Full disclosure: I was on the road test desk at Autocar when it handed the Range Rover Sport SVR a five-star verdict. As you'll likely know, five stars is a big deal at the world's oldest car magazine, and not everyone was convinced that the car had earned its spurs. Some felt it was too gaudy, too heavy, too silly for the ultimate accolade to be bestowed. But those of us already under the influence of the SVR's charms argued that if the super-fast SUV was really going to be a thing - and by 2014, they clearly were - then they were no less deserving of a qualitative benchmark than any other segment. And the SVR, for all its perceived obnoxiousness, had attained a level of driver engagement that no previous SUV could be said to rival. It wasn't a question of taste, we said, it was about fitness for purpose - and no-one could argue that SVO's first creation hadn't brilliantly filled out its monster mash-up billing.
Two life cycles later, and the SVR is very nearly done. Chances are this latest version, the Ultimate, will be Land Rover's last throw of the trim level dice before the underlying car is replaced by a new Range Rover Sport sometime next year. The go-faster model has proved immensely popular - more than 20,000 examples have been sold - although I'd lay good odds that very few buyers made the decision based on a rigorously objective five-star road test verdict. Land Rover itself understood the SVR might face an uphill battle with propriety when parked next to a blue-blooded Range Rover, so intentionally headed in the opposite direction - and then coyly pretended to ignore all the raised eyebrows when it introduced choice items like a gloss finish carbon fibre bonnet and 22-inch wheels. Frankly, it didn't care if your eyebrows fell off, and nor should it: people evidently liked all the look-at-me confetti, and happily paid through the nose for it.
Appropriately then, the Ultimate edition does precious little more than labour the point. Priced from £123,900, it ladles some SV Bespoke (SVO's special commission department) goodness into a familiar punch bowl. You get a choice of three paint colours: Maya Blue Gloss or Marl Grey Gloss, which apparently feature glass flake base coats for an 'intense star-like sparkle' - or satin-finish Ligurian Black. Naturally the Land Rover press office plumped for sparkles, so you're looking at Maya Blue with Fuji White details on the side vents and the 'Range Rover' lettering, alongside a Narvik Black contrast roof and gloss black split-spoke forged alloy wheels. Inside, beyond the 'recommended' Ebony and Cirrus leather trim, there's an SV Bespoke commissioning plaque, chrome B-pillar badges, illuminated Ultimate edition treadplates, and black anodised metal gearshift paddles.
Needless to say, if the SVR wasn't already your cup of tea, no amount of fancy paint is going to change your mind. Buyers will have to do without the manufacturer's latest gizmos, too; I've no complaints about the additional touchscreen the Range Rover Sport earned back in 2018, but every Land Rover not equipped with the latest Pivo Pro infotainment system now feels cruelly outdated. Anyone interested in twisting the knife further might point out that the same accusation could be levelled at the way it drives, too. Time, after all, waits for no-one - least of all rabidly fast, two-and-a-bit-tonne SUVs. Since the SVR launched, we've had a new generation of supremely capable Porsche Cayenne, swiftly followed by the unspeakably quick Lamborghini Urus and then, just last year, the superbly accomplished Aston Martin DBX. The performance benchmark, it's safe to say, has moved on a wee bit.
How much does this matter? Well, clearly the SVR cannot claim to be a class-leader in 2021. The Cayenne and DBX are plusher and cleverer, and you'd need reinforced concrete in your wellies to prevent the 650hp Urus's back bumper from vanishing over the horizon. Nevertheless, none of that comparative certitude overwrites what made the SVR appealing in the first place, not least because many of its various strengths could be called idiosyncratic, and remain so even now. Pride of place, unsurprisingly, goes to the venerable 5.0-litre supercharged V8, which still manages to make most other equivalent engines - even those boasting an indisputable numerical advantage - seem sterile and uninteresting.
It is certainly true that the unit isn't quite as open-throated as it was in earlier iterations (increasingly stringent noise and emissions standards have played their part) yet as its sillier modes were often theatrical to the point of hammy, this is generally to the SVR's advantage. The V8 is still a constant, voluble presence, but in a way that underwrites the rambunctious driving experience rather than overawing it. With 575hp still available at 6,000-6,500rpm, it is probably as well matched with the Range Rover Sport as it has been with any other JLR application. Like most fast SUVs, the SVR's pleasing sense of urgency hinges on the 516lb ft of torque delivered at slower engine speeds - but, unlike most fast SUVs, it is the rapacious, fast-spinning AJ-V8 that encourages you onward, repeatedly and ferociously, into the rev counter's nether regions.
Obviously it does this in most settings; the difference is the extent to which the SVR's uprated handling chimes with the V8's euphoric overtones. The car's size and weight and height ought to work against it (and in an elemental sense, of course, they all do) but Land Rover's mastery of heft and body movement and control positivity means that the SVR draws you assuredly into the action even as it seeks to isolate you from it. And while its newer rivals have now surpassed it both in low-speed ride comfort and high-speed lateral performance, its thoughtful chassis tuning is still the reason you pitch and lean and laugh along with the Ultimate edition, often two parts conspirator, one part cheery spectator. Fundamentally, and winningly, it is still a hoot to drive.
In its hunkered-down Dynamic mode, it is even better. Still agile enough in fact that you might feel inclined to stop larking about and actually thread some corners together, something the flagship Range Rover Sport is capable of doing even when wearing its wintery cross contact tyres. But that means taking things quite seriously, and the SVR has always been a backward lesson in moderation. Better, I think, to drive it respectfully and peaceably in accordance with its size and unapologetic thirst - and then, with nothing more significant than a sequential prod of the gear shifter, massively open the taps when no-one is looking, like a Hawker Tempest doing victory rolls over the Channel. Of course you'll still have to spend the rest of the time living with the whole SVRness of the package - which the Ultimate edition pointedly ramps up to 11 in the flesh - but I doubt you'll be wasting much of it dwelling on the superiority of the handily cheaper Cayenne GTS. I could be wrong - after all, seven years on, it's finally a matter of taste.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR ULTIMATE EDITION
Engine: 5,000cc supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 575@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@3,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 176mph
Weight: 2,302kg DIN
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