In a high-tech £20m facility, buried in the British countryside, some of the greatest engineers and technicians in the world come together to work on secret projects. They are part of a special operations division tasked with designing and building vehicles that are capable of extreme performance.
It all sounds very James Bond, doesn't it? Actually, it's Land Rover… Jaguar Land Rover. Back in 2014, the British car company decided it was time it had a separate branch dedicated to bespoke personalisation, halo models and high-performance derivatives of its cars. It was to be called Special Vehicle Operations.
Beyond the MI6-sounding nomenclature, there is in fact a direct link between SVO and the Bond franchise. In Spectre, SVO was in charge of building all the Land Rovers and Jags driven by the film's bad guys. The fleet included seven Jags, a host of Land Rover Defenders, and four Range Rover Sport SVRs.
It's the latter that's of particular interest to me. You see, the SVR is the fastest Land Rover – ever. And, crucially, it isn't just restricted to the set of Hollywood blockbusters.
In fact, I'm driving one right now on the A617 to Mansfield. This is, I think you'll agree, about as far from a Bond destination as one could imagine. However, in an SVR, even the A617 feels pretty, well, special.
Pull up to the traffic lights in the right hand lane of a dual carriageway, then look to your left: it doesn't matter what car is next to you, the chances are, you can take it. The SVR will hit 60mph in 4.5 seconds; that's quicker than a Porsche 911 – or an Aston Martin DB9, for that matter – in a car that weighs 2.3 tonnes.
The SVR will hit 60mph in 4.5 seconds; that's quicker than a Porsche 911 or an Aston Martin DB9, for that matter
To be fair, even that is still impressively light for a car this big – thanks largely to Range Rover's all-aluminium monocoque technology. The lightweight body shell is also incredibly stiff, ensuring that it's not just in a straight line that the SVR can flex its considerable muscles. Bounding around on some more exciting B-roads proves that the SVR can handle the corners, too. Given that it's more than 1.8m tall, you'd have thought it would suffer from some telltale SUV wallow. But that higher centre of gravity is barely noticeable behind the wheel of the SVR.
And what a place that is to be. There's head-up display, projecting everything from speed to directions on the windscreen. The steering wheel is heated, ideal for frosty mornings. There are bucket seats, for that racing-car feel, yet they still have all the flexibility and controls you'd enjoy in a luxury limo.
Then there's all that speed to play with. The aluminium paddles tucked behind the wheel to help you on your way, and in the right circumstances (autobahn, track day, bank robbery), you can hit 162mph. Range Rover took it to Nürburgring to prove its pedigree and managed 8min 14sec. This is the fastest lap of the famous 12.9-mile circuit ever completed by a production SUV.
So, how has the division managed this? Well, the engine tuning is pretty crucial: the supercharged five-litre V8 engine now produces 550PS – up from 510. Torque is up, too – from 625Nm to 680Nm. Advances have also been made with the chassis, the brake cooling and the suspension.
Overall, it's the sound that's unforgettable. The new exhaust system has been tuned to deliver the raspiest, gaspiest note you'll hear outside of professional motorsport. There's a button that makes it sound even louder, too, allowing your ears to properly revel in the V8 thunder of snap, crackle and pops.
Former Land Rover global marketing supremo John Edwards is in charge of the operation. He says, "there's an increasing appetite for special cars, with a special story, from a special brand." With the SVR, they've definitely nailed all three.
For more information: landrover.com