Maxim Rides: Testing the Sinful Range Rover Sport SVR

At this point, we have to ask: Is there anything the Range Rover Sport can’t do?

New York proved the ideal place to test the Range Rover Sport SVR in its natural habitats—all of them. Lined up in a bright-blue convoy at the Hotel Hugo in SoHo, the louche, slope-roofed cousin to the flagship Range Rover had tourists’ cameras snapping.

Dusting slowpokes at Manhattan red lights, this supercharged, 550-horsepower Rover Sport SVR staked its claim as the fastest, most powerful Rover in history, including a 4.5-second blitz from 0-60 mph and a 162-mph peak. Setting a compass for the northern Westchester suburbs and the winding horse country of Dutchess County, the $111,470 Rover showed off tightened handling, including 20-percent stiffer dampers than standard Rover Sports, a recalibrated dynamic rear differential and toughened anti-roll control.

Burbling into Monticello Motor Club, the Rover Sport did its best fish-out-of-water act, lapping the rollicking Catskills road circuit with giggling aplomb for a 5,146-pound SUV. The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is smooth like single malt, and shifts up to 50 percent faster than civilian-issue versions, automatically blipping the throttle to avoid chassis upset during gear changes.

Finally, the Rover gave its burly six-piston Brembo brakes a deserved rest: Dialing its Terrain Response system to low-range 4WD and a mud-and-ruts setting, and boosting the air springs to lift the low-slung body, we rolled straight from the track and onto Monticello’s boggy off-road course, now being primped as the latest Land Rover Experience venue.

Seriously, is there anything this Rover can’t do? If some Earl Grey and scones came popping out of the veddy-British dashboard, we wouldn’t be shocked.

Such unbeatable versatility, along with that statement-making Rover badge, is the reason that New York snaps up more Rover Sports than any metropolitan market in the world. (It helps that people from Central Park West, to Greenwich, Ct., to Short Hills, N.J. can actually afford the thing).

With a basic, six-cylinder Rover Sport starting around $64,000 (or $80,990 with the 510-horse supercharged V8), the $111,470 SVR is clearly the price-no-object player: A six-figure rival to the far costlier, 570-hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, but more expensive than the 567-hp BMW X5M and X6M. It’s also the first brute ute from Land Rover’s new, high-performance Special Vehicle Operations, a unit that Rover hopes will eventually be spoken of in the same baited breath as Mercedes AMG and BMW’s M division.

The SVR looks smashing from any vantage point, with its ever-graceful roofline and greedy trapezoidal air intakes.

Both the Porsche and BMWs are about 0.6 seconds quicker to 60 mph, turning the trick in a downright ridiculous 3.9 seconds. Nor is the Rover as uncannily agile on-road as its schnitzel-stuffed German competitors – but it’s close enough for British rock-and-roll. And Rover would note, correctly, that this SVR can handle brutal off-road terrain, including doing the breaststroke through 33-inch deep water, that would have the BMW or Porsche dialing 911.

On that musical front, the Rover Sport SVR sounds more speed metal than Edward Elgar, as you might expect from an SUV that adopts both the V8 from the Jaguar F-Type R sports car and its notoriously unhinged aural philosophy.

As does the Jaguar, the Rover can cut the engine’s air charge when the driver lifts off throttle, producing M80-worthy backfires through a quadruple set of 2.4-inch exhaust outlets. Yet aside from an obtuse navigation unit that seems to date to the Texas Instruments era—soon to be mothballed as Rover preps a vastly upgraded system—the sonic-boom exhaust ends up being virtually the only major annoyance.

The non-stop snap, crackle and pop is mostly charming in the two-seat Jaguar sports car, but it seems over the top in a luxury SUV that’s still synonymous with under-the-radar elegance. A pushbutton lets drivers select a “quiet mode,” but it’s impossible to dial up the full monty of Dynamic Mode performance without making the neighbors think the Hell’s Angels are staging a return to Altamont.

Yet if the soundtrack is Spinal Tap loud, its other surroundings provide sweet consolation. Sport seats front and rear are trimmed in ribbed-and-quilted Oxford leather. Turned aluminum trim, or carbon fiber if you prefer, highlights the spot-on taste and splendid forms of Gerry McGovern, the Rover chief designer. Even the new electric steering betrays none of the numbness that often afflicts first-timers as they move from hydraulic to fuel-saving and easily tuned electric racks. And the SVR looks smashing from any vantage point, with its ever-graceful roofline and greedy trapezoidal air intakes. A darkened grille, slashing fender vents, gloss-black rear diffuser and stately 21- or 22-inch alloy wheels also signal that this Rover Sport has more on its mind than soccer practice and antique shopping. 

Like the Cayenne and BMW’s X-men, the Rover Sport will have traditionalists gnashing their wooden teeth, spouting the usual claptrap about how performance SUV’s are, prima facie, a violation against God and man.

Fortunately or not, depending on your appetite for aural destruction, Rover Sport SVR owners can easily ignore the haters: Mash the gas, and not a whiff of protest will reach your ears.  

Followe Lawrence Ulrich on Twitter at @LawrenceUlrich