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First drive: 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR

The 2016 Range Rover Sport SVR is the classiest British Bulldog on or off the road

The Range Rover Sport SVR is a marvel in uncompromising off-and-on-road performance. It can go from quiet and unassuming to a beastly brute with a push of a button, taking luxuriousness along the way.

Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division sounds very much like a clandestine organization secretly engineering skunkwork projects that would make the SR71 Blackbird look quaint in comparison. What has in fact emerged from the workshop is the Range Rover Sport SVR: a vehicle with “overt stealth,” smuggling a brash powerhouse under the guise of the brand’s flagship luxury SUV.

Packed with a supercharged 5.0-liter V8, the result is a 550-horsepower Range Rover uncompromising in its sophistication and comfort, capable of unleashing the brute within when the road — or lack thereof — requires a heavy hand rather than a velvet touch.

Englishman in New York

My journey with the new Range Rover would start in lower Manhattan, where the SUV’s first test would be to survive the Wild West that is New York City traffic. The plan was to take the car upstate and put it through its paces to test everything it promises to deliver: ruggedness, comfort, and performance. None of that was going to happen, however, until a few taxis got a move on.

Make no mistake; the SVR wasn’t blending in with the crowd. The big, Estoril Blue Rover hints at the power underneath the skin with an SVO designed exterior. Its front fascia now features large trapezoidal intakes, a blacked-out grille, and a bumper designed to reduce front-end lift at high speeds. The wider air apertures are there not only intimidate but also send air to the engine’s supercharger as well as to cool the brakes.

Around the back, the Range Rover continues the darker motif with a black air diffuser and a quad exhaust system that looks like the SUV is packing two double-barreled hunting rifles. They may not blast out a wad of double-aught, but they were primed to let loose a cacophony of noise as I hit that wonderful open-exhaust button on the center console.

Over the hills and far away

Leading out of town, however, the Range Rover remained ever docile, floating comfortably along the now open highway in reserved silence. All the typical Range Rover trappings are offered — soft Oxford leathers, aluminum trim details, 62.2 cubic-feet of load space — but unique to the SVR are bespoke sport seats designed to be comfortable at a cruise and also supportive when the pedal is planted. Optional carbon fiber inserts throughout the cabin also drive home the fact that this isn’t your grandmother’s stately people carrier.

Range Rover’s marriage of luxury and ruggedness is, as always, its greatest strength.

The entire package is elegant and plush enough for a weekend excursion to a country equestrian center, but the SVR is more suited to smash through the show jumping course than it is for dressage.

I instead opt to take the Range Rover SVR to a different track altogether, specifically Monticello racetrack in upstate New York. The folks at Land Rover have arranged to demonstrate the sporty dynamics of the SVR, but not without first proving its off-road heritage.

Cut through the back woods of the track, I take the SVR through a course that is both sufficiently muddy and rocky. Equipped with permanent all-wheel drive and a twin-speed transfer case, the SVR is meant to tackle whatever terrain lies ahead and do all of the grunt work itself.

Like an off-road butler, the SUV automatically decides the most appropriate time to lock the differential, apply enough power to crawl over obstacles, and pull through mud without having to bother the driver. After selecting the appropriate ride height, I can preemptively choose the mode I desire with a turn of the terrain response dial. From here, I can prep the Rover for mud, sand, or snow surfaces, or I can leave it on “auto” which is a more reactive, but no less effective method.

At that point, I have to do is keep the wheels pointed in the right direction, applying enough throttle to chug through the earth without getting stuck or sliding. A multitude of displays help me along, showing the angle and suspension travel of each wheel. I can also see how much torque is being applied and where, so I can modify my input accordingly. Combined with hill descent assist, the Rover simply takes over and gently brings me down a hill on its own.

I figured now I would shuttle over to the actual course where a separate track-ready Range Rover would be warmed up and waiting for me, but that was not so. I was told to stay in the vehicle and, after a quick hose-down and check for tire punctures, I was told to grab the helmet in the back seat and hit the track.

Best of both worlds?

The Range Rover hunkers down in Dynamic mode, ready to fire all 550 ponies from the F-TYPE R-sourced 5.0-liter supercharged V8. With 502 pound-feet of torque and a promise of a 4.5-second 0 to 60 sprint, I’m eager to see just if SVO has indeed crafted the ultimate all-rounder.

Power flows to the track by way of an eight-speed automatic geared for 50 percent shorter shifts, designed to keep the revs within the optimal power band at all times. Even for a 5,000-pound truck, the engine churns up enough thrust to send me flying down the track, hitting the triple digits before turning in to bends. SVO takes everything the Range Rover Sport does and improves it, optimizing the suspension and adaptive damper settings, making it far more nimble. Torque vectoring helps pull the hulking luxury SUV through corners, helping to reduce understeer.

Conclusion

Keeping with Range Rover’s mission to bring civility to the wild, without sacrificing luxuriousness or street performance, the SVR certainly raises the bar set by the Range Rover Sport. Yet, in the end, attempting to be all things to all people is its biggest burden.

Certainly, the Range Rover’s marriage of luxury and ruggedness is, as always, its greatest strength. The steering wheel buttons even have a light tack to them as to prevent inadvertent button presses amid off-road jostling. Having the willingness to actually take an $110,000 vehicle to anything remotely unpaved is a different matter altogether. As such, the Range Rover satisfies the small Venn diagram intersection of those who seek to go off the beaten path, but also wants to do so in the most opulent manner possible. It can do this, but it’s difficult to ascertain why.

On the track, the SVR and its hairy-chested grunt makes for an impressive experience, but the novelty of taking a full-size SUV to a track day hangs over the experience. Unlike the BMW X6 M, which makes you forget you’re even in a utility vehicle, the Range Rover doesn’t blur the line between the segments with sedan performance. The SVR drives like an amazing truck … but a truck all the same.

The Range Rover SVR is unquestionably Land Rover’s best jack-of-all-trades, and the increase in power and performance without compromising its off-road heritage is a testament to SVO’s craftsmanship. Other vehicles may be more rugged, opulent, or sporty, but hardly any of them can do all at once with the SVR’s level of success.

Highs

  • Staggering ability to transition from off-road ruggedness to track-ready performance
  • Uncompromising luxuriousness in all situations
  • Incredibly docile and comfortable when required
  • Blaring, powerful presence when taken off its leash

Lows

  • Track and off-road performance easily compromised by tire selection
  • Capable off-road and on-track but hardly appropriate for either