Land Rover in general and the men and women of its Special Vehicle Operations division in particular deserve suitably gigantic congratulations for the new Range Rover Sport SVR.
After our five-star road test verdict on the car landed only the other week, we hope they?ve had plenty. Back to business. This 2.3-tonne marvel now has a target on its back big enough to cover a double-garage door and the time to defend itself has already come.
Welcome, then, not just one but two BMW performance SUVs out to catch the Range Rover in a pincer movement worthy of Hannibal himself. First and foremost comes the obvious rival: the all-new X5 M. It?s more powerful than the SVR, it?s quicker, it?s cheaper and it?s from a performance sub-brand with almost four decades of history.
It?s the kind of car that simply demands to be lined up against the reigning power in its particular class on a quiet stretch of B-road and allowed to decide its own fate. And so it shall.
Then there?s the dark horse: the facelifted Alpina XD3 Biturbo. A lower-rung, less desirable, altogether less special offering here to make up the numbers? Not a bit of it.
The sub-£60k price and six-cylinder turbodiesel engine of the XD3 may not lure in the lottery winners quite like the other two here, but regular readers will know that this has been one of our highest-rated fast SUVs since its launch in 2013. It has earned a shot at the SVR ? and Alpina says this revised version is even better than the previous one.
It?ll also be rarer than most £200,000 supercars, if exclusivity is your thing, and answers the excess of its rivals with fleet-friendly emissions and 40 to the gallon.
So with the surprisingly hard-hitting X5 M on one flank and the surprisingly pragmatic XD3 on the other, can Land Rover?s new performance SUV champion come up with the necessary moves to survive its first leadership challenge?
Five-star verdicts often cause consternation on the Autocar road test desk. Rarely are they unanimously agreed ? and the ones that are tend to become unanimous after lengthy and frank discussion.
The Range Rover Sport SVR?s wasn?t unanimous, but the testers who?d driven the car most widely rated it highest. That?s usually a good sign. Those less inclined towards it revealed themselves to be opposed as much to the idea of a £90,000, 542bhp performance SUV as the SVR?s particular execution. One tester said he?d simply rather have an SDV8. You may very well feel the same, but if you?re a paying customer, that?s your prerogative.
Read the full Range Rover Sport SVR review
Ours is to judge a car on its merits, in this case on behalf of the customer who does want a burbling 550-horsepower V8 in his 2.3-tonne 4x4. And for that customer, we decided ? more than a month ago, now ? that nothing better provided the mix of performance, luxury, desirability, practicality, capability and dynamism that you?d want of the ultimate SUV than the SVR. Furthermore, nothing else came close to doing it with such charm.
In the X5 M and XD3, you?ll find very different blends of those various qualities but perhaps not the cocktail of proportions you?re expecting. The Range Rover is the only car here with the telling advantage of off-road capability delivered by height-adjustable air suspension, for example, but the X5?s air-sprung rear end is self-levelling, making it a better tow car than you might think.
The SVR?s boot is big, but the M car?s is notably bigger, and it?s a more accommodating passenger car on account of its genuine three-seat rear bench. The X5 is also the fastest and most sporting car here; that much, we?ll get to. And although the Range Rover Sport may continue to be flavour of the month, the X5 M has a returning customer base and more performance brand equity.
But here?s real-world observation number one: park the Range Rover and BMW side by side and you can?t fail to recognise the brilliance of the Sport?s styling, and ultimately its superiority as a product of desire. Much as we don?t like to discuss this sort of thing in Autocar group tests, it matters ? especially with £90k dreamboat 4x4s ? because nothing excuses the impulse to indulge quite as succinctly as ?just fancying one?.
The SVR is that bit more fanciable than the X5 M.?It looks the part ? definitive, not as gussied up or overblown as the X5 M. The SVR?s 22in wheels fill its arches, and its extended bumpers, intakes and aerofoils look like they belong. The X5?s performance-related styling flourishes aren?t ?worn as comfortably.
