Who invented the wheel? Hard to say. It was too long ago — historians estimate the wheel was developed in 3,500 BC — and there is no proper documentation dating back to those times. Who invented the luxury SUV? Well, here one can safely say it wasn’t BMW or Mercedes-Benz (even though these claims have been made in the past of the X5 and ML respectively).
The true pioneer was birthed much earlier, and that, too, on the other side of the North Sea. Debuting in 1970, the first Range Rover — now known simply as the Classic — represented a vastly different all-terrainer to anything else at the time. With V8 power, self-levelling suspension and permanent four-wheel drive, it was most unlike the clunky, slow, bone-rattling devices that were until then the only motorised way for civilians to cross rough terrain.
The Range Rover (or ‘Rangie’) was no less off-road capable than its utilitarian Defender sibling, but the speed and effortlessness with which it could cover ground were an eye-opener for its era. I even have my own memories of this from when I was just a whippersnapper. At the time (in the mid-Seventies) my father was posted in Dar es Salaam (the former capital of Tanzania), and we had on one occasion made a family excursion to the vast Serengeti National Park.
We had made the trek up from Dar es Salaam in a 50 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, which was a rugged and effective, but somewhat agricultural, device. Along the way, we were joined by a family friend, who was a well-to-do farmer with a coffee plantation near Arusha. But the bit I was interested in was his Range Rover, a white ‘Classic’, whose svelte two-door proportions were most unlike the frumpy profile of the ’Cruiser.
So, as he joined our convoy, I opted to hop in the Range Rover for the rest of the safari. It was one of the better decisions I’ve made. While the rest of my family members had their spines brutalised by the Land Cruiser’s leaf-spring suspension and their eardrums assaulted by the droning six-pot, I made serene, rapid progress in the passenger seat of the Rangie.
This memory has always remained clearly etched in my memory bank, despite the fact 40 years have since passed, and the world today is vastly different from what it was then. Even the Range Rover’s typical usage pattern has changed markedly. While wealthy farmers might still account for some customers, the vast majority of buyers are urban cowboys whose vehicles are highly unlikely to ever get their wheels muddy… or sandy.
Whether or not by design, the Rangie has in many cases become a default limo (as images of royalty, oligarchs, senior bureaucrats and showbiz A-listers being ferried around in them will attest to). But it’s also increasingly substituting premium sportscars and GTs, with their owners expecting them to fulfil largely the same role as the vehicles they’re replacing.
And hence the arrival of the SV Autobiography Dynamic, billed as the most potent Range Rover to date. Fettled by the recently established Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) skunkworks tasked with turning out go-faster Jaguars and Land Rovers, it follows in the wheeltracks of the Range Rover Sport SVR launched last year.
The SV Autobiography Dynamic (or SVAD) is propelled by essentially the same uprated 5.0-litre supercharged V8 as its more compact Sport SVR sibling, albeit with slightly tweaked mapping for smoother throttle response to suit its more opulent character. The blown V8 punches out 550PS (542bhp) and 680Nm, with the familiar ZF eight-speed auto channelling drive to all four wheels. Other tweaks made to the SVAD include an 8.0mm lower ride height, as well as bespoke knuckles, springs, dampers, anti-roll system and steering gear to sharpen its responses.
The luxo-laden Rangie tips the scales at over 2.4 tonnes and stands a whisker under six feet tall, yet it still manages to scorch to 100kph in 5.3 seconds. But more impressive than its off-the-mark performance is the instant surge of power that’s on tap once on the move, enabling you to imperiously surge past peasants in their sluggardly buzzboxes, and carve up backroads with an urgency you wouldn’t have expected of a full-size Range Rover.
By the way, when I say full-size, I should point out the SVAD is offered only in short-wheelbase format (that is, 4,999mm from bumper to bumper), unlike the existing (non-Dynamic) long-wheelbase SV Autobiography that stretches 5,200mm from stem to stern. Be that as it may, you won’t feel deprived of legroom in the rear, unless you’re an ex-NBA basketballer.
