Range Rover Sport SV first drive: A rugged off-roader that feels like a race car

It’s exceedingly rare to find an SUV that is equally at home on the track as it is climbing rocky hills and splashing through water crossings. Several automakers make capable SUVs that can tackle rough roads and are adequately equipped for passing and merging on a highway, like the Kia Telluride, Ford Bronco, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Lexus GX. But none of those can also feel like a supercar on the track.

Land Rover has achieved that with its 2024 Range Rover Sport SV, a 626-horsepower beast. We tested the new SUV off-road, tackling steep inclines and stairsteps on its Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4 tires wrapped around 23-inch carbon fiber wheels. Minutes later, we were pushing it to speeds up to 140 mph on a track atop Michelin Pilot Sport S5 summer shoes. To our surprise, the Rover felt as agile as a supercar.

The enhancements in the freshest Range Rover iteration include a new “6D” suspension, carbon fiber wheels, new custom eight-piston Brembo brakes, and other enhancements that help this SUV press past its previous limits both on- and off-road.

Enhanced “6D” suspension smooths out the ride

Land Rover established itself as an off-road specialist when its first vehicle was unveiled at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948. By 1980, it launched its first Range Rover, which elevated the brand as a symbol of luxury and a favorite of the British royal family. In fact, before his death in 2021, Prince Philip designed a custom Land Rover to carry his hearse in the official funeral procession.

Height-adjustable air springs and pitch control improve the SUV’s off-road capabilities. Credit: Kristin Shaw

The automaker explored its speedier side in the 2022 Range Rover Sport SVR, powering it with a 575-horsepower 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine under its expansive hood. Now for 2024, the Range Rover Sport SV (dropping the “R”) has a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 mild hybrid engine and 51 more hp for a better balance of competence on the asphalt or the dirt. The closest competitor to an SUV this size is the all-wheel-drive Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, equipped with a supercharged 710-hp 6.4-liter V8 engine that can achieve a 0-to-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds. Its top speed is 180 mph and it tows up to 8,700 pounds quite capably. But it’s not as comfortable going off road, and owners seem to buy it for straight speed and power, not venturing beyond city streets and highways. 

With the 2024 Range Rover Sport SV, Land Rover explored the question: How do you take an extremely off-road capable vehicle and make it perform like a race car? A big piece of that is the software-run crosslink hydraulic suspension system, which keeps side-to-side body roll and forward-and-back pitch under control. It’s a system typically found only in race cars or supercars, the brand says.

“We developed a way to laterally link the crosslink so we can operate axles separately from each other, which gives you more pitch control,” vehicle program leader Jamal Hameedi explained to PopSci. “In some vehicles, when you go to full throttle the hood really lifts up and when braking, the car’s nose dives. This system is pushing the vehicle beyond the [typical] range, staying flat during acceleration and braking.”  

Less mass, more agility

Vehicle Engineering Director Matt Becker had 20-plus years of experience with luxury brand Aston Martin and led the engineering development of its DBX SUV before joining Land Rover. That input gave him a fine-tuned sense of what feels suitably comfortable and performs properly and he can describe that in minute detail. The engineer says that during the development process, one of his software engineers would sit next to him and make adjustments in the code as Becker explained how it should feel.

He was also responsible for reducing unsprung mass to improve agility, which includes using carbon fiber wheels and a lighter brake system. When it comes to handling, it’s not just the mass itself but where it sits that matters, especially as it relates to unsprung mass. In a vehicle, sprung mass refers to everything supported by the suspension system like the body, engine, transmission, computer, cabin, and seats; it even comprises passengers, and cargo. Unsprung mass includes things like the wheels and tires, springs, shocks, and brakes. That’s where Range Rover zoomed in.   

“We wanted to minimize the mass as much as possible,” Becker says. “This vehicle dropped 76 kilos in total, offering more immediacy and connection as well as a better ride quality and stiffness.”

High-tech seats that pulse energy

This Range Rover is furnished with a feature called Body and Soul Seats, or BASS for short. The seats are built as “tactile audio systems” with a set of transducers that transpose energy from one form into another, emerging as pulses in time with the music. Beyond simple subwoofers that throb inside the cabin with raw vibrations, this setup is intended to reduce driver fatigue by stimulating the human body.

These Body and Soul seats pulse energy in time with the music, reducing driver fatigue. Credit: Kristin Shaw
These Body and Soul seats pulse energy in time with the music, reducing driver fatigue. Credit: Kristin Shaw

Adjustable from levels 1 through 5, the BASS isn’t dependent on volume but preference. Level 1 emits a light pulse that’s almost imperceptible especially when playing easygoing music like smooth jazz or adult contemporary.  Level 5 may rattle your teeth. And it seems choosing a level is a highly personal endeavor, as people have disparate tolerances for vibration as well as the kind of music that resonates most.

Land Rover says this setup improves front-seat occupants’ mental and physiological well being by influencing heart rate variability (HRV), which is the variation in time between each heartbeat. High HRV is indicative of lower stress levels and relaxation. It’s a nice side benefit to the immersive musical experience, too. The back seats are quite comfortable as well, even without the transducers. They recline, making for a lovely undisturbed one-hour nap even on dirt roads.

Every single example of this vehicle is sold out for 2024. However, when asked if this would be the only year of the model, a brand representative said no. With an upcoming all-electric Range Rover in the works, we’ll be watching for more innovations going forward.