The Swiss Army Knife is a brilliant little thing. Need to unscrew something? No problem, there’s a useful little screwdriver included. Fancy popping open a bottle of wine to make a god-awful camping trip more bearable? Hey, just use the corkscrew. And, well, if you need to cut something, there’s predictably no shortage of different sized knives to hand.
I’ve often wondered what the car equivalent of this iconic multi-tool is, and so far, I’m struggling to think of a better fit than the Range Rover Sport SVR.
It’s the first ever car built by Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and it excels at many things. Like off-roading, for instance - it’s just as capable at the whole mud-plugging thing as all other Range Rover Sports, with a maximum wading depth of 850mm (the Porsche Cayenne manages just 523mm, if fitted with air suspension), wheel articulation of 546mm and switchable drive modes to suit whatever terrain is under your mildly obnoxious 21-inch rims.
I’ve tested out the SVR’s off-road nous too - not because I don’t believe Land Rover’s claims, but because it’s rather good fun. The only problem? Even the hardiest of my local green lanes do not even come close to properly taxing the Sport’s ability to trudge through rough ground.
As you’re probably expecting, the fun doesn’t stop when you get back on road. Sure, the supercharged V8 Range Rover Sport - the previous range-topper - isn’t far off as powerful, with the SVR’s 542bhp representing a 42bhp increase. But the whole character of the 5.0-litre V8 has changed. It feels keener, angrier, and makes one hell of a noise.
In fact, this V8 sounds better here than it does in the Jaguar F-Type R. You still get all the delightfully silly pops and bangs, but at full chat (bypass valves open in the exhaust at around 3000rpm) it makes a throatier, less metallic sound. Give it a listen and judge for yourselves…
Want some stats? Prepare to be impressed: 0-62mph takes 4.7 seconds - faster than a Porsche Cayman GTS - the top speed is 165mph, and it can lap the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and 14 seconds, a former record. And that last bit is made possible because the SVR is good in the corners. Really good, actually.
At speeds which would turn the vast majority of SUVs into a floppy mess, the SVR stays remarkably flat for a jacked up SUV with 2335kg to lug about. And its all down to the wizardry from the ladies and gents at SVO.
The air suspension has been littered with strengthened parts, and instead of anti roll bars, each axle gets a hydraulic pump which can adapt to body movements up to 1000 times a second. It works, and it works ruddy well.
Naturally, there comes a point when the laws of physics take over and the near 2.5-tonne hulk starts to understeer rather noticeably. But if you’re brave enough (with a car this large and heavy, I’m not sure I am…) it can be countered with a more ruthless treatment of the throttle pedal. The importing thing is, up until that limit of grip, the SVR is still devastatingly fast, and thanks to four-wheel drive, it’s devastatingly fast whatever the weather.
To recap, then: it can do the rough stuff with ease, it’s maddeningly quick in a straight line, can corner like few other SUVs, and as the cherry on the cake, it’s a brilliant thing to waft around in. It’s the firmest Range Rover Sport yet, but is still fabulously comfortable, helped by a pair of excellently shaped bucket seats (oh yes, bucket seats in an SUV). The only thing it can’t do is be economical; over the course of a one-week loan, we averaged a wallet-murdering 12mpg.
So, other than that, the SVR can tackle a broad range of tasks incredibly well, and is most certainly that automotive version of the Swiss Army Knife I’ve been searching for. Job done, review over, surely? Not quite. The problem is, I’m just not sure anyone really needs a car that does all those things.
As much as I enjoyed getting the SVR very muddy and then hooning it all the way home, are many owners actually going to do that? Will they happily test the limits of its off-roading ability, knowing one step over the limit will mean slapping a piece of trim on a £93,450 car? And because it can do all that mucky stuff, because it’s an SUV, that makes it compromised on road. Yes the handling is extraordinary, but you still have to add the ‘for-an-SUV’ caveat. A super saloon or estate - even one with less power - will run rings around it. For these reasons, a 542bhp super SUV seems not just highly excessive, but a bit pointless.
To compound the issue further, the sort of people that are happy to spend almost £100,000 on a car tend to be well off enough to have more than one vehicle. They don’t need ‘one car to rule them all’ - if Mr. Range Rover buyer actually wanted to go mud plugging, he could just buy himself a Defender to do that. And then a sports car for the fast road driving, plus a nice practical estate for everything else.
'Cars like these indulge your inner 10-year-old, and make you feel brilliant when you drive them'
The world doesn’t need a car like this. It just doesn’t. Clearly, JLR decided it would throw all rational thought out of the window and build something utterly silly. But for that, we should be thankful, because silliness is something we need more of in the car world, and it surely won’t be long before stuffing massive V8s into inappropriate places will become a thing of the past. For similar reasons, we like the Audi RS6 - a car my colleague Darren labelled ‘pointlessly fast’. Cars like these indulge your inner 10-year-old, and make you feel brilliant when you drive them. Can you ask more of a fast car?
The old saying goes that ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’. The Range Rover Sport SVR is a snarling, overblown and outrageous riposte to that mantra. For that, it gets a big thumbs up from me.