You don?t expect the Alpina to compete on this front and, true enough, it doesn?t quite. It looks straight-sided, under-tyred and oddly decorated, with its stickers and cavernous black kidney grilles.
On the inside, the Range Rover Sport continues to conjure its distinguishing luxury aura. Although it yields to the X5 M in places on material quality, seat comfort and systems usability, the SVR?s is the most sculptural and attractive interior here by a distance. It feels much the more inviting cabin and it gives you that age-old Range Rover advantage of a ?command? driving position, with an apparent air of superiority over everything else on the road.
You sit lower in the X5 M ? more cocooned, but with a poorer view around you. And the X5?s fascia looks more business smart than high design.
The XD3?s, meanwhile, lacks the material richness to lift it much above the level of a fairly ordinary German premium-branded family 4x4. Alpina?s leather seats and Alcantara surfaces are lovely, but there?s too much moulded plastic on display to make the car feel seriously plush.
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo has warped the dynamic development of this particular niche a bit. Well, someone had to bring up the elephant that is ? or in this case, isn?t ? in the room. You?re not reading about the Cayenne in this test simply because Porsche declined to supply a test car at the last moment, not because it doesn?t merit a place.
Thankfully, we know the Cayenne Turbo well. And what the arrival of a fully competitive Range Rover in the performance SUV arena has shown is that the Cayenne probably belongs farther towards the margins of the class than many of us ever realised. The Porsche has always been dynamically skewed towards sporting performance and handling at the expense of some luxuriousness and likeability. Sure, it?s popular ? and desirable. But somehow, it?s a bad influence.
It has evidently been a misleading influence, you?d say, on the X5 M. This BMW was always going to be a more single-minded performance machine than the SVR. And yet, in the way the ?X5 M conducts itself on the road, it?s pretty clear that BMW set out to make what amounts to a super-saloon on stilts with this car. It should, we?d argue, have been aiming to achieve much more.
Read the full BMW X5 M review
There?s a sort of Teutonic reserve to the way the 4.4-litre V8 in the X5 whinnies into life and subsequently expresses itself over your first few miles in the car. Oddly, up until the last 30% of the rev range at least, it sounds little more charismatic than the Alpina?s 3.0-litre turbodiesel straight six.
Meanwhile, the SVR?s 5.0-litre lump is as extravagant as they come ? a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of engine, willing to suffuse every minute of every journey with gargling noise and richness.
On your favourite road, the SVR becomes instantly familiar to drive ? like a big SUV that has learned some very special party tricks. The M car?s first transgression comes as you realise that it?s trying to feel like something else altogether.
Like so many other recent M cars, it has an automatic gearbox without an initial creep function. Engage first, ease off the brake pedal and? nothing happens. That?s fine, perhaps, in something smaller and lighter, but I reckon most owners will want their 2.3-tonne, 567bhp luxury SUV to look after them better than that.
Those owners will likewise probably want that performance SUV to be usable and easy to drive ? just like the SVR. The Range Rover gives you one dial to flick when you want to really stretch its legs: Dynamic mode. There are lots of off-road modes, too, but given that the BMW has no answer for most of them, we?ll leave them to one side.
Instead, the X5 M has a whole panel of buttons to individually tweak steering weight, gearbox and engine response, damper setting and traction and stability control sensitivity. Configurability is the ?M division way of things, of course. That?s fair enough, but a car that puts equal emphasis on luxury and performance ? as a performance SUV surely should ? ought to integrate its technical sophistication more discreetly in our book.
It should certainly have more of a care for chassis compliance and handling coherence than the X5 M does in its most aggressive settings. Select Sport+ on the car?s suspension, powertrain and steering systems and it becomes truly, astonishingly uncompromising. On good surfaces, body control is unbelievable for a car of this girth, and both grip and steering response are awe-inspiring.
