PH Bloodline: Range Rover SVR

If you'd wandered into Land Rover's inner sanctum on the eve of the new millennium and told its brain trust that within 20 years the firm would be building a six-figure, 575hp SUV like the SVR, it would likely have laughed you out of the building. The firm was in disarray in 2000, a victim of divorce from BMW and facing an uncertain future under Ford's heavy-handed management. Now, of course, Land Rover is the jewel in Tata's crown: as profitable as Bolivian brine pool and apparently as adept with a supercharged V8 as it is with negotiating a mud rut.

Nevertheless, the concept of a SVR was hardly the manufacturer's own. Its bloodline is an irregular genealogy built mostly from its rivals foresight, and the cars subsequently built to satisfy a barely acknowledged niche. With that niche now beyond bulging and a new SVR (not to mention, SVX) on the horizon, we run the rule over the car's spiritual forbears...

BMW X5 4.6iS
A controversial starting point, but it's easy to forget that the E53 X5 - launched in 1999 - was the real game-changer in terms of how people expected an SUV to handle; so much so that BMW famously insisted that the Utility in its descriptive be changed to Activity to reflect the model's car-like handling. It was that on-road capability which had Munich mulling deployment of the same 394hp S62 V8 engine used in the E39 BMW M5, before finally deeming it overkill (not least because no automatic transmission BMW had at its disposal could cope with the performance of the donkey). So instead it fitted a 4.6-litre V8 with only 345hp; making the X5 capable of 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and very nearly 150mph. Other changes included a body kit, bigger disc brakes, and colossal 20-inch five-spoke alloys. That handicapped the ride quality somewhat - but it set the tone, and marginally preceded the car about to turn the industry on its head.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
For most people, this is where it kicks off - with the car that most Porsche enthusiasts were determined not to like. In fairness, a good many motoring journalists didn't want to like it either, but the original Cayenne was just too well engineered and eerily capable on the road for its advantages not to shine through. Porsche also set its stall out early: the 450hp Turbo model was available from launch, and wasted no time in astonishing buyers with the sheer breadth of its performance. Naturally, much like the X5, some of this was achieved by ditching the cumbersome gubbins involved with going off-road - but unlike Land Rover, Porsche was interested in dominating the marketplace, not the countryside. And even desperately short of anything which could be called good looks, it succeeded brilliantly.

Dodge Ram SRT-10
You might be wondering "How can there possibly be a link between this ruddy uncouth pick-up and a luxury Range Range Sport?". Well there is, but I'm building to it. No, it certainly isn't the chassis tuning. The SRT-10 Ram had a dramatic cut in ride height and was fitted with five Bilstein shocks (three on the rear solid axle to quell axle tramp, if for some reason you were performing a burn-out, perhaps at the drag-strip). But it still had a seperate chassis. And it isn't the four-pot front brakes on later cars, RRS SVR has six-pot front calipers. No, it's the 507hp 8.3-litre V10 engine which Dodge plundered from the other SRT-10 (the Viper, to you and me) thereby laying the tracks which eventually lead to a Range Rover Sport sharing an engine with a Jaguar F-Type R.

Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
Alright, let's head this one off at the pass: yes, technically Mercedes were fiddling with the ML long before its rivals, sticking a 4.3-litre V8 in the W163 way back in 1998 (fun fact: Brabus went one - or four - better and shoehorned in a V12). But the W163 is disqualified because it too was on a separate chassis, and the ML 430 was about as reliable as Southern Rail. No, you need to wait until 2005 and the switch to a unibody platform that arrived with the W164. That still didn't bless the ML with an X5's handling - but AMG provided the reputational sticking plaster in 2006 when it launched the ML63, the model invested with the hand-built and stupendously lovely M156 V8. Outputting 510hp, it was the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 SUV in the world - and easily the best sounding.

Overfinch Range Rover Sport 5.0 V8
It's fair to say that Overfinch spent decades showing Land Rover (with varying degrees of success) where it could potentially take the Range Rover. For P38 generation cars, they'd strip out the 4.6-litre V8 and replace it with 6.3-litre Chevrolet V8 that put out 405hp. They would also improve the brakes and suspension to match, including developing their own active ride technology, which almost eliminated the Range Rover's propensity to roll. But 2009, with Land Rover themselves fitting air-suspension systems with anti-roll technology, Overfinch's role with vehicle development seems little more than fitting upgraded leather trim and adding massive wheels. Still, at least earlier examples of Overfinch gave Land Rover a kick up the behind to do something about the way their cars handled.

"Its position as the fastest car in its class will win it a few advocates, but beyond that and its controversial image there is no reason to opt for the X6 M". This is a direct quote from Autocar about the then new BMW X6 M. If only they knew what we do now. The BMW X6 M was pretty extreme for an SUV back in 2009, a highly-strung performance vehicle which required a track to really explore its limits, as they were extremely high, too high for the public roads. This did make it a compromised car, with a rock solid ride quality. If you didn't have back problems before you drove an X6 M, you certainly would afterwards. Luckily, the RRS SVR didn't follow the same path and retained some form of everyday usability.

Mercedes G63 AMG
Even to the casual observer, the assorted flavours of G-Wagen available ought to have been the straw which broke the camel's back. Not necessarily for how fast one could make the venerable Gelandewagen go in a straight line with it hooked to the right kind of AMG donkey - but how much money you could charge a buyer for the pleasure. By 2012 - still two years before Gaydon got around to the SVR - the G63 launched with Mercedes famed 550hp twin-turbo V8 in it and the kind of soundtrack which makes a cornered lion seem peaceable. But AMG wasn't done there: the same year it wedged a 6.0-litre, 600hp twin-turbo V12 in to create the lesser-seen G65 - and then straight facedly listed the price as €220k before taxes. Concrete evidence - were it needed - that the performance SUV limit was now truly in orbit.

Max Adams

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Comments (34) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Turbobanana 08 Oct 2017

    Why exclude the W163 ML for having a separate chassis, then include the G?

    Also, when towing a 911, shouldn't it be on the trailer backwards to put the weight of the engine over the tow ball?

  • Max_Torque 08 Oct 2017

    If you are going back, right back, then you surely have to start with an earlier 'tuner' car:

    Ok, back in the mid 80's it consisted of an aftermarket kit, with a 5.7 Yanky V8 motor slung in the front, some stiffer springs and dampers, maybe even an antiroll bar or two (at the time, RRs didn't even have ARBs....)

    But that is where the 'road oriented' performance SUV started.

  • J4CKO 08 Oct 2017

    Max_Torque said:
    If you are going back, right back, then you surely have to start with an earlier 'tuner' car:

    Ok, back in the mid 80's it consisted of an aftermarket kit, with a 5.7 Yanky V8 motor slung in the front, some stiffer springs and dampers, maybe even an antiroll bar or two (at the time, RRs didn't even have ARBs....)

    But that is where the 'road oriented' performance SUV started.
    Remember getting my arse on a plate in a MK2 Golf GTI by one of those, had driven standard ones and they are pretty slow, then that just upped and went, the Overfinch badge being the only clue I needed, being an avid read and subscriber to Autocar, had seen them review one. Now they seem to be added bling for urbanites whose diesel RR Sports just arent garish enough.

  • pistonuser 08 Oct 2017

    It's gotta be the iconic G63 for me.....

  • rtz62 08 Oct 2017

    Anyone remember this?
    I remember reading about it in Autocar or Motor circa 1980/81 when I was 18-ish, and recall developing a list for one that's never gone away...

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