The SVR was Land Rover's first proper go at fast SUV. It was a triumph
By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, November 13, 2020
- Available for £50,000
- 5.0 V8 supercharged, all wheel drive
- Nicely tied down in the corners
- Incredibly able off road
- Seems to have far fewer issues than other LRs
Search for a Range Rover Sport SVR here
'Where were you when…' That's a question we've all been asked at one point or another. You don't hear it so much in the world of motoring because new cars tend to slide into the public consciousness in a less immediate way than a moon landing or an assassination, but still, some vehicles have arrived with quite an impact.
Like the Range Rover Sport of 2005. Finding someone with a negative opinion of SUVs as a genre has never been difficult, but Land Rover largely escaped the barbs by virtue of them having got in on SUVs at the ground floor, long before they became a default choice. Even if you exclude the Series/Defender workhorses, the Range Rover has been nailing the SUV thing since 1969.
The Sport was a compact, modern alternative to the stately Range Rover, but to explain why it had such an impact in 2005 we first have to talk about another Landie: the Discovery 3 that had gone on sale a year earlier. The 3 was a landmark family vehicle combining clean styling with go-anywhere performance and acres of interior space. Its 'Integrated Body Frame' chassis – an engine bay and passenger compartment monocoque atop a drivetrain mounted on a conventional ladder frame – was designed to blend modern agility with old-school toughness. Later on, the two-part construction proved more useful for a different reason when mechanics were trying to reach those parts that were going wrong, of which there turned out to be many, but at heart the Disco 3 was a fine vehicle that handled itself really well on both tarmac and turf.
The connection between the Disco 3 and the first generation L320 Range Rover Sport of 2005 was the chassis. The Sport's was a modified version of the 3's IBF. In terms of its mission statement, the Terrain Response-equipped RRS was still an extremely accomplished off-roader but its switch in emphasis from the brown stuff to the black stuff was bang-on for a new demographic who had never considered Land Rovers before.
Discounting the accidental shabby chic appeal of the Defender, you could say that the RRS was the first fashionable-by-design Land Rover. Many footballers and nightclub owners thought so anyway. That may sound like a cheap shot, but it's not so far off the truth. The first Sport's big-inch V8s and personalisation potential really did trigger a seismic change in the LR demographic.
The 2005 Sport's macho appeal also triggered an attack by Greenpeace on environmental health grounds. That probably helped rather than hindered its sales figures. The breaking of the 500hp barrier by the all-new, all-aluminium supercharged 5.0 V8 version of the 2010 facelift Sport SVR confirmed that Land Rover was happy to continue along this new 'luxury power' road. Enhanced suspension and Terrain Response systems ramped up the dynamics while another facelift in 2012 (new 8-speed ZF auto with rotary gear selector, powered tailgate, Bluetooth streaming) cemented the Sport's upmarket status.
The really big change however came in March 2013 when LR unveiled its gen-two L494 Range Rover Sport at the New York motor show. Suddenly the Sport had a shiny new Range Rover-style all-aluminium monocoque drawn along the same metrosexually-friendly lines that had been such a hit in the 2011 Evoque. The new Sport was 180kg lighter than the old L320, despite it being a bigger vehicle. It came with a range of diesel, petrol and hybrid powertrains ranging from a 235hp twin-turbo 2.0 diesel to a 523hp supercharged 5.0 V8, but the model we'll be homing in on today – the 2014-2019 Range Rover Sport SVR (Special Vehicle Racing) – was designed to take the Sport sub-brand to a whole new level of performance, one that would give Mercedes-AMG more than a run for its money.
Launched at Pebble Beach in August 2014, the SVR was one of the first products of JLR's new Special Vehicle Operations team. It used the blown 550hp/502lb ft engine of the F-Type R mated to a 50 percent faster acting 8-speed ZF auto to create what was claimed at the time to be the world's fastest SUV. It had a 0-60 time of 4.5sec, a maximum speed of 162mph and a Ring time of 8m 14sec. Porsche spoiled LR's Ring celebrations by setting a 7m 59sec time in the considerably more expensive Cayenne Turbo, but the SVR was still the fastest and most powerful Land Rover ever. Its performance capability was visually spelt out by a big-duct front bumper, a big-diffuser back end with actively valved exhausts, blue-calipered Brembo brakes, and of course the usual lashings of black paint. Inside there were be-winged sports seats and a goodly chunk of carbon fibreage.
A range facelift for the 2018MY model year gave all Sports new headlights and a new interior along with the upgraded 'Touch Pro Duo' double touchscreen infotainment system from the 2018 Range Rover Velar. SVR-specific changes included silver quad exhausts and a carbon fibre bonnet option. Underneath whatever bonnet you had was the same 5.0 supercharged V8, but with power now hoisted to 575hp. That lowered the SVR's 0-60mph time to 4 seconds and raised its top speed to a slightly surreal 176mph. Not bad for an SUV.
