L
ook. It’s nice to say that we drive cars for the purity of the drive. It’s nice to say that we think things like “Terrain Response” are essential elements because, hey, you never really know — you may find yourself in the desert in need of a sand mode. It’s nice to think that 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque are things that you’re really going to tap into. It’s nice to say that shifting speed is making or breaking your driving experience. And in a way, they do. These things coalesce into a comprehensive driving experience that matters. Sure. But the bare bones of why one individual would spend $111,470 on this here sports SUV — the Range Rover Sport SVR — is that it’s cool. Racing-seats-in-the-rear-seat cool. White-leather cool. So cool that you’ll turn the stereo up to full blast on the backroads, set the exhaust to super exhaust mode and floor the accelerator so the car makes so much noise all the people in New Jersey will hear you and consider your cool.

The SVR from Range Rover is, in the words of Vehicle Line Director for Special Vehicle Operations Michelle Mortiboys, the “fastest, most powerful, most dynamically focused Land Rover ever.” It’s the performance pinnacle, the top dog of Range Rover sportiness. It’s in the ilk of these ridiculously high-powered SUVs that perform on Nürburgring nearly as well as their sports-car brethren: Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, BMW X6 M, Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG. The SUVs are all preposterous proof that some huge behemoth can become, with the right amount of power and tuning, a sports car — that an SUV can do things on a track that sports cars 20 years ago couldn’t dream of doing.

Under the Hood

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Engine: 5-liter Supercharged V8
Transmission: eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Horsepower: 550
Torque: 502 lb-ft
0-60: 4.5 seconds
MSRP: $111,470

That, and haul the kids, bikes, groceries and the dog — off road. The SVR, born of the SVO (Special Vehicles Operation), comes with six terrain response modes (General, Dynamic, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl) that can be manually set or automatically engaged. In a short testing stint on a muddied-up backroad on the grounds of the Monticello Motor Club, the SUV handled shaky terrain with one-hand-on-the-wheel comfort. The display shows wheel angles, car balance and which differential is locked; as one engineer noted, this off-road proficiency is what puts the Range into the Rover. There’s 10.7 inches of ground clearance and 33.5 inches of wading depth, so if you’re the type to take your six-figure toys deep into the mountains, you’ll be plenty well equipped.

That all translates to cool. Because going fast is cool, and being safe is cool and living in luxury is cool.

As for spirited on-road driving, the car takes advantage of the SVO tuning, good for a 0-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds and top speed of 162 mph. There’s no trouble passing on the interstate. The car also handles deftly, with a solid distinction between normal and dynamic driving modes. For conventional cruising, the car can be refined to a quiet exhaust, casual steering stiffness and reasonable shifts. Enter into Dynamic mode, and things change, most notably with the shifting and throttle response. This is where the SVR becomes less SUV, more sports car, and Land Rover tapped into the brain trust to get there. Shift times have been reduced by 50 percent from previous Sport models, and there are shorter, more visceral and audibly crisper shifts. On high-speed downshifts, the engine automatically gives throttle blips for added smoothness. And the more aggressive you drive, the more responsive the car becomes, dropping gears to ensure acceleration and holding rpms to ensure satisfaction. If you move over to manual control, the shifts fire like the car thinks it’s racing Le Mans. To keep it all in check, Active-Roll Control (ARC) actuators moderate body roll and adapt up to 1,000 times per second, and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) module monitors the vehicle 100 times per second. You’re locked, dialed, and autocorrected in.

That all translates to cool. Because going fast is cool, and being safe is cool, and living in luxury is cool. When you’re at the helm of the car, you feel this. The interior is a balanced mix of tech and switches, and keeps a motif of restraint over excess. Bucket sport seats reinforce the car’s purpose (especially since they’re situated in both the front and back rows); Oxford leather reinforces civility. There have been critiques of the infotainment system, and they’re fair — it feels a bit retro. But when compared to the latest iOS, all car systems seem antiquated (with the exception of Audi’s). The steering wheel — to the chagrin of at least one engineer I spoke with — is one point of contention: it’s not racing inspired, and it lacks knuckles above 9 and 3 o’clock (though the paddle shifters are on the wheel, rather than the column). It’s an odd touch that speaks more to refinement than sport, but a small effort could have easily achieved both.

Those are, in fact, the only things that aren’t spot on. Which, if anything, brings the SVR back down to earth, more like the rest of us who deal with back sweat and love handles and sometimes something stuck in our teeth. It’s good to know it’s not perfect, because perfect is just a bit too slick to be cool.