Blazing Range Rover Sport SVR waves off laws of physics
Going off-road these days must be getting rough as a Republican presidential debate.
How else do you explain a 550-horsepower SUV that can slither through an Irish bog, clamber up the side of a cliff and then streak back home at 150 mph?
I guess we need to be fully prepared for some seriously bad bears and mountains out there — and deal with them appropriately in a hushed, leather-lined, carbon-fiber environment.
But I have to ask: What happened to all those rattling, rough-edged, three-ton SUV slugs that could barely traverse a mudhole?
The world must have changed while I struggled — again — to send a text on my slick new hand-me-down smartphone, which I use at least twice a month now when I can find it.
Nothing short of an empty fuel tank seems to slow the 2015 Range Rover Sport SVR, the newest in an exclusive group of high-end, mind-boggling luxury SUVs.
Seemingly built as some sort of grand experiment to defy the laws of physics, the rip-snorting Rover SVR only makes sense when you realize that it can do more things than any car on the planet — and I say that as a car guy.
Let's just hope a few of its dazzling capabilities trickle down to the clumsy crossovers and SUVs the rest of us must drive.
The one I had recently glowed in a deep metallic blue, which didn't seem quite appropriate for one of the queen's very British SUVs.
Other than the oddly bright color, though, the SVR didn't look a whole lot different from a regular Range Rover Sport.
Like all Range Rovers, it rolls with a two-box design featuring a fairly tall top and flat sides — similar to any rich guy's snazzy boat-hauling, kid-toting SUV.
A long, flat hood bumped up against a large windshield, and familiar character lines defined the hot-rod Rover's conventional sides.
Likewise, its 21-inch wheels were positioned at the edges of the body, with virtually no overhangs front or rear for better ground clearance.
But look a little closer. Four meaty exhaust pipes — two on each side — protruded from a black aerodynamic tray in back, and those 21-inch wheels wore serious 275/45 performance tires.
Moreover, giant blue brake calipers stood ready to haul the SVR down from speeds that few full-size SUVs will ever see — a 162 mph top speed, for example.
If you still need convincing, just push the start button.
The SVR, the first performance model from Jaguar Land Rover's new Special Vehicle Operations division, responds with a gruff rumble that could light up a Saturday night at the drive-in.
Thanks mainly to software changes, the SVR's supercharged 5-liter V-8 makes 550 muscular horsepower — 40 more than the Range Rover Sport — and spins a sophisticated, tight-shifting eight-speed automatic.
Drive the SVR like an adult, and it will rumble around town in pretty refined fashion, stepping over bumps with just slightly more stiffness than a regular Range Rover.
Always, though, the engine percolates, providing plenty of civilized push and torque but bubbling and anxious to act up.
That happens at about 3,000 rpm. In sport mode, the Rover's big exhausts go dark and stormy, bellowing as the SVR transforms into a pumped-up action-cartoon character. Everyone inside gets shoved back into their racing-style bucket seats as the 5,300-pound SVR blasts to 60 in a mind-boggling 4.4 seconds.
In fact, it sports so much kick everywhere that unlike most SUVs, the Rover can deliver hard, asphalt-inhaling acceleration even when prodded at 80.
Even more bizarre, the SVR can handle curves and corners, too.
Toss it into a curve — with palms sweating — and you get a slight shift in weight to the outside as the Rover's all-wheel-drive system, air suspension and electric differential dig for grip and stability.
While some body lean pushes through, it remains minimal, never upsetting the SVR's eerie balance.
Although the steering was not quite car-quick, it got progressively heavier as cornering forces increased, giving the driver a pretty good idea of what was going on with the front tires.
When Range Rover took the SVR to the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, as a matter of fact, it circled the difficult course in a little more than eight minutes, tearing through the circuit faster than many small sports cars can.
But pull over and bolt on more appropriate off-road tires, and Range Rover says the SVR will go anywhere off in the craggy boonies that a regular Range Rover Sport can — complete with a low-gear mode for rock scrambling.
The Inside Story
As you would expect, of course, there's a price to pay for this level of performance — like a $111,470 base and fuel economy of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway.
You'll forget about all of that, though, once you slide inside. The unusual black-and-white interior in my SVR featured four highly supportive racing-style bucket seats with a more conventional seat between the back buckets.
Fine black leather covered its big flat dashboard, complemented by a mid-dash in off-white leather.
An obligatory display screen nestled into a recessed bin in the middle of the dash, and a broad console in dark carbon fiber curved up to join the dash.
Black and white leather-covered door panels matched seats that had perforated white centers and black bolsters with a — gasp — black racing stripe down the center of the seat.
As impressed as I was with the SVR, I initially wondered what you could do with an expensive, physics-bending, ground-pounding bruiser like this.
And then I realized: You can do practically anything you want with it. What's that worth?
2015 Range Rover Sport SVR
Type of vehicle: All-wheel-drive, five-passenger sport utility vehicle
Price as tested: $111,470 base price
Fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon city, 19 highway
Weight: Approximately 5,300 pounds
Engine: Supercharged 5-liter V-8 with 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds
SOURCES: Jaguar Land Rover North America; Car and Driver