With SVR entry prices still holding firm at around £50k, is a pre-2018 SVR a good buy? Or are these lofty prices all part of a Matrix-style simulation, the elephant in the room being Land Rover's reliability reputation? Does SVR actually stand for Sell Vehicle Rapidly? Let's try and find out.
SPECIFICATION | RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR (pre-2018 facelift)
Engine: 4,998cc V8 32v supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 502@3,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 162mph
MPG (official combined): 22.1
Wheels: 9.5 x 21in
On sale: 2014 – 2019
Price new: £93,450
Price now: from £50,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Before we get into the mechanicals, the first thing to say about that overall reliability point is that the regular Sport is indeed far from brilliant, with a wide span of issues that can affect just about every aspect of your ownership experience. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the SVR's solid residual values suggest that, though it may not perfect, it should be able to provide a far less traumatic and extremely enjoyable ownership experience. You'll search in vain for YT videos moaning about long lists of SVR problems. There's no evidence online of a repetition of the ignition module software glitches that were flagged up in some mid-2010s Sports. Nor is there any sign of the crankshaft failures that have bedevilled the six-cylinder diesel-engined Sports.
Overlay an acetate dyno chart of the F-Type R engine onto a Sport SVR readout and the curves will exactly coincide. The 8-speed ZF auto is a brilliant partner to this truly mighty motor. The SVR was the first factory Land Rover to be offered with a switchable two-stage exhaust. The sound is magnificent. The odd owner has experienced random valve opening and closing but that's not a common fault. Aftermarket Quicksilver exhausts are almost painfully loud if you stand too close to the back.
If fuel burn is something you think about and you live in a city, this might not be the car for you as even the official combined consumption is only 22.1mpg and you'll never be able to restrain yourself to the sort of driving that will produce that figure. Hard or short run driving will get you down to 13mpg.
An SVR will run fine on 95 petrol but if you're the sensitive type it might feel happier to you on 98. The AMG GLE 63 and Cayenne Turbo aren't going to be vastly different in this regard. Pre-April 2017 cars fall into the £580 tax band.
One thing you can't complain about on any Land Rover is the sophistication and comprehensiveness of its many and varied chassis systems. The Terrain Response system has long reflected the more traditional off-road values of the brand, allowing drivers to select different driving modes to optimise the response of the throttle, brakes, differentials, and transmission for just about any imaginable scenario. Modes include Mud, Sand, Rock Crawl, Grass/Gravel/Snow, or just Auto if you weren't sure what it was you were driving on. If that turned out to be water, sonar transmitters in the door mirrors measured its depth and provided a graphic on the screen below the central vents to warn you if you were approaching the maximum wade-ability limit of 2ft 9in, which is basically up to the headlights.
Via the Dynamic Response system, the electro-hydraulic active anti-roll bars reduced body roll and provided flatter cornering on the road. For extreme off-roading these active ARBs could be decoupled to increase wheel articulation. Adaptive Dynamics continuously monitored and analysed road conditions, driving style, speed, steering and body movement up to 500 times a second. A centre e-diff was standard, with the option of a rear e-diff. CBC (Cornering Brake Control) was LR's version of torque vectoring, the electronic braking system that reins in the amount of power put through to any unloaded wheels during hard cornering.
The SVR rode 8mm lower on its air suspension than the regular Sport and its recalibrated dampers and bushes stiffened the ride up by 10 percent. Although the geometry was the same as the standard car's, the setting for the SVR's anti-roll system was equivalent to the standard Sport's 'max stiff'. Steering assistance was reduced in the SVR compared to the regular Sport's, and more so again when driving in the excellent Dynamic mode. Whatever mode you were in, the steering was pleasingly direct and precise. Overall, there wasn't that much difference between SVR and non-SVR in feel or comfort, which is some sort of tribute to the LR suspension engineers' skills.
Standard wheels were 21in with bad-weather compound tyres but there was a £2,400 option of 22s wearing 295/40 Continental SportContact 5 tyres. This came highly recommended if you were interested in sharper, more stable handling and extra steering precision without too much erosion of the car's off-tarmac skills. The Ring record car was thus equipped. A smoothly driven SVR on Conti 22s will be hard to keep up with. If you didn't mind getting your SVR dirty it had the same 850mm wading depth as other Sports.
Slim pillars, big door mirrors and a relatively boxy design give Sport drivers excellent visibility. Check the door seals all round as they have been known to come adrift. Panel gaps might also look a bit squiffy on some cars.
The tailgate opens electronically to give access to 780 litres of boot space. It can scuff on the roof when it's opened. Sport ride height was adjustable from 50mm to 235mm, allowing you to drop the suspension to make cargo loading easier. There have been reports of water leakage in this tailgate area. Land Rover has said that the half-inch gap between the tailgate seal and the bumper top was put there on purpose (perhaps to avert the squeaking that some owners have reported as coming from that area?) and that they would sort it out if any sorting out was deemed to be necessary. Leaks past the big glass pano roof have also been reported.