Our first taste of the SVAD fittingly takes place in its mother country, with our drive route taking us from London’s vast Heathrow Airport, up through the Cotswolds, and finally to the brand-new £20-million (Dh91-million) SVO Technical Centre near Coventry.
It might not be the bitumen blaster that the Cayenne is, but it’s worth noting that the Dynamic retains pretty much all of the formidable off-road prowess…
The initial part of the drive is a non-challenging freeway schlep, and we don’t raise too many eyebrows along the way, as the SVAD is barely distinguishable externally from lesser Range Rovers. The only clues are provided by the quartet of tailpipes, subtle badging on the tailgate, along with Graphite Atlas trim on the side vents, grille, bonnet finisher, grille and Range Rover badges. Trainspotters will also pick up on the red Brembo brake callipers (it’s the first Range Rover offered with these).
As with its more sedate Range Rover siblings, the Dynamic eats up highway miles with the utmost of nonchalance. You end up inadvertently cruising at much greater velocities than you think you’re doing (110kph feels more like 70kph), so a careful watch is needed on the speedo to avoid triggering the Gatso speed cameras along the way.
As the freeway makes way for archetypical English country lanes, we’re faced with a narrow, bumpy, hedge-lined strip of tarmac barely wide enough to accommodate two cars travelling in opposite directions. For the most part, high grass verges form the edge of the road, so traversing this terrain is a bit like threading a needle.
Immediately noticeable is that the Dynamic’s suspension tweaks have resulted in it losing some of the standard Autobiography’s ability to iron out lumps and potholes as though they weren’t there.
It doesn’t particularly like sharp corrugations either, transferring some of the impact of these through the cabin. To put it in perspective, it’s still more cosseting than a Porsche Cayenne GTS or BMW X6 M, but there’s no doubt it’s sacrificed the plush magic-carpet ride of the standard Range Rover.
On the plus side, the SVAD corners with a bit more urgency and crispness than the Autobiography, but it won’t threaten the go-faster Teutons, or the smaller, sharper Range Rover Sport SVR across a twisty back road. You can feel there’s a lot of mass and surface area at play here, and the Rangie can’t disguise it as well as the visually challenging, but surprisingly capable, Bentley Bentayga.
The best way to make quick, fluid progress in the SVAD is to allow the weight of the vehicle to settle when you pitch it into corners. The big Rangie is no point-and-squirt weapon, but it’s still capable of making deceptively rapid pace if you’re smooth and patient behind the wheel. Crank some steering lock on, wait for the mass to shift to the outer wheels and you’ll feel the front end bite into the tarmac. Then just stroke it through the corner and lay down the 680Nm of twist with impunity.
It might not be the bitumen blaster that the Cayenne is, but it’s worth noting that the Dynamic retains pretty much all of the formidable off-road prowess of lesser Range Rovers (provided, of course, you ditch the 22in rims and substitute them with a set of 19s shod with higher sidewall tyres). There’s still 900mm of wading depth, decent approach and departure angles, plus the no-brainer Terrain Response system that turns even dunces into capable off-road pilots.
The real kicker is that you get to control all the action from one of the most hospitable cabins you’ll find in any vehicle. The diamond quilted leather seats are so comfortable you’ll want one for your living room. Everything you touch exudes quality. From the piano-black veneered front fascia and door trims to the knurled aluminium rotary gear selector, start-stop button and pedals. Even the way the damped glovebox slowly glides open conveys a feeling of expensiveness.
Its ambience of extreme opulence and that silky-smooth, massively potent powertrain are undoubtedly the Range Rover SV Autobiography Dynamic’s finest assets. They alone are just about worth the price of entry. Thing is, you can have these for a lot less money in a standard Autobiography.
The attributes the Dynamic adds — some extra grunt and slightly more back-road pace — don’t hugely add to the desirability of what was already a highly accomplished package in standard form. In fact, some potential customers may lament the loss of some suspension compliance vis-à-vis the unmolested Autobiography, while others may just opt for the faster and more focused Range Rover Sport SVR and be done with it.
But there will no doubt be some buyers for whom the SV Autobiography perfectly nails the sweet spot, meeting their
precise expectation of what a luxurious, high-performance Range Rover should be.