Imagine a performance vehicle that's capable of hitting 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and lapping Germany's famed Nürburgring racetrack in 8 minutes, 14 seconds. The last thing you'd picture is a two-and-a-half-ton SUV. Now imagine a 4-wheel-drive beast that can claw its way up cliffs, wade rivers and crawl down crevices. The last thing you'd picture is an SUV capable of out-performing some performance cars on the asphalt. Yet the new Range Rover Sport SVR aims to be both.

As the first Land Rover vehicle to be blessed with the British brand's SVR high-performance badge, the Range Rover Sport SVR puts on a racer's helmet yet remains firmly laced in its venerable hiking boots.

Most dynamically focused Land Rover ever

For a quick recap, this Range Rover is billed as "the most dynamically focused Land Rover ever produced." It uses the brand's familiar 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine, but in this application it has been tuned to make 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque -- 40 horsepower and 41 lb-ft over what's found in standard supercharged V8 models. These figures make it the most powerful Land Rover yet. Beyond just more grunt, the SVR sees upgrades to its 8-speed automatic transmission, exhaust system, aerodynamics and braking prowess, which come courtesy of six-piston Brembo stoppers like the kind found on pure performance cars.

The Range Rover Sport SVR falls under Jaguar Land Rover's recently formed Special Vehicle Operations unit, which will make even more opulent and higher-performing versions of the British luxury cars and SUVs. While the SVA models focus on ultra-premium features and craftsmanship, SVR variants live to perform, similar to Mercedes-Benz's AMG models and BMW's stable of M-badged vehicles.

Does this supercharged Range Rover have the goods to give high-performance SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 M a run for their money? We were invited to find out at the private Monticello Motor Club in rural Monticello, New York, where we had the opportunity to flog this high-performance SUV on the track and go off-roading with it on an adjacent trail.

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No off-road compromises

Before experiencing what the Range Rover SVR could do on a track, we were reacquainted with what it can do off-road. In this case we took this 5-passenger luxury SUV on a muddy trail rutted with tree roots, dips and small hills. To no one's surprise, the Range Rover handled everything with ease. Truth is, we probably didn't even need to engage the low-range system. During the launch of the standard Range Rover that was all-new for 2013, we actually rock crawled the SVR's sibling up inclines would make most other off-road vehicles shudder, so we know its off-road chops are legit.

But the point was taken: While the new SVR Range Rover Sport is billed for its dynamics, it retains the off-road abilities synonymous with the brand. No compromises have been made to its ride height or wheel travel. It can still wade nearly three feet of water and retains the innovative Terrain Response system that adapts for various off-road conditions like sand, mud and snow at the flick of a button.

On the track

Finally it was time to put the Range Rover Sport SVR to the test on the track. It should be noted that after a thorough hose-down to wash the mud off the wheels and debris from the sides, we drove the very same vehicle that we'd just off-roaded. No wheel changes were involved; it remained in its standard 21-inch Continental Cross Contact all season rubber.

In this environment, it's the Range Rover SVR's motor that most impresses. With 550 horsepower on tap, this SUV has some serious get up and go. This most powerful Range Rover can hit 162 mph. In a straight line, the rig is a blast. Acceleration is effortless, and the full-throttle exhaust note the SVR makes is addicting. When tackling tight corners at high speeds, the Range Rover SVR is a cut above the standard model thanks to stiffer setup, but even the best hardware can't nullify physics: It's still a roughly 5,150-pound, high-riding SUV. In a straight line the Range Rover Sport SVR will nearly go toe-to-toe with a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but fling it into a corner and it soon becomes apparent that the Germans still set the benchmark. Where a Cayenne or X5 M will stay remarkably planted in a hard corner, the SVR's front tires protested a split-second before I would have expected.

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Still no compromise

That last sentence is hardly a denouncement. The truth is, no SUV is the best at off-roading and the best on a track. And if a case could be made for a luxury SUV that manages to be the best of all things to the very-well-heeled, it remains the Range Rover Sport. