The SVAutobiography simultaneously adds further luxury, as well as 405 kW of supercharged V8 muscle, to the award-winning Range Rover Velar. We headed upcountry to race it against a train... obviously!
It's been said that on the day the 2nd-ever automobile was built, motor racing was born. And since then, car enthusiasts have looked for any reason to race anything on wheels. It's no surprise, then, that in 1930, the Rover Light Six garnered media acclaim by being the first car to beat a luxury train from St Raphael to Calais at an average speed of about 60 kph. That’s 1 200 km in just 20 hours – impressive even by today's standards!
Now, almost 90 years later, Range Rover has released the Velar SVAutobiography, which is a potent performance SUV in anyone's book. I headed to Pretoria to pit the newcomer from Solihull against its forebears' railroad rival and relive the glory days of rail-versus-automobile racing.
Step into luxury
The Velar versus Rovos rail – a classic race for the ages.
To step onto the Rovos Rail, a luxury train that caters to the whims of its upper-crust clients, was like stepping into a time where luxury-train travel was the premium mode of transport. Of course, these days, "luxury travel" takes on a whole new meaning and Range Rover caters for that market.
The Velar's interior, which is trimmed in sumptuous twin-stitched, perforated and quilted Windsor leather, is the model of modern luxury. Unlike the Range Rover's slightly more hardcore cousin, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, the SVAutobiography's (heated and cooled) front seats are supportive and firm, yet comfortable enough for long-distance travel and offer 20 ways of electrical adjustment, so it's easy to find the perfect driving position.
The massage function is now a standard feature and other changes include the sports multifunction steering wheel, which is equipped with a pair of very intuitive rotary selectors through which, inter alia, Range Rover’s Touch Pro Duo system can be operated.
The same award-winning design
Red brake calipers sit inside the special, 22-inch rims.
From the outside, the Velar looks even more impressive than the Launch Edition. Twenty-one-inch wheels are standard, but massive 22-inch wheels (shod with 265-profile tyres) are optionally available. At the rear, the exhaust has been lightened by 3.5 kg per side and the quad tailpipe outlets are integrated with the SUV's rear bumper design. The brakes, developed by Brembo, are of larger diameter to provide extra stopping power. The red brake callipers also feature Land Rover lettering, but for those who want something a bit more discreet, gloss black callipers are also available.
The obsession with detail continues underneath the car: the SVAutobiography's undertray is to have been redesigned to allow for better airflow and overall stability at high speeds. The bumpers, grille and side mouldings have also been slightly tweaked to differentiate the flagship derivatives from the already striking “Standard” Velar. What's more, the SVAutobiography is available in half a dozen incredibly striking colours...
Even with 405 kW, there are still off-road modes available.
The biggest change is the inclusion of the stonking supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine (the same as found in the F-Type R) and it produces peak outputs of 405 kW and a more-than-adequate 680 Nm. Even with the active-exhaust button deactivated, a prod of the throttle prompts a gloriously old-school V8 rumble, with the supercharger providing backup vocals. The noise is so intoxicating that I found myself stomping the accelerator repeatedly just to enjoy the ear-massaging soundtrack. The engine emits a melange of cracks and pops as the transmission shuffles through its 8 forward gears and even with the exhaust flap closed, it's still quite a loud car. At cruising speeds, however, the noise is never intrusive or boomy.
What is it like to drive?
The SVAutobiography is said to dispatch the 0-100 kph sprint in 4.5 seconds and, given the right piece of tarmac, it’ll reach a top speed of 274 kph. I tried a few standing starts and the car readily catapulted to the national speed limit with dismissive ease. This Velar seems to distort one's sensation of speed; the force with which you're pressed into those cosseting seats provides the best indication of how much throttle input you are deploying.
The calibrations for the AWD system, active rear-locking differential, transmission shift pattern, steering response and air-suspension have been tweaked and tuned specifically for this SVAutobiography (Dynamic Edition). It is said engineers at Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations spent 63 900 hours fine-tuning the unique calibration to optimise the ride, handling and responsiveness. And responsive is exactly what this juggernaut is.
The supercharged V8 engine has become synonymous with guttural sound and stupendous throttle response.
I found the optional 265/22 tyres tracked unevenly over undulations on roads that weren't perfectly smooth. In my opinion, the smaller 21-inch wheel and tyre combination would be better suited for those willing to forego some outright kerb appeal in favour of a more forgiving ride quality.
The Velar SVAutobiography also feels like it has "itchy feet" when cruising at the speed limit. Call it an infantile notion, but this derivative seems to inspire the desire to travel at lofty speeds, so potential buyers may need to set up a fund for the slew of speeding fines that they're likely to incur.
The quad tailpipes have been lightened by 3.5 kg per side for better performance.
At R1 743 325, the Range Rover is pricey, but less so than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, mind you. However, BMW is about to flood the market with X5/X6 50i models, but thanks to a limited run of just 1 year, the SVAutobiogrpahy promises an element of exclusivity above and beyond the badge.
This head-turner of a Velar is not as discreet as other Range Rovers – this is the one you buy to be seen in. And, with those bite-the-back-of-your- hand looks and a goosebump-inducing soundtrack, you won't only be seen when you pull into the train station... you most certainly will be heard too.