All-terrain assault

The Range Rover Sport – it’s a car that’s never quite lived up to the last word in its name. Sure, it has always represented its brand name very well, being able to traverse any and all sorts of terrain with consummate ease, but sporty it was not. Yes, you could have the standard car with a 503bhp V8 under the bonnet, but it was still a bit of a hot-rod – power and not much else. Surely this, the SVR, is the version to finally make us believe. That’s because it’s the product of Jaguar Land Rover’s new in-house Special Vehicle Operations division, or SVO. That’s right, JLR finally has a proper alternative to BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, and this is the first Land Rover vehicle to come from it. It was also, until very recently, the fastest SUV to ever lap the Nürburgring, with a time of just 8min 14sec. It’s clearly something a little more special, then.

Range Rover Sport

For a start, it does a good job in the looks department, and that’s because it’s got enough flash without being too over the top. So, even if you forego the Estoril Blue paint, you still get 21-inch chrome wheels, a ferocious rear diffuser with quad tailpipes flanking it, an aggressive front bumper with massive air intakes and a pair of glossy black vents down the flanks.

The interior doesn’t disappoint either, what with its good spread of colours and materials. We like the front seats, which appear to be the same wing-backed buckets you find in an F-type, and the rear seats are even individually shaped to mimic the ones at the front. There is some carbon-fibre trim on the dash and the dials are all digital, like in the full-size Range Rover, but that aside, it’s no different from the run-of-the-mill Range Rover Sport.

What’s not at all ordinary? The engine. It’s still a 5.0-litre supercharged V8, but it’s been plucked straight out of the Jaguar F-type R Coupe, so it packs 542bhp and 69.4kgm of torque! And a lot of beautiful noise – in fact, this is the loudest SUV we’ve ever driven, and the gritty rumble you hear when the ‘loud’ button on the dash is depressed is a huge part of this car’s charm. 0-100kph is dealt with in just 5.2sec, and with all the drive settings at their most aggressive, this thing feels sportscar-quick. The eight-speed ZF automatic might take a moment to match up to the motor’s urgency off the line, but once on the move, it’s quick and seamless. Also quick and seamless is the SVR’s supercar-like fuel consumption; the supercharged V8 and 2.3 tonne of weight really take their toll. It’s a good thing it has a 105-litre fuel tank.

It’s still a Range Rover, of course, and to that end, gets the latest Terrain Response 2 traction control system, albeit with one difference. Apart from the various off-road modes, there’s also a ‘Dynamic’ setting that lowers and firms up the reworked air suspension. Overall, the car is firmer than the standard car, but despite this and the 21-inch wheels, the ride is still pretty good. In the handling department, it’s not the underpinnings that let the SVR down, it’s the car’s inherent Range Rover traits. It feels solid and tough over a rocky verge, but it also feels heavy and ponderous through bends, and you sit very high up, which is great for off-roading, but not for cornering. There’s also a fair bit of body roll, only enhanced by the driver’s tall centre of gravity. The steering is quick and easy, but not the last word in sharpness, and despite 275-section rubber at all four corners, the grip can be overwhelmed quite easily when you push a little.

So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, the RRS SVR. On one hand, you have lots of aural drama, addictive acceleration and sharp looks mixed with proper off-road ability and good comfort too. But then for an all-out performance SUV, it simply doesn’t feel sporty enough from behind the wheel. And at Rs 2.03 crore, it’s a good deal more expensive than most of the other options too. If you love driving and like to regularly push your car to its limit, this is not the sports SUV for you. If, however, all you crave is the sensation of power, an enthralling engine note and a good amount of presence, the SVR does all that. Oh, and it can climb straight up a mountain without breaking a sweat as wel