Read the full Alpina XD3 Biturbo review
But it?s achieved at considerable cost, because the moment the surface deteriorates, the damping shows itself to be firm enough to throw the body around and actually make the wheels part company with the road surface, dangling in mid-air at times. Meantime, the active anti-roll bars and electro-mechanical power steering systems are both working so hard to keep Newtonian physics at bay that the steering can go from light to heavy to fluent to leaden and back again in the act of negotiating one averagely long, fast corner.
So you settle on the X5 M?s Comfort modes, in which it?s much more well mannered, consistent and driveable but also offers little more tactile feedback and engagement than an xDrive40d. There?s always the car?s bald accelerative speed, mind you, which is undeniably mighty but still probably not enough to satisfy your appetite for entertainment all on its own.
The SVR isn?t half the sports car that the X5 M is ? and that might be a problem for Gaydon, if either were actually supposed to be a sports car. Its grip levels and body control reserves are considerably lower than the BMW?s, and it feels big, wide, tall and heavy on the road, because it is. But none of that prevents it from being as vivid an entertainer as the BMW is a visceral athlete.
There?s no apparent sleight of hand in the Range Rover?s steering response or suspension. Its active chassis systems are invisible, its handling manners and controls honest and predictable. So you just drive the SVR ? not as hard as the X5 M, but connecting with it all the more, and enjoying every mile more, too, because what you?re doing feels opulent and easy, as well as exciting.
The Range Rover Sport SVR arrows as if laser guided to a sweet spot right at the heart of the fast SUV niche. It is the ultimate 4x4: likeable, comfy in its own skin, ready to amuse and enliven at any time, but not at the expense of anything else that a Range Rover has ever been designed to do. It passes this early test of its mettle with ease.
So where does the XD3 fit in? Not quite high enough to cause an upset. Just as it lacks the visual allure and cabin luxury to challenge its bigger siblings, so its handling feels a little under-nourished in this company. Although it?s good up to about an eight-tenths pace, the XD3?s steering ultimately lacks bite and reassuring weight, its handling lacks balance and its ride turns clunky and crashy when really tested.
Still, if you?ve ?only? got £56,450 to spend on your performance SUV, you can take heart from two truths about the XD3 and hopefully go away feeling better about life, and this comparison test, than you might otherwise have.
First, it?s fast. Really fast. It?s every bit as quick as Land Rover?s winner of this exercise on the road. And second, it really will do 40mpg, even with a lead-foot road tester at the helm. On everything else, it?s at least in the ballpark compared with the other two. And ?in the ballpark? isn?t bad for a fraction of the price.
Read Autocar's previous comparison - Mazda 2 versus Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia
Range Rover Sport SVR
Price £93,450; 0-62mph 4.7 secs; Top speed 162mph; Economy 22.1mpg; CO2 emissions 298g/km; Kerb weight 2335kg; Engine V8, 5000cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 542bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 502lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic
BMW X5 M
Price £90,180; 0-62mph 4.2 secs; Top speed 155mph; Economy 25.4mpg; CO2 emissions 258g/km; Kerb weight 2350kg; Engine V8, 4395cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 567bhp at 6000-6500rpm; Torque 553lb ft at 2200-5000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Alpina XD3 Biturbo
Price £56,450; 0-62mph 4.9 secs; Top speed 156mph; Economy 42.8mpg; CO2 emissions 174g/km; Kerb weight 1985kg; Engine 6-cyls in line, 2993cc, twin-turbo, diesel; Power 345bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic
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The wind tears at the top of my head as we plunge into the last braking area before the straight on Porsche?s Weissach test circuit.
This is our out lap, but within a few seconds we?re doing 170mph.
I?m strapped into the company?s road-car flagship, the £800,000 918 Spyder, with R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz at the wheel, and although I?ve been driven fast in places like this before, I can hardly believe the speeds or the braking and cornering loads.
Most drivers wouldn?t see the kinked tarmac expanse ahead as a straight. Not a proper one, anyway.
