If proof is needed that Land Rover still prides itself on world-beating off-road ability, the Range Rover Sport SVR must be it. Who else would spend more than two years making the fastest, and most powerful, model in its line-up even quicker around a race track – including developing special tyres for high-speed use – then still insist it can tackle the rough stuff better than any of its rivals?
That’s exactly what’s happened to the 503bhp, 155mph Supercharged Sport in its transformation into 542bhp, 162mph SVR.
We’ve collared Dave Warner from Special Vehicle Operations, and off-road capability expert Jason Walters, to get the lowdown...
How did the idea come about?
Dave Warner: ‘BMW and Porsche make good money with vehicles like the X5M and Cayenne Turbo S, but we weren’t exploiting that end of the market, so the brief was to build a faster and more agile Range Rover Sport, with better brakes, but without compromising its core attributes – including off-road ability.
‘You can put the family and dog in it, drive to a race track, do some hot laps, then drive home.’
What’s under the bonnet?
The SVR uses the same AJ133 supercharged 4997cc V8 found in the regular Supercharged, but adopts the 542bhp version of it found in the Jaguar XKR-S sports car, with sharper responses.
DW: ‘We’ve utilised the same engine maps as the XKR-S and tailored the transmission calibration to suit. With four-wheel drive we can explore parts of the map that Jaguar can’t, with more torque in lower gears and at lower revs.’
There’s so much torque, in fact, that it’s limited in first gear to prevent the driveline destroying itself on high-grip surfaces with the stickier 295/40 R22 Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyre option. The SVR will hit 60mph from rest in just 4.5 seconds – 0.5 quicker than standard.
Talking of tyres...
DW: ‘We’d completed 5000 miles of testing with one car, then decided to fit the 295 tyres – then did another 5000 miles. Grip and lateral G was massively increased, and moved us in to territories we’d not been to with an SUV before. We needed to fully understand the increased loads through the structure.’
The standard fitment for the SVR is a 275/45 R21 Pirelli Scorpion Verde mud-and-snow tyre, but the 22-inchers need small wheelarch flares in order to stay legal. They’re also too big to fit under the floor, so there’s no spare.
What about the suspension?
Apart from 20 per cent stiffer rear subframe bushes, and software tweaks to the Anti-Roll Control and power steering, surprisingly little of the Sport’s setup has changed. I’d expected the SVR to feel racecar stiff on the road, with the driver fighting the camber of the road, but it feels just as supple and refined as the regular model. That’s because it is, as Dave explains: ‘It’s the same stiffness as the normal Supercharged at standard speeds, and in Dynamic mode it’s really only the very top end that differs to standard.
‘It’s actually not an intimidating vehicle for new drivers, yet it will reward experienced ones.’
And, the brakes?
The standard Supercharged Sport’s gigantic vented discs (380mm front/365mm rear) are clamped by blue-painted Brembo calipers. The discs aren’t cross-drilled because they would be more susceptible to cracking under the high temperatures generated while stopping this 2335kg beast – which is about 60kg lighter than the base vehicle. Both front discs on the SVR have 2in square carbon-fibre cooling ducts behind them, and the system uses a higher temperature brake fluid too.
It sounds incredible...
The SVR’s V8 dispenses its gases through a bespoke exhaust system that’s slightly bigger bore than normal, and with four tailpipes instead of two: ‘We were getting a lot of heat with the single outlets each side,’ says Dave.
When I met the regular Sport’s engineers before its official launch in 2013, they were very proud of how good it sounded without resorting to Ferrari-style valves in the system, but those valves are the SVR’s party piece.
DW: ‘In normal driving the sound quality is the same as standard, until the second valve opens at 3500-3800rpm. Both valves open fully as soon as you select Dynamic mode.’
You’ll know when they do. The SVR makes a thunderous bellow like an American muscle car, popping and spitting on the over-run. It’s epic.
There’s a button to summon noise on demand too, as well as a stealth start mode – the valves are in wake-the-neighbours position at start-up.
Could it go even quicker?
DW: ‘We could’ve made it more tarmac focused, but it needed to have off-road capability. The existing air intakes give 540bhp, and we could have compromised the wading depth and gone down from 850mm to 600mm like the Germans, to get more power, but we’ve not needed to.’
Still mighty off-road
Was losing low-box an option?
The SVR keeps a twin-speed transmission mated to an eight-speed ZF auto box, rather than going all-out to save weight with a single-speed setup.
Dave Warner: ‘The single-speed transmission doesn’t come with e-diff capability, so although the twin-speed is a bit heavier, the trade-off in dynamic capability more than makes up for it.’
Those electronically-controlled diffs are an intrinsic part of the torque vectoring system that gives the Sport its impressive agility, and they open quicker than mechanical diffs too.
Jason Walters adds: ‘The level of composure and refinement of the twin-speed is the biggest difference between that and the single-speed. The extra torque of the SVR [501lb ft at 3500-4000rpm vs 461lb ft at 2500-5500rpm] means low-speed driveability off-road is better.’
How do low-profile tyres fare?
Through the woods at Eastnor Castle, Jason demonstrates the refinement he’s been talking about. This SVR is on the 21in wheels and 275 M+S tyres rather than the road-biased 295s on 22in alloys, and it picks its way across slippery cross-axling holes with ease. The tyres’ 789mm rolling radius, the largest of any D7u model, is an asset too, says Jason: ‘They offer huge benefits off-road as their rolling resistance is lower.’
Are there any compromises?
Surprisingly few, actually. The approach angle with the SVR’s bib spoiler fitted drops from 33º to 30º, but removing the spoiler returns it to 33º. And, just in case you’re planning to tow with one, it’s only meant to haul 3000kg (down from 3500kg), in order to protect the transmission.
Above all, it makes you smile
‘A few people in the company thought a sports SUV is not what we’re about,’ says Dave. ‘But it’s been brilliantly received. Everyone gets out grinning.’ You can count me as one of them! Now, where’s that winning lottery ticket...
This story can be found in the April 2015 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.