SINGAPORE – Nobody needs sports cars. In fact nobody needs anything with more than 300bhp. You can argue that a real off-roader/sports utility vehicle (SUV) could be a real necessity in rural areas, but when it comes to modern, urban Singapore, all these things are pretty far from the ‘must have’ scale.
Of course one of the luxuries of the first world is being able to get what you want, not just what you need, which is why there are actually things called high-performance SUVs that exist, in a multitude: BMW X5 M /X6 M, Mercedes-Benz GLS 63 AMG, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S… the list goes on.
But there’s a bridge even further than that, literally and figuratively: High-performance SUVs that can burn the heck out of the tarmac and then leap onto dust and sand like a whale into water.
This rare breed can sneer at everything and can only be one-upped by something totally over the top like a hovercraft. Until recently, it was a one horse race, in the form of the AMG-ified G-Wagen.
While the Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG isn’t currently on sale here (it’ll probably return in 2017, says Mercedes), it is pretty crazy as far as production vehicles go: The famed off-roading prowess of the G-Wagen mated to 563bhp of biturbo V8. There’s also a more ridiculous version, the G 65, which has a 6.0-litre biturbo V12 and 621bhp, presumably only bought by those who have the access to a small country’s mineral rights, or who want to make sure those millions of Toyota Priuses in existence don’t slack off.
Sadly I’m no such person, and neither have I had the chance to find out what a AMG-G is like. But thanks to Range Rover, it’s no longer a one-horse-but-that horse has-more-than-five-hundred-horsepower-race thanks to the new Range Rover Sport SVR.
Coming from Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) unit, the SVR takes a more powerful version of the supercharged V8 engine from the top of the line Rangies and sticks it into an even more tuned version of the already optimised for tarmac Range Rover Sport. Actually, now that I think of it, it’s basically the mad-cat Jaguar F-Type R’s engine under the hood of a Rangie.
The range of tweaks and changes are quite extensive: There’s more aero kit on the outside, for starters – new spoilers on the roof and front lip add downforce, while larger air intakes feed the engine and brakes, the latter being a more powerful six-piston Brembo setup. On the chassis, the steering has been tweaked for more weight and precision, the adaptive magnetorheological dampers and air suspension retuned with stiffer settings and bushings, plus the active roll control tech inherent in the air/magneto setup has also had to be recalibrated.
But can you tell from the driver’s seat? Well given four thrones are now sport seats and most of the cabin is slathered in enough carbon fibre to make an F1 car’s front end, in ambience terms it’s pretty obvious – as if firing up the V8 with its quad-pipe sports exhaust didn’t tell you.
Like it is on the F-Type R, the drivetrain is basically fireworks on command. There’s a exhaust flap button in the cockpit, but you’ll want it always on. It’s quite entertaining since it manages to amble slowly along with a faint purr if you’re gentle. Give it anything more than 20 percent throttle though, and the beast wakes up with a dramatic growl that shoves the entire, huge car forward.
Give it the whole beans and it’s earth-shattering. People around you will wonder where the race car is then see a gigantic blue behemoth thundering past. It’s hilarious and fun as the demonic and musical V8 shrieks then cracks like a whip on the upshift, then rumbles like Keith Moon doing drum rolls when you let off the gas. The last time we had this much joy causing tall mayhem was with the (equally blue) crazy Volkswagen Touareg R50 that had 850Nm of torque, though that beast didn’t sound half as good.
It’s fast, of that there is no doubt, and the SVR team claims an eight minute 14 second Nurburgring time with the car – but it’s obvious they didn’t do it with the car’s stock setup. 21-inch wheels and Pirelli Scorpion Verde four-season mixed tyres were on our test car, but the cost optional 22-inchers shod with Continental SportContact 5 are obviously the ones you should plump for, if not a high-performance, aftermarket choice from a leading tyre brand. We understand Range Rover’s brand values require all their cars to be off-road capable, but given Singapore’s conditions, it’s a bit like gearing up to fight Rita Repulsa but forgetting your Power Ranger boots and wearing Crocs instead.
While we’ve always liked the regular Range Rover better than the Sport version because refinement and effortless quickness make more sense on a huge SUV, the SVR feels like it can do so much more but is held back by its tyres. It’s hard to brake with feel, you can load up the car for hard cornering (Rangie says cornering force possible is 1.3G – up from 1.1G on the RR Sport), but after a major wiggle during a fast left-right transition we decided not to test their claims further.
The good news is that the SVR’s ride quality is much better than the standard Sport’s, and only becomes a bit juddery in Dynamic mode. The other modes are Rangie’s typical complete off-road suite with electronics to back up the considerable mechanical capability such as a low range gearbox and lockable diff. The front bumper’s lower section can be taken off for more clearance, and the onboard air-suspension already has a taller mode too – it can wade in water up to 850mm high.
Because of its tyres, we can’t honestly say this is, as the company claims, the “Fastest, Most Powerful and Most Dynamically Focused Land Rover Ever Produced”. It is undoubtedly fast, dramatic, desirable and capable of one-upping its competition, but not in the way you expect: The Porsche Cayenne Turbo and BMW X5 M could easily outdo it on the road, but at least we can say with certainty it would thrash the pants off them off-road.
Range Rover Sport SVR
Engine 5,000cc, 32V, supercharged V8
Power 550bhp at 6,000-6,500rpm
Torque 680Nm at 3500-4000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 225km/h
0-100km/h 4.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 12.8L/100km
Price $650,000 with COE