It?s more a collection of kinks through which drivers of skill, confidence and experience ? such as Hatz ? can see a line sufficiently straight for potent cars to accept full power.
This is one of several reasons why Porsche is very careful who it allows to drive flat out at Weissach.
Another is the fact that, for most of a lap, there?s an unforgiving concrete wall on one side of the circuit or the other, sometimes both. Luckily, Hatz isn?t out to kill me.
He has driven this track thousands of times since coming here more than 30 years ago and this all-action episode is a practical reward for my coming to Germany to tell him he?s just won Autocar?s highest accolade, the 2015 Issigonis Trophy, which goes to car creators we especially admire, not only for the quality of their work but also for their way of doing it.
For all his familiarity with the circuit, you can tell in an instant that Hatz continues to have an abiding love for the place.
He revels in Porsche?s history and aura and his chance to contribute to both, in spite of a career that has taken him to BMW, Opel, Fiat-Ferrari, Audi and Volkswagen ? and into sundry winning Formula 1 teams.
He considers himself a Porsche man and always will, having done his first laps here as a postgraduate engineering student in 1982.
?Everything is so concentrated here,? he says, ?and that makes for a very special atmosphere.
"Our workshop people are so important and so knowledgeable, and we all have the same determination to reach our goals. It leads to a unique kind of team spirit.?
The post of director of R&D at Porsche is one of those roles in the car business that carry far more responsibility than the mere words imply.
Far from being some back-room researcher, Porsche?s R&D boss is fully exposed in the front line of management and car creation.
You lead the teams that devise the company?s racing and road car strategies, and it?s your responsibility to deliver wins and new models every bit as good as you?ve promised, preferably better.
You hire, deploy and inspire the company?s most creative people ? and you get plenty of freedom and glory yourself if things go well.
But there?s a boardroom full of founding family members and money men looking down in case you don?t.
Oh, and somewhere along the road, you?d better direct your thoughts towards the R&D in your title.
Depending on how you view it, the future for high-performance premium cars, and especially sports cars, can look rather problematic.
Hatz acknowledges that computers do a lot to build new cars but insists that Weissach?s value is just as great as it ever was.
?I need to keep testing our cars,? he explains, ?and I probably spend 25% of my time doing that.
"I look for quality ? not just quality you can see, but quality in the way a car goes and drives.
"Here at the track, I can drive one of our prototypes through the very first corner, feel the steering, the brakes and the engine response, and have a pretty accurate idea whether it meets our standards. If it doesn?t, we work harder.?
As we continue to storm the circuit, it suddenly strikes me why Weissach?s blurring walls are so necessary.
Besides deterring scoop cameramen, they underscore the fact that Porsche?s famous site, half an hour west of Stuttgart, is increasingly packed with the kind of buildings a company like Porsche needs to design and develop a high-performance car range it can sell to the tune of 200,000 each year.
And even if more than three-quarters are SUVs and saloons (?every Porsche is a sports car in its class?), selling high-value cars in such numbers in so many markets is a helluva task. No one else comes close.
Hatz is careful not to claim the 918 Spyder concept as his own. The model was born in winter 2009 and revealed as a concept at the 2010 Geneva show, just before he returned to Porsche.
But Hatz is very definitely the bloke whose teams had to bring it to life.
At the outset, he thought it ?a slightly crazy idea?, knowing secretly that the show concept was really a Carrera GT underneath and the promised world-beating hybrid mechanicals were ideas, not hardware.
?It was a bit like the Americans announcing they were going to the moon. Telling the world is easy, but then you have to do it.
"In the beginning, it was really hard. Every day I?d be in the workshops explaining to our engineers that we had to fly to the moon. But we did it, and I?m so proud of what we achieved.?
Then, of course, there are Porsche?s race cars.
Weissach is where Porsche has bred a distinguished line of competition cars over many decades, the latest being the 919 Hybrid sports-racer that last year (at Hatz?s instigation) put Porsche back into the top echelon of endurance racing for the first time in years.
