Overall rating: 4.5/5
Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division has had a play with the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 Range Rover Sport, chucking another 40hp and 56Nm at it while honing the chassis even further with the focus on dynamic acuity. The result is the first storming example of a performance badge we're sure to hear a lot more of in the future: SVR.
In the metal 4.5/5
Massive great air intakes at the front, quad exhaust pipes at the rear, goliath alloy wheels of either 21- (standard) or 22 inches (optional) and some extraordinarily subtle SVR badging marks out the most potent Range Rover Sport (RRS) of them all - plus a few special colours, like Estoril Blue, which suits the RRS.
With a contrasting black roof, it looks purposeful and just the right side of gaudy. You'll only really dislike it if you abhor SUVs in the first place, but as we've always liked the way the second-gen RRS looks, the SVR does nothing to alter our opinion, instead merely reinforcing it.
The interior is fantastic, with some sporty upgrades - like optional carbon trim - lifting it, as well as the four-seat configuration with the rear bench redesigned to look like the front two bucket chairs. Talking of those seats, they offer a good driving position and are aesthetically pleasing, but the lump of the headrest digs in between your shoulder blades, while they're pretty tight for the larger driver. Otherwise, it's as excellent in here as you would expect of this highly premium SUV brand.
Driving it 4.5/5
The only drawback on this score is a ride that is bizarrely uncomfortable at town speeds. This is unusual for a Range Rover Sport and while it is accepted that 21-inch wheels on sports rubber never promise the most serene progress, it's not as if the SVR has ultra-low profile tyres; they're 45s on the standard rims and 40s on the 22-inch upgrades. Also, it has air suspension and Adaptive Dynamics magnetorheological dampers, so we'd expect better primary ride characteristics than this. However, once out of town the Sport SVR starts to settle into a comfortable gait, thus (apart from slightly more body roll than expected from the hydraulic-pump driven Active Roll Control set-up, which replaces the anti-roll bars) the rest of the Range Rover's dynamic display is astonishing for something weighing in excess of 2.3 tonnes.
The straight-line urge, for example, is just breathtaking. On an event where multiple SVRs were being driven in convoy with Jaguar F-Type R Roadsters with the all-wheel drive package, the Jag sports cars had a very hard time leaving the SVRs behind, despite weighing a whopping 590kg less. It's not so much the furious acceleration of the SVR that delights most, though; rather, it's the noise it makes while piling on speed at such an indecent rate. SUV or not, this is one of the greatest modern automotive soundtracks going. The V8's thunderous bellow, accompanied by crackles and pops from the uprated exhaust system, makes you grin each and every time you press the accelerator. True, the on-paper power and torque gains over the already-quick 5.0-litre supercharged model may look modest, but the reality is a far different story. The SVR is in another league entirely.
It also corners brilliantly for something so beefy. Granted, given LR was loudly touting its 8m 14s lap of the Nordschleife in the build-up to its release, and JLR's Mike Cross starred in a video showing the SVR power-oversteering around too, this is not the shocking revelation it might have been. Yet the RRS SVR stands shoulder to muscular shoulder with the likes of the hottest Porsche Macan and Cayenne models, as well as BMW's X5/X6 M pair. It has an abundance of mechanical grip, a dearth of understeer and a throttle-adjustable chassis, with a delicious helping of neutrality folded into its recipe. On road, there is simply no way anyone should get into trouble in most reasonable circumstances. On track - New York state's Monticello playground, to be precise - the SVR proved to be a beautifully fluid and thoroughly entertaining motor. The steering is superb, the eight-speed ZF auto with paddle shifts is flawless, the brakes are strong and the crisp, linear throttle response is mapped to near perfection. That it then also took on a pretty muddy (if fairly tame by Land Rover standards) off-road course, to prove it's still a genuine Range Rover at heart, only adds credence to the belief that this might be the very best all-rounder there is at the moment.
What you get for your money 4/5
The bonkers performance and a healthy roster of standard kit means the asking price of the SVR - confirmed as 'under €180,000' by Land Rover Ireland - isn't what you'd call cheap. It's also considerably more expensive than some rivals, but there are very few machines out there that can match its pace. And none of them gets close to the aural symphony the SVR emits; we'd opt for it for that alone.
BMW X6 M: another car with a dubious image in the eyes of the motoring public. And another giant SUV that can seemingly defy the laws of physics, in terms of its roadholding and sheer pace.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo: ludicrously quick and with a sharp chassis, but you've really gotta love the looks... the Range Rover is our preferred choice.
Audi SQ5: hopelessly outgunned in the power department in this company, the diesel SQ5 nevertheless is a lot lighter, cheaper, not that far behind on the 0-100km/h sprint and of course is massively more economical.
Only an occasionally lumpen ride and a slightly uncomfortable image that means there will be a section of society that hates it on sight prevent the marvellous Range Rover Sport SVR getting full marks here, because we don't mind telling you that we absolutely love this thing despite ourselves. Like any RRS, the SVR looks wonderful inside and out, and once up to speed the damping works well enough to improve the ride to acceptable levels - if still some way short of a regular Sport's velvety demeanour.
Yet the fact remains that anything that can go as stonkingly quick as this, handle so vibrantly and make such an epic noise has to be worth any serious driving enthusiast's consideration, irrespective of whether you agree with the concept or not. The first-ever SVR sets a very, very high bar for following JLR models to clear.