Range Rover SVAutobiography: in the best possible taste? 

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Range Rover SVAutobiography
Credit: Nick Dimbleby

Back in the day, if you had a hankering for a six-wheeled Range Rover with a fuchsia pink-upholstered elephant-shooting veranda on the back you went to Robert Jankel for a conversion. Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) made Defenders with cherrypickers on the back and snowploughs on the front; glamorous it wasn't. The arrangement worked, because as one former Land Rover PRO told me: "We can simply say 'Not invented here' to all those bad-taste conversions."

Not that all of Jankel's conversions were bad taste, but Jaguar Land Rover's get-out has gone west now that SVO has gone headlong into the bad-taste market of converting perfectly acceptable Range Rovers into something else, although elephant-shooting verandas have yet to appear on the options...

These days, no one can afford to ignore the profitable business of indulging the super-wealthy. So SVO has been installed into a £2 million, 20,000m2 industrial unit capable of producing up to 5,000 modified vehicles a year; everything from a £3,500 paint job to a two-tone armoured Range Rover in colours that match your downstairs loo.

At present it is in ramp-up phase, with its state-of-the-art paint shop gradually building capacity, including, according to Mark Stanton, SVO's director, the capability of respraying classic cars.

There are 1,100 staff at SVO, including a number of plausible young men in expensive suits, and a chef. Well-heeled punters are invited into a design studio, plied with petit fours and swatches, plus the tempting imagination of a tame designer or two. It all seems like a highly effective way of separating a rich man from the contents of his wallet.

The bright red leather of our test car is not to English's taste, but at least it's not fuchsia pink... Credit: Nick Dimbleby

This car, for example, costs £132,800 (against £75,850 for a ‘basic’ Range Rover) and that's before the special trim, interior appointment, paints and special wheels (in 21- or 22-inch diameter). You get the Graphite Atlas side vents, bonnet finisher, grille, front bumper trim and Range Rover script and tailgate names, thrown in, but be careful if you accept a glass of water at the dealer - easy terms can be arranged, sir.

Frankly it looks like wheels for a James Bond baddie or Russian oligarch. Upholstered in bright vermillion, the cabin looks like a tart's boudoir and while the quilted leather on the seat facings might, on their own, be attractive, the overall effect is de trop.

An uprated, 5.0-litre supercharged V8 now develops 542bhp Credit: Nick Dimbleby

Under the bonnet is Range Rover's supercharged V8, hepped up to deliver 542bhp and an equally impressive 502lb ft of torque. Mind you, the car weighs 2.5 tonnes which is a lot to tug around and so it proves on the road. There's a sense of great effort, bolstered by an exhaust note you could bottle as a pick-me-up, but an equally gargantuan sense of mass that’s unwilling to move or change direction.

The ultimate Range Rover The ultimate Range Rover
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On the whole the ZF automatic gearbox copes admirably with all this extra torque and the drilled aluminium gearchange paddles are lovely (though the red anodising, isn't), but there are occasions where the unit feels lost for the right ratio.

The handling has been titivated with gentle changes in geometry, stiffer bushing and damping and lowering the body by 8mm. It feels slightly stiffer, but not uncomfortably so. What it does do is go round corners with a minimum of body roll and a maximum sense of security. The steering feels precise and well weighted, and it loads up progressively. No it's no hot hatchback, but SVO and JLR's considerable vehicle dynamics team has done a terrific job.

A guarantee of sound engineering and a superb finish Credit: Nick Dimbleby

But what's the point? The standard Range Rover is a remarkable thing, combining prodigious ride quality and body control with amazing off-road ability. Tying down the suspension like this increases one at the expense of the other. Besides, the long wheelbase version of this car not only rides better but goes just as fast, even if it isn't quite as agile. The Range Rover Sport SVA costs a lot less and is more agile. And, as we like to say, other high-performance SUVs are available.

If you must, SVO will produce whatever your heart's desire and you can be sure it will be well engineered and immaculately made but, frankly, you need to listen to your brain once in a while.  

THE FACTS

Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic

TESTED 5,000cc V8 supercharged, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE from £132,800/now

POWER/TORQUE 542bhp @ 6,000rpm/502lb ft @ 3,500rpm

TOP SPEED 155mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 5.1sec

FUEL ECONOMY 22.1mpg/15.4mpg (EU Combined/Urban), on test 18.2mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS 299g/km

VED BAND M (£1,120 first year, then £515)

VERDICT While there's little doubt of the engineering and skills that have gone into this car, its role is less clearly defined. In each of its disciplines there are better alternatives and it feels like an answer to a question that hasn't been asked, unless you are a James Bond baddie  

TELEGRAPH RATING Two stars out of five

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