It might even have won this season?s first event at Silverstone but for the failure of a trifling component buried in its rear differential.
As soon as Hatz and his racers had returned, they huddled in the workshops, chasing reasons for the failure. It is most unlikely to be repeated.
?When I came back to Porsche, it was clear from day one we had to be in top-level racing,? he explains.
?But we had to prepare. My former connections in F1 helped me know where the good people were ? I spoke to Mark [Webber] back in 2011 about us doing it together ? and we needed new buildings if we were going to do it properly.?
Since then, Porsche?s chances of success have only increased.
Interestingly, Hatz is at his most reassuring on future technology. On his watch, Porsche has started offering plug-in hybrid versions of several models (Cayenne, Panamera and 918 Spyder so far) and more are coming.
?We cannot ignore the need to reduce our output of greenhouse gases,? he says, ?but we must also make true Porsches.?
Hatz does not shrink from the complexities of the future.
In fact, he is remarkably reassuring on the future of high-performance Porsches, even as hybrids, electrification and small-capacity engines come increasingly to prominence.
?Don?t worry about our ability to keep making great cars,? says Hatz.
?We will do it. The 918 is our best answer to any concerns our customers may have about the future. With us you are safe. In the future, we will have the technology.
"Whatever happens, we will have the answer.?
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Early engineering mule shows where extra length has been inserted into the wheelbase
Based on an enlarged version of the Renegade platform, the new SUV will arrive in both Jeep and Fiat forms later next year.
This chopped-up engineering mule is the first evidence of the new Qashqai-rivalling Jeep SUV.
As Autocar revealed in March, Fiat Chrysler has hatched plans to build a pair of mid-size SUVs to take advantage of the booming global market for these vehicles.
Both Jeep and Fiat will sell a version of the new model, with the Jeep replacing today?s Compass and Patriot models (which are not sold in Europe) as well placing Jeep in the heart of the one of the most profitable new car segments.
Mike Manley, Jeep?s global boss, told Autocar earlier this year that while the brand sold a million vehicles in 2014, only 8 percent of the total was in Europe.
With sales of the new Renegade settling down at a rate that should see the company sell between 50,000 and 60,000 units in Europe during 2015, the bigger model should do at least as well. Manley suggested that this new model could be on sale by the end 2016.
Fiat?s version of the new SUV is expected to have similar styling cues to the new 500X and could be badged 500XL.
As can be seen from these spyshots, the new platform for these cars is adapted from the architecture that already underpins the smaller 500X and Renegade.
Autocar understands that around 10cm extra space has been inserted into the rear footwell of the new platform. This should stretch the wheelbase of the new models by around 100mm to give a similar length wheelbase to the new Qashqai at 2.65m.
The front and rear tracks have also been slightly widened. The final production models will also have a longer rear overhang, significantly increasing boot space.
The transmission system is expected to be carried across to these new models with very few changes. That means it will get struts at each corner and as multi-link rear suspension.
All-wheel drive models will get the excellent GKN switchable four-wheel drive transmission (which, unlike the more common Haldex set-up, doesn?t use a clutch pack to activate the rear wheels) and the option of the nine-speed autobox.
The engines ? two diesel, two petrol ? are also expected to be carried over. Buyers will gave the choice of a 120bhp 1.6 MultiJet II and the 140 and 170bhp 2.0-litre MultiJet II.
It?s thought that the smaller 110bhp 1.6-litre E-torQ engine will not be offered in this bigger SUV, leaving a choice of the 140 and 170bhp MultiAir II turbo petrol engines.
A supercar will cost a fortune in brakes and tyres on track
Track cars are experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, and our man thinks he knows why - contrary to other opinions
We?ve got a contributor who thinks track days are for wimps, for those who don?t have, if you?ll pardon the expression, the balls to go racing properly.
