Anyone who drives the '16 Range Rover Sport SVR needs to send a thank you card to Mike Cross. Seriously.
The good Mister Cross is officially known as Jaguar's chief engineer in the company's vehicle integrity division. In reality, he's been Jaguar's star test driver and suspension wizard for years. Now that Jaguar and Land Rover come under the same Tata-owned umbrella, this is one example of synergy of which even the most marketing-speak-averse would approve.
The number of SUV crossovers that won't embarrass themselves on the track is, not surprisingly, small. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is OK. But the BMW X5 M and X6 M are more like it. Those two are the real rivals to the Range Rover Sport SVR. Of course, no SUV really needs to be track-worthy, but it's a hoot when they are. You're driving that high in something that heavy, saying to yourself: "I'm taking a fast corner, in an SUV, and I'm really having a good time."
That's how adept engineers have become at mitigating all sorts of physical laws. The techs in Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicles Operations (the SV in SVR), including Mike Cross, have taken the Range Rover Sport—a midsize premium SUV that still has the kind of off-road capability for which its larger sibling, the Range Rover, is renowned—and given it what BMW would call the M treatment. Or what Mercedes-Benz would call the AMG treatment.
At its heart is a 5.0L supercharged V-8 also found in the Jaguar F-Type R (which explains the R in SVR). It develops a mighty 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque (for comparison, the X5 M makes 575 hp, so pretty close). It breathes out through a quad-pipe exhaust system with similar sonorous properties to the V-8-powered F-Type. It barks, growls, pops and spits, and probably threatens other crossovers in Klingon.
The SVR will sprint from standstill to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Remember, this vehicle weighs more than 5,000 pounds. What the numbers don't convey is the remarkable lack of effort it all seems to require. Just flex that right foot and fly.
Because it's a Land Rover, the SVR has permanent all-wheel drive. And it even gets the same terrain response system as the rest of the Land Rover portfolio to hustle over grass, gravel, mud, ruts, sand, snow, and rocks. A paddle-shifted, eight-speed automatic transmission has been re-jigged to perform faster shift times, yet it also has a transfer case, because this is a Land Rover.
Delving into the dark art of chassis tuning has resulted in stiffer rear subframe bushings and an upgrading of the air suspension. The company claims a 20 percent increase in the ability to contain cornering forces. It sure feels cohesive. Ride quality is far from jarring, while body lean is kept on a short leash, thanks to active roll actuators that take the place of conventional antiroll bars. Sometimes the slap of tires on expansion joints will be heard and felt, but this could still be a daily driver without any problem.
Stomp on the brake pedal and six pistons in each Brembo front caliper bear down on 15-inch discs. They also help with JLR's "torque vectoring by braking" system. It means an individual wheel is slowed down (imperceptibly) to keep the correct line going into a quick corner. On the exit, the all-wheel-drive system provides the necessary traction. It's an intelligent setup that can send 100 percent of torque to either axle if necessary, but the usual split is 50/50.
Yes, there's electrically assisted steering, but don't fret. For the most part, it's fine. Just a little on the light side in low-speed situations, which is better than being too heavy. Now here's the funny part. This thing can still handle dirt duties. It can even wade through 33.5 inches of water. Although the intention was to make "the fastest, most powerful Land Rover ever," the company declared it would make "no off-road compromises." Most of the angles and ground clearances are the same as the regular Range Rover Sport, with one exception. The lower front spoiler—put there for aerodynamic purposes—reduces the approach angle a tiny bit. But the suspension has 2 inches of adjustable travel, so if some high-speed adventure also involved leaving the tarmac completely, the SVR could be just the ticket.
Having gained admission, the classy interior includes model-specific sport seats up front. It even has those holes in the shoulder area where a multi-point racing harness would go through. They offer plenty of lateral support, yet they're comfortable enough for long drives. Even the rear seats have been jazzed up to match, although Land Rover retains the five-seat layout rather than dispense with that munchkin-sized middle rear pew. The good thing is that the rears can recline a little and headroom is more than generous.
Like a great number of performance vehicles, the SVR was tested, shaken down, and signed off after development sessions on the Nurburgring Nordschliefe, probably with Mike Cross doing most of the laps, which was no doubt a bundle of fun. A time of 8 minutes, 14 seconds is not hanging around, especially for an SUV. Thinking about it, perhaps he should be sending us a thank you card.