Land Rover's SVX off-roaders likely to be SVO's most extreme models

Third prong of British automaker's Special Vehicle Operations could spawn the company's most extreme models yet, and the door is open to electrification, too.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations -- its in-house high-performance and ultra-luxury skunkworks -- hasn't been in existence for very long, but it's nothing if not ambitious. As the automaker's answer to Mercedes-Benz's AMG and BMW's M division, SVO already has two very different products on the market -- the next-level poshness of the Land Rover Range Rover SVAutobiography, and the bawdy, road-performance-biased Range Rover Sport SVR. The marque's third entry, the F-Type SVR, a 200-mph sports car, is waiting in the wings, too.

But the ultra-luxury of SVA and the street-performance of SVR are just the first two areas in what will be a three-pronged attack. The third leg of the company's high-performance table will be called SVX, and it'll be focused on improved off-road prowess.

John Edwards, managing director of SVO, says, "There are real enthusiasts out there who are just waiting for us to do halo products, very special products. It's a really nice position to be in," he told me in an interview at this week's New York auto show.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR

Land Rover's Range Rover Sport SVR has been in short supply since it hit dealers last year.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

There's good reason to be excited about SVX in particular, Edwards reckons, because the possibilities are limitless. "The rules are already written for SVR because the competition is already very mature in that area of the market. But this is more undefined, SVX. We think about brands like Jeep or [Toyota] Land Cruiser or [Mercedes] G-Wagen. Somewhere in there is where Land Rover should be competing," he says.

Of course, Land Rover models are already known as some of the most capable all-terrain SUVs in the world, so it will be interesting to see how far the company may be willing to push into the hardcore realm. "To be honest, we're still figuring it out," says Edwards. "But you're right to mention Bowler [a small UK firm that builds Range-Rover and Defender-based off-road race trucks]. I talk about Paris Dakar, I talk about Camel Trophy, I talk about G4 Challenge, and somewhere in there is a car waiting to get out."

Industry watchers have been abuzz with SVX talk for a year or so, and the division's offerings are coming into focus. "I'd be very disappointed if we didn't do something in the next two or three years, but it's not just around the corner," admits Edwards.

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SVR comprehensively upgraded the F-Type SVR to make it capable of 200 mph.

Jaguar

Thus far, while SVR's products have featured greatly enhanced performance, they haven't exacted a penalty on luxury in the name of lighter weight and improved dynamics, as their fellow countrymen at Lotus have long done. When asked if that's a strategy they'd consider with select models going forward in an effort to produce lighter, higher-performance vehicles, Edwards notes, "On the on-road performance [front], where there is definitely this luxury-performance British luxury thing going on, it might be slightly harder. With off-road performance, however, you could see that working."

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John Edwards, Special Vehicle Operations

Land Rover

While JLR has yet to launch an electrified vehicle line, some such products are understood to be on the product map for the company as a whole. "As an automotive manufacturer, clearly we're looking at electrification. Specifically within SVO, we will think about how we may or may not deploy those technologies to either deliver performance or capability or luxury. It's quite easy to imagine how electrification could feature in each one of those," says Edwards.

On the subject of semi- and full-autonomous capabilities, JLR has been rather slow to adopt such technology, but Edwards recognizes its importance, albeit not for all models:

"We have to understand it [autonomy] and embrace it. But we have to embrace it in a way that works for our customers that works for our proposition. I can never imagine an SVR product being completely autonomous -- certainly not in my lifetime. But that doesn't mean there aren't technologies there that couldn't be applied. If you wind the clock back, you think about adaptive cruise control. Is that something that fits our brand or not? Well, it's becoming more and more expected in that sort of car."

Land Rover and Jaguar may be playing catch-up with its global luxury and performance rivals when it comes to offering a full line of high-performance sub-brand offerings, but its three-pointed approach -- SVA, SVR and SVX -- is unique in the industry, and could pave the way for more clearly defined, less compromised vehicles than those of its competition. With the Range Rover SVA and Range Rover Sport SVR in dramatically short supply, it certainly appears as if Edwards and Company are on to something.

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