not to pull their punches - this is nothing short of the most powerful Land Rover ever.
There’s a 542bhp supercharged V8 upfront. But just as importantly, it looks like there’s a 542bhp supercharged V8 upfront. The Sport’s handsome front end has been given the gaping mouth of a lunatic, with massively enlarged intakes and the black bumper treatment.
At the back there’s quad-pipes sticking from a new rear diffuser, and a peaked cap of a spoiler jutting from the roof.
And of course there are big wheels; the SVR sporting 22-inch alloys - the kind of diameter you could serve a wedding buffet on. What’s interesting though is what’s wrapped around them; traditionally Land Rover sends its cars - all its cars - out into the world shod in mud & snow tyres. Not the SVR - it gets ContiSportContact5s, which is an early indication of how serious things are about to get.
Opulent on the inside
Inside, the first thing you’re going to notice are the seats. Where a standard Sport comes with a set of comfy pews that you’d happily sit on through a season of Breaking Bad, the SVR gets the kind of buckets you’d find in Old Trafford’s dugouts. There’s an additional pair in the back, too - and almost no room in between for your fifth-favourite mate. Even they won't complain though because, like all big-money Land Rovers, the cabin is incredibly opulent and styled to make a statement.
The infotainment, it must be said, is not quite up to the same standard. It seems like a long time ago that we all fell about in amazement at the dual-zone touchscreen that allows the front passenger to watch TV while you blat up the motorway. Now, the resulting reduction in pixels just makes the display seem blocky - and the interface behind it remains chronically muddled (a system JLR is in the process of replacing).
Nevertheless, the SVR I drove did have one trump card up its tailpipe; namely the optional Meridian Signature Reference Audio system, which with 23 speakers and the firm’s Trifield 3D sound processing, almost justifies its £5000 premium over the standard audio setup.
Loud, proud and ludicrously fast
Despite 1700W of muscle, the Meridian system turns out to not be the defining soundtrack of the SVR. That’s still very much in the hands of the engineers at SVO, who have tuned the V8 - or, more specifically, the valves in the exhaust - to sound as if its gargling petrol in the cylinder banks, and then discharging it via musket fire on the overrun. With the right button pushed (and you will push it, frequently) it’s very nearly anti-social - in the way that holding a Prodigy concert in your front room would be considered anti-social.
Of course, that pretty much says it for the way the car goes, too. Underneath the SVR is fundamentally a tweaked Range Rover Sport - most of the hardware; the air suspension, the eight-speed automatic gearbox, the heavyweight four-wheel-drive system, etc, are the same. A fact that leaves you all the more incredulous when all two-and-a-half tonnes of it catapults to 60mph in 4.5 seconds - which is as preposterous as saying I’ve just read Gravity’s Rainbow on my way down the stairs.
And handling to match
The quality of the caterwauling thrust is matched only by what the SVR does when it arrives at a bend - namely turn into it like no other Range Rover ever could or would have, and then cling on manically until you’re safely out the other side.
Predictably the secret is in SVO’s conscious decision to compromise a tiny bit on Land Rover’s legendary ride comfort by having the bed of air you sit on be more orthopedic mattress than memory foam - but it’s hard to complain, especially when the adhesion, verve and heftiness have coalesced into something so rewarding and usable.
Thanks to the permanent (and rightly legendary) all-wheel-drive system, the power always feels like an accessible commodity - and, because it is still a Range Rover below decks - the whole world is still accessible to you. Even on those same tarmac-chewing tyres, the SVR will continue to do stuff on muddier bits of the world that would make your head spin before the wheels do.
Range Rover Sport SVR Verdict
The Range Rover Sport SVR is a savage, splendiferous and rather superb thing, all round. It is also, arguably, both ‘loadsamoney’ brash in image, and, verifiably, actually, really loads of money to buy - the car I tested rounding out at £108,450.
Still, as so often happens with latecomers to the party, of all of the performance SUVs available the SVR is easily the most fun to be around, and absolutely the one to buy if you're lucky enough to be able to afford it.