Good: brutally handsome, brutally fast, brutally noisy, brutally good fun
Not so good: brutal to the environment
We are, if you will forgive the baseball metaphor, in the bottom of the ninth inning where internal combustion engines are concerned. The bases are loaded with environmental concerns and unstable oil prices, so the game is nearly over for a form of motive power that once seemed the answer to all our questions and now seems the source of all our ills. Knowing this to be the case, and with the finality of decisions such as Toyota's promise to phase out all but a trickle of combustion engine production by 2050, it seems apt to have one last big hitter, swinging for the bleachers like Babe Ruth in a bad mood, walk out to the plate for a final swing of the bat.
Perhaps it's odd to present such a British car with such an American metaphor, but with its growling, gurgling V8 engine, the Range Rover Sport SVR could hardly be more Yankee in its swagger. Created by Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO), the SVR is the ultimate iteration of the ultimate conundrum - a tall, hefty Range Rover cleverly engineered to mimic the actions of a sports car. Well, almost.
To create this beast, the SVO skunkworks has taken the standard (if that's quite the right word...) 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol engine and had a good go at it with the spanners and laptops. The supercharger boost has been cranked up and the Bosch engine management system adjusted to cope. Bigger air intercoolers help feed atmosphere to that supercharger and the result is maximum power of 550hp and 680Nm of torque. It's roughly the same engine that you'll find in wilder versions of Jaguar's F-Type and as soon as you thumb the starter button, it fires with a deep roar overlaid with a wicked crackle, as if someone has thrown a crate of Christmas crackers onto a large bonfire. It speaks of a depth of performance to come...
Clearly, just ramping up the power output wasn't enough so the rest of the car has been modified in lock step. The eight-speed ZF transmission has been beefed up, and given a special sport mode that blips the throttle on downshifts and which can recognise when you're in a long corner and hold a gear, rather than changing up and spoiling the fun. Suspension is by a mix of computer controlled air springs and continuously variable magnetorheological dampers (which means they have metal shards inside the damper fluid, which can be stiffened or softened by turning on a magnet) with an Active Roll Control system. Mind you, this is still a Land Rover, so while the suspension might be tweaked for tarmac use (and indeed spent many a session at the Nürburgring for honing and hooning purposes) it can still stretch up to nine inches (235mm) tall for clambering over rocks and mud and those big 21-inch alloys are wrapped in all-season Continental tyres.
Needless to say, it's fast: 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds is BMW M3 territory, and as soon as you plant your right foot, the big Range Rover takes a deep, grumbling breath and then unleashes itself towards the horizon with the singular intent of racking up as many penalty points as possible in the shortest space of time available. In any car, this kind of sheer straight-line grunt would be impressive, but when you're sitting four storeys above the tyres, half-wrapped in a leather high-backed bucket seat, it's doubly so. Nothing this big, weighing 2.3 tonnes bone dry should be able to move like this, but the SVR does, and does it time and time again. It's an engine that never feels over-stretched, in spite of repeated requests to shift this kind of bulk around, and it always, always entertains. The exhaust is a dual-mode design, so that when you're just shunting along on a light throttle, it's pretty quiet. Ask for performance though and the exhaust decides to throw a symphony orchestra down a lift shaft full of angry lions. Well, that's what it sounds like - it's one of the most nakedly aggressive exhaust notes in motordom. There are Ferraris that are not this loud.
Does it handle? Well, yes, after a fashion. The steering is pretty light and doesn't really tell you what the front wheels are doing, but in a car where you can see the corners of the bonnet from the driver's seat, that's less of an issue. Certainly, there's no lack of grip or traction, but I'm not so sure about the roll control - you can feel the big body leaning away from an apex, even if overall composure is ridiculously good. As a way to effortlessly cover ground, and do so vastly quicker than you were expecting, it takes some beating. Certainly, the outrageous performance helps compensate for an interior that's still too far behind Audi and Mercedes-Benz in both style and quality, even if it is roomy and exceptionally cosseting.
Daft? Of course it's daft. No one needs a block of flats that can move this fast, and yes it's appallingly wasteful of planetary resources. When a car maker says that its average economy is circling 20mpg, then you are looking at long stretches spent in single figures. Perhaps one shouldn't feel too guilty though - few enough SVRs will ever be built and sold, relatively speaking, so the overall damage to the eco-system is actually probably pretty light.
Still, it's worth remembering that Tesla can now sell you an all-electric Model X SUV that can actually get to 100km/h even faster than this, so the SVR is going to have a very limited day in the sun. It's the last bastion, the final (probably) iteration of a dying breed - the big, fast, petrol-engined luxury SUV. Its eventual successors will be electric and we shall all mourn the loss of that bombastic V8 soundtrack, even if we sleep with cleaner consciences.
That is in the future though. For now, Babe Ruth stands at the plate. And he's got that old home-run glint in his eye...