Words: Sirish Chandran
“We dial it up to 11”, says Mark Stanton, director of Special Vehicle Operations, Jaguar Land Rover’s in-house tuning arm that works in much the same way as Mercedes-AMG and BMW M, but without any active motorsport involvement. SVO takes regular Jaguar’s and Range Rover’s and turns up the wick: in the case of the SVR’s adding fire and brimstone to the supercharged motors; in the case of the SVA’s even more leathers and woods while knocking off a few doors. SVO’s are not cars you buy with your head – a two-door Range Rover! Really! – but these are cars that you want. Really want!
It starts with the noise; the wall of noise. How can a road-legal SUV make so much noise is beyond my understanding but it does pass all those tests while making the most awesome noise in a road car, even better than the Jaguar F-Type SVR. Wait for the traffic to clear up, floor it, and it’s like a low-flying squadron of bombers thundering into formation. This is easily top 10 in the all-time list of politically incorrect cars; where the whole world is talking about going green with zero noise and emissions this ridiculously orange SVR gulps petrol with an appetite that can only be described as legendary and then, for good measure, lets un-burnt fuel explode in the exhaust when you get off the gas.
Our pre-drive briefing includes a stern warning to take it easy through the villages on our drive route. My driving partner has other ideas. Through every one of those idyllic English villages preparing for Sunday Mass, he drops three gears, gives the throttle hell and empties an entire AK-47 magazine on the overrun. Let them know we are here for our Kohinoor is his justification. The SVR makes gangstas out of scrawny five footers!
The view too is bad ass. The last carbon-bonneted car I drove had an exploding wastegate, a big ol’ wing filling up my rear view mirror and the letters GT-R tacked on to the boot. Carbon bonnets are the preserve of rice rockets and tuner-cars, ostensibly to save weight though, if you ask me, more an advertisement for the go-faster kit under the hood. A Range Rover with a carbon bonnet? Now that’s ridiculous, but then again dialing-it-up-to-ridonkulous is what JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations is all about.
Exploiting the SVR needs a track and that’s where we are headed, to SVO’s new home in Fen End. There are two long straights joined by a very steep banking at one end and a bunch of wide open corners at the other – it’s all high-speed stuff and the SVR’s capability is quite something. The suspension has been tuned to deliver better turn-in response and body control while active anti-rolls bars join air springs and active dampers to limit roll and improve mid-corner grip. The setup strikes a lovely balance. On winter-ravaged English country roads the SVR rides quite well – an underlying firmness in keeping with the 567bhp on tap, but not too firm to make it uncomfortable on the road. It rides with all the authority and luxury of a Range Rover and in Comfort the SVR will even rear its head under hard acceleration, the rising bonnet adding to the sensation of speed and the sheer ridiculousness of a near-600bhp Sport-SUV. Stick in in Sport, stiffen up everything and the SVR carries serious pace through the high-speed corners at Fen End, revealing tenacious grip and steering that is surprisingly involving. And then you step on it as you exit the last corner and the atom bomb of an engine simply explodes, the 8-speed gearbox tuned for faster shifts and a braaap on the upshift.
The 5-litre supercharged V8 is familiar from the earlier Range Rover Sport SVR but has been massaged to put out an extra 25bhp. And there’s less weight to hustle, 25kg to be precise, though when the magnesium frame of the seats alone are claimed to have shed 30kg one wonders where weight was put on. Not that 25kg up or down is going to make much difference when 567bhp and 700Nm of torque are on tap, thundering the SVR to 100kmph in 4.5 seconds. And it continues to make all sorts of insane noises until it runs out of breath at 278kmph. Can you image the kind of power required to push the sizeable frontage of a Range Rover Sport through the air at 278kmph?
Of course something that weighs over 2.3 tonnes will never feel or be as agile as a hot hatch but that’s not the point of the SVR is it? Neither is off-roading, to be honest, but Land Rover will hear nothing of it. And so the RR Sport SVR retains the low-ratio 4×4 drivetrain, the various modes of the Terrain Response 2 system, and off-road ability that no performance SUV with the exception of the G 63 AMG can match.
The SVR also gets Land Rover’s new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system that debuted on the Velar, two beautifully high-res touch screens that replaces all physical buttons. This is part of the updates applied to the entire MY 18 Range Rover Sport lineup that includes refreshed (and, obligatorily, techy) headlamps, taillamps and bumpers. Small tweaks, yes, but enough to answer the question: why would you buy a Range Rover Sport over a Velar (the Sport also has three rows of seats).
As for that carbon fibre bonnet, it’s only available on the SVR but you can have some semblance of subtlety by speccing in the body colour, for no extra money over the nearly two crore rupees JLR will ask for it when launched in a few months. Which is missing the point entirely. The SVR is not sensible. You cannot dial it down to 5 even if you wanted to. It triggers the sort of emotional response that turns grown men into 8-year-old boys. It is a completely heart over head matter. And it is massively desirable, joining the AMG G-Wagen in our dream garage.