Red over black seems to suit the SVR really well, especially with the CF bonnet, but the vast majority of used examples are in blue, grey or black. Madagascar Orange sounds dubious but looks great.
The redesign of the Sport's front bodywork sacrificed the fog lamps in favour of vents and a carbon fibre duct to channel a lot more cooling air to the brakes, compensating (you would hope, in something this fast and this heavy) for the fact that the disc sizes were not embiggened on the SVR.
Showing buyers of a £90,000-plus car where their money has gone is one of the biggest tricks premium marques have to pull off, and the cabin is the place where that needs to happen on a daily basis.
The SVR made a very good fist of this. The regular Sport environment was already stylish and well crafted, and the SVR lifted that to a new wow factor level with a choice of four colourways for the heated leather seats (race-bucket style up front).
You could have plain black, or black with Cirrus White, Pimento Red or Tan quilted centre panels. The 16-way front seats were given extra lateral support in the SVR, and the driving position was usefully high with plenty of adjustment to accommodate lengthy humans, but some of the controls felt a bit far away and somewhat randomly placed. The fit and positioning of some parts like the digital screens might make your teeth itch if you're at all perfectionist. You should check that all the buttons on any car you're looking at press correctly and produced the desired effect.
We're pretty sure that the Sport's £1,700 seven-seat option wasn't made available for the SVR but that at least meant that SVR rear passengers were well looked after with seats that were reclinable as well as foldable, generous leg room, and a smartphone cubby at the back of the centre console. SVR buyers could option carbon fibre trim over the standard aluminum trim in the door panels, centre console, dash and steering wheel. The Meridian audio system that was standard in the Sport Autobiography was a popularly-ticked SVR option. USB and aux ports are in plentiful supply around the car, but Sports were set up to run LR's own slow-responding InControl infotainment system rather than to support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Some have found the air management controls on the centre console and the vehicle system monitoring menus between the speedo and tacho to be quite complex on 2018 facelift cars with the Touch Pro Duo setup. Temperature control by knob is a saving grace. Reversing cameras have been known to freeze and electrical issues have been reported on other Sport models, but not so many on the SVR.
Piano black trim is easily scratched, to the point where even brand new cars had scratches from the factory.
The thinking behind the SVR badge is interesting. Recognising that they could never make a serious comparison between any Range Rover Sport – even a 550hp one – and a Porsche 911 GT3, JLR sensibly chose to equate the Sport SVR products with the 911 Turbo. More than enough power and speed, but obviously without that racer's edge. It's an SUV after all.
BMW fans might argue, with some justification, that the £3,300 cheaper X5 M was a sharper tarmac drive than the SVR. Mercedes fans could point out that the ML63 AMG was nearly £7,000 cheaper than the SVR, although neither of the German cars supporters would be likely to claim that their favourites were anywhere near as adept off-road as the RR Sport. Porsche fans might demur, saying that the Cayenne Turbo was the pick of the lot, but then again it was more than £118,000 to buy.
Other less tangible factors come into play of course, like image, quality and luxury, but as an all-round package the Sport SVR stands up strong in this exalted company. Luxurious, fast, refined, richly equipped, with a great ride and room enough for a young family, it's a Swiss Army knife of a car that also gives a big up-yours to the lumpy, bulbous looks of the most obvious opposition.
The go-anywhere ability that for so long was pretty much Land Rover's only USP has morphed into more of a secondary feature in cars like the Sport, but that's really underselling it because even in something as obviously road-oriented as an SVR the grip, traction and ability to scrabble up impossibly steep and slippery inclines – and come back down them in absolute safety – is nothing short of incredible.
Sports generally are well liked by the thieving fraternity, to the extent that some insurance companies are now refusing to cover them. An SVR will obviously be even more tempting, so it's in your interest to do some belt and braces security work, fitting a good immobiliser and parking it in as awkward a place as possible.
One useful thing the SVR avoids is cliff-drop depreciation. As noted at the beginning you'll need at least £50k to get into one of these, but those who have moved up to SVRs from other high-spec Sports say that they are well worth the premium.
Scanning PH Classifieds, we found a tempting batch of nearly ninety 2014-2019 SVRs on offer. At the cheap end here's a fully-historied 2015 53,000-miler with the big 23-speaker Meridian sound system, at £50,995.You can pay over £100k for a low-mile kitted-up car like this one but somewhere between those two extremes you'll find really nice 2018 facelift examples like this carbon-packaged 22in wheel model in Firenze Red. With 27,000 miles recorded it's nicely priced at £81,990. We also quite like this pre-facelift '17 'Urban' car in black with red and black interior for a fiver under £70k.
Search for a Range Rover Sport SVR here
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