A spread of digital screens and soft-touch surfaces makes this $132,000 2018 Range Rover Sport SVR’s cockpit feel pretty futuristic. But the real appeal of this car is purely primal.
(Full Disclosure: I’ve been too badly injured to do much driving since last summer. When I heard that this 575 HP Range Rover was about to be pulled out of the press fleet though, I chugged some Advil and gave it my best shot.)
It was easy to plan a shakedown for Land Rover’s newest LLV (Loud Luxury Vehicle) from the chrome capital of Los Angeles. We made the Mojave Desert in no time, took a hot lap through Joshua Tree National Park, pulled over for some Instagram hearts, then peacock’d through Palm Springs before rolling back to the city of Angels.
We had some fun and raised some hell. But mostly we discovered that the Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR does two things really well: dramatic entrances... and equally dramatic exits. If you roll up anywhere in one of these, you will be remembered. Possibly because your face ended up on a wanted poster, as this car makes it pretty hard to live within the lines of the law.
A few years ago Jaguar and Land Rover decided that SVO (the less inventively-named Special Vehicle Operations) was going to be its in-house skunkworks, essentially responsible for making versions of its cars more extreme. The goal was to capitalize on that essential eccentric enthusiast market and pick up a little halo effect for the rest of its products in the process. I mean I assume that was the goal. If someone told me the stated aim of SVO was to blow out the eardrums of every valet the world over, I’d also believe them.
“SV Autobiography” Rovers are dedicated to max luxury. “SVX” has been earmarked for extra off-roady variants. “SVR” badges go on vehicles designed around performance. The signature characteristic of these cars boils down to an exhaust note so offensive that every time one braaaps, a monocle shatters into a champagne flute somewhere.
This SVR in particular is advertised as a marriage of high technology, high-touch luxury, on-pavement performance and all-terrain capability. It answers those challenges with varying degrees of success.
The Range Rover Sport, which you’re undoubtedly already familiar with if you spend any time in big city traffic, is a medium-sized SUV wrought from an aluminum monocoque body. The design of today’s model is essentially unchanged since 2013; the SVR got a facelift for ’18 that included a couple hood nostrils, meaner-looking exhaust tips and a staggering four point five percent bump to the factory horsepower claim.
A standard Range Rover Sport rings up at about $70,000. This one starts at $113,900, and for that ransom you get a five-passenger vehicle that weighs 5,093 pounds and packs a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 under that vented carbon fiber hood. Land Rover promises 575 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, up from 550 and 502, respectively.
The vehicle also has electronically controlled air suspension, an electronic active differential, torque vectoring by braking and an advanced traction control system. All of these items help optimize the ride and application of power to the SVR’s 21-inch wheels through a paddle-shifted ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
Practically speaking, Land Rover says all that technology translates to a 4.3- second 0 to 60 time and a top speed of 176 mph. I believe it, though I did not feel the need nor the desire to drive out to El Mirage to test it.
As far as driver features everyone will be able to appreciate, adaptive cruise control, blind spot assistance and lane keeping are optional. So is the carbon fiber hood and trim ($5,200) and 1,600-watt Meridian stereo ($4,540). So you can see how the SVR’s price tag can sneak past the base MSRP pretty quickly.
It’s a predator.
The Range Rover Sport SVR is an aggressively handsome vehicle. It’s extremely difficult to pull off a simultaneously sleek and rugged look, but this thing pretty much nails it. When it’s hunkered down in its lowest suspension setting, and burbling in a valet line, it’s got some presence.
The interior design is exceptional, too. Three (!) big and bright digital displays command the dashboard. Everywhere else is just clean lines, and every surface within reach feels nice to touch. The front seats keep you snug and cozy, even if the lunatic behind the wheel weaves in and out of traffic. That and they’re just as nice relaxing on a long highway cruise.
The back seats are contoured, too. Equally as comfortable and dramatic looking as the seats up front. Plus, people in the back get to enjoy the panoramic sunroof.
But more importantly, there’s the sound.
The SVR doesn’t just crackle like other modern performance cars. It roars with the terrifying vengeance of an evil supernatural force set free from a thousand-year curse. It’s wild to experience from the cabin; it’s borderline unsettling from the sidewalk.
Any red-blooded car enthusiast would consider the exhaust the SVR’s greatest feature. At least, for one wide-open throttle pull. But it makes blending into polite company more than a little challenging.
Regardless of your opinion on the SVR’s ability to clear a room by clearing its throat, anybody who goes from fiddling with a modern smartphone to Jaguar Land Rover’s infotainment software is going to be a little frustrated.
For 2018 the digital system running this vehicle’s climate control, audio system, and pretty much everything else is faster to respond than anything JLR has had in the past, but it still feels clunky compared to the latest iPhone, which anybody who can afford this Range Rover will certainly have a couple of.
For your reference, I have an ancient iPhone SE and even I got bored tapping my toes waiting for the SVR’s computer to transition between displays. It’s eternally one beat too slow.
As far as its abilities beyond blinking buttons, even on high-performance street tires the Range Rover Sport SVR is capable of impressive feats of traction off-road. But bounding down a sandy corrugated fire road—what most casual weekend “off-roading” ends up looking like—is not comfortable in this vehicle.
Land Rover’s advanced terrain response system can basically banish wheel slip in any situation, but the wheels and shocks on the SVR are just too stiff to let you have fun hauling ass over dusty two-tracks.
Then there’s the that whole ego megaphone, er, I mean the SVR’s exhaust. If you have any semblance of social graces, relentlessly demanding the attention of everyone around you in traffic gets old. The same applies for frightening every songbird within earshot, I suppose.
The SVR might be on the stiff side for speed over rough terrain, but it’s perfect for pavement and the seats in this thing are so supremely comfortable that rolling around town in it is just delightful.
Visibility is great, steering response feels fine and the current Range Rover Sport is really nicely proportioned: plenty of space for all your friends and family and the occasional piece of furniture, still easy enough to park in a city.
You can somewhat keep the engine’s aggressive yowling at bay by being extremely gentle with the accelerator pedal, and leaving “loud mode” off obviously. And the excessive HP makes quick work of merging.
The SVR can slice and dice its way through lanes of traffic as well as some modern sports cars, even hang flat through your favorite twisty road. No small feat considering this SUV’s curb weight.
The vehicle’s electric power steering has enough weight programmed into it that turning the wheel supplies satisfaction, but in spite of the SVR’s competence in the face of its ludicrous size, I can’t say I felt the same energy driving this as I got out of the similarly rambunctious Jaguar F-Type SVR.
Even with a lot of grip and enough steering feedback, getting accustomed to attacking turns from an SUV’s high seating position is a tall order. It’s not that it felt uncomfortable, it just, didn’t feel all that... fun.
The Range Rover Sport SVR’s primary party trick is leaving a parking lot in a hurry, anyway. And making sure everybody for five or six blocks is aware of its existence. I’ve mentioned that already. But what I have not mentioned is the vacuum the SVR creates behind it when you jump on the gas. A vacuum which subsequently sucks your organs aft-ward as the car warps into the next ZIP code.
Oddly though, after the gut-punch that comes with the launch this vehicle does not do a great job selling a sensation of speed. Once you’re underway. 80 MPH feels the same as 65, which could be 50 and by then you might as well just be floating along, watching the road roll beneath you.
After a fair bit of driving, it seems pretty clear that the main value proposition of this strange Rover is “object to advertise your disposable income” that happens to double as transportation. And you kind of need to be into the six figures to pull that off. So I guess the list price makes sense.
If you want one and you’re trying to figure out how to justify it, try this: The least expensive new Range Rover Sport starts at about $70,000, and that version would be pretty tame around a racetrack. The Jaguar F-Type SVR, which basically has the same heart as this extra noisy SUV, costs about $120,000. If you wanted both, you be looking at almost $200,000. Or you could get this and do a little two birds, one-stone thing? You’re saving money!
As a playable car in a video game, the Range Rover Sport SVR would be freaking sweet. It’s got torque and angst in abundance and it looks lethal. It’s a caricature that’s genuinely fun when you’re in the mood for it. As a car to get around in every day, it’s kind of exhausting.
The SVR Rover’s objectively impressive specifications and abilities justify the price. But this rig’s defining characteristics are that it’s loud and easy to drive. Take it out and whomp on it; it’s hard to have a bad time. You just need a whole lot of self-confidence, or at least a sense of humor, to pull it off.