This story begins with four men dragging me into the woods behind a racetrack in upstate New York to prove a point. We are inside a very large, very luxurious automobile. Money is being discussed. Promises are being made. I am driving the Range Rover Sport SVR, the fastest Land Rover in history, a truck that circles the Nürburgring quicker than the last-gen Porsche Cayman S. We're going 9 mph.
Tree stumps. Boggy ruts. Rock piles. The Range Rover shrugs them off, the four-wheel-drive equivalent of an all-pro fullback lumbering through an all-dwarf defensive line. This, says Stuart Adlard, is why I cannot have competition-style composite brakes.
"They'd probably help around the Nordschleife," he admits, "but carbon-ceramics don't react well to sand and mud."
Adlard is clever like that. He's a lead engineer at Special Vehicle Operations, or SVO, Jaguar Land Rover's fledgling in-house skunkworks program. Think of it like AMG, but with half the employees, longer waiting lists, and a stiffer upper lip. The team's first concept car, Project 7, showed up last year. It has no roof, meatballs on the doors, and 177 percent more downforce than the F-type on which it's based. So, yeah, these folks like to party.
SVO is divided into five departments: interior, exterior, electronics, chassis, and powertrain. Capital-S special vehicles come down the main production line at Solihull, England, assembled to spec with certain components missing. Members of each SVO department then install capital-S special parts in their place.
The Range Rover Sport SVR is the firm's debut product. JLR's supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 is here, pushing more boost and retuned for 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque. That runs through a ZF eight-speed automatic, tweaked to provide rev-matched downshifts and upshifts 50 percent quicker than a Range Rover Sport. The SVR's 162-mph top speed is achievable in sixth and seventh gears.
More? More. The SVR weighs 5150 pounds and generates 1.0 g of lateral grip. It does 0–60 mph in 4.5 seconds and laps the Nord-schleife in 8 minutes, 14 seconds. (Adlard, feigning modesty: "To be honest, it happened by accident. We calculated an estimated time, in this case eight minutes and 22 seconds, then ran continuously within five percent of that for durability tests. We got the data back, and it was 8:14. We said, 'Wow, that's bloody quick.'")
What's impressive is how little civility has been sacrificed. The SVR's most conspicuously sporty addition, pairs of Recaroesque leather buckets front and rear, are just as comfy as the base seats. It has the classic Land Rover periscope driving position, the same blocky four-post steering wheel. With 21-inch wheels, rejiggered air springs, firmer magnetorheological dampers, and stiffer rear bushings, ride quality is stellar. There are exterior flourishes here and there (badging, redesigned bumpers, quad exhaust pipes), but they're hardly noticeable. Which is a good thing, because the Range Rover Sport already looks the business.
Driving the SVR at Monticello's 1.6-mile south course is . . . an experience. Pitch and roll is minimal, the stuff of legit sport sedans. Squat and dive, meanwhile, is somewhere between a late-model Mustang and a seesaw. The electric steering is delicate and direct, yet the SVR always seems to be brawling and smashing and pushing its way through an apex. Outrunning your two-and-a-half-ton shadow isn't easy, even with brake-based torque vectoring and 275-section Continental performance tires. That combination provides loads of grip, until a big throttle lift while stability control is in Dynamic mode. Then there's some oversteer. Also, the exhaust is loud. And fantastic. So, as you're sloshing fore and aft, but not side to side, bullying over curbing and minding the tail end, the SVR is singing like an Aussie V8 Supercar with laryngitis.
If this all seems like a hilarious, incongruous way to get around a circuit, that's because it was. Then the brakes started getting hot, which is why I ended up being dragged into the woods. Point made.
The difference between the Range Rover Sport SVR and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo or BMW X6 M is fundamental: It's a truck made to behave like a car, not the inverse. The SVR still offers two transfer-case speeds, six off-road terrain settings, seven- inches of adjustable ride height, 10- inches of wheel travel, and a max wading depth of 33.5 inches. Approach, departure, and breakover angles are suitable for scaling a prison wall. When I suggested that the Porsche-beating Ring time might include a beeline through the Karussell, or perhaps a grassy shortcut from Flugplatz to gantry, Adlard just smiled.
Here, the idea was to crank Land Rover's performance knob as high as possible without sacrificing off-road capability. The Sport Supercharged was already a howitzer, and the SVR is simply more. More noise, more fast. More Range Rover. Better? Sure, but not in ways anybody needs or will ever actually exploit.
This one just goes to eleven.