I sort of agree. Sort of. But I mostly side with those who quite like the odd track day now and again. Mostly because I don?t have the balls to go motor racing beyond what this magazine asks me to do, or racing karts. Karts cost less and hurt less. I like racing a car, but only after the event. I like racing a kart all the time.
I enjoy a car on a track with no pressure around, no stopwatch, no people standing there, in your employ, waiting for the moment that you bin it or finish near the back, then nodding and giving you platitudes before admitting to their mates that, truth be told, you?re a bit slow.
I figured I couldn?t be alone in thinking that way. So it was no surprise that when I was talking to a bloke from a race/track day car maker the other day, he said the market for seriously expensive track day toys was going tremendously well.
I?ve had a pet theory about this for a long time. Yes, you could use a supercar on a track day if you wanted, and it?d be a lot of fun, but no matter how well you drive it, it?ll always weigh a tonne and a half and it?ll always get through consumables at a frightening rate. The running costs of supercars or hypercars are high, even for those who can afford it.
Granted, track days cost a lot, too, but if you can make a set of brakes and tyres on a lightweight track car last for three or four days, that?s better than a new set of Eagle F1s and some main dealer servicing every few hours.
And? And you get to have a bit of a play with, in effect, a race car. Something light, something immediate, something that you can spend hour after hour in, chipping away at a line here or there and knowing that, deep down, you?re learning and you?re getting faster.
Okay, you might not be doing that alongside 20 other hooligans, all testing yourselves against each other and the clock, but I really don?t mind that. In fact, I quite like the idea. And if that implies a lack of testicular dimension, I?m afraid I?m guilty as charged.
- Is there a better-driven vehicle on the road than a fuel tanker? Always in the correct lane. Always at the right speed. Always courteous and clear of intent, and never rushed. This makes a lot of sense, really, given the implications of things going wrong. Maybe we should all tow a few tonnes of explosive liquid fuel around with us.
The British motor show was last held in 2008, but the new event is not affiliated to the previous show
Negotiations ongoing with leading British firms, with only Tesla having declared an interest in the 2016 Battersea Park event
Tesla is the only manufacturer currently committed to exhibit at the new London motor show, Autocar understands.
At a press preview for the event on Wednesday night, HRH Prince Michael of Kent announced that Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Geely had agreed "multi-million pound" investments to exhibit at the revived London motor show in May 2016.
However, a spokesman has subsequently clarified the comment, making it clear that the Prince actually meant to acknowledge these three firm's investment in the UK car industry. Organisers of the show are currently negotiating with manufacturers to persuade them to exhibit, and plan to announce further involvement at a future date.
It was also thought that Caterham were signed up for the event, but a spokesman for the company said: ?Caterham has not committed to the London Motor Show in any way yet. Like many others at the launch event this week, they have expressed interest but nothing has been confirmed.?
The show will run from 5-8 May 2016 with adult tickets priced at £13. No prices for concessions were revealed, but they were said to be "substantially lower". Prince Michael said the goal is to make the show "to rank alongside cities like Geneva and Frankfurt".
He added: "The show will be an opportunity to shine the spotlight on one of the most amazing industries that we have in this country. The show is a very important development for the British motor industry and has come about of its remarkable success."
Although no specifics were given, the show will be built around "several large structures" which will act as hubs to put a focus on various aspects of the motoring industry, including its heritage in an area led by Beaulieu National Motor Museum, a zone where thought leaders from the industry will be available for seminars, an area focused on road safety and a test drive zone. In addition, Prince Michael revealed that a heliport will be running to take potential customers to race tracks for high-speed test drives, and that there would be an emphasis on family entertainment.
The official British motor show last ran at London's Excel in 2008. The British motor show's next running was planned for 2010 but was cancelled during the financial crisis after several major manufacturer withdrew their support for the event, making it unsustainable despite impressive visitor numbers. Since then, shows like Goodwood have risen and expanded to fill the void. The SMMT still owns the British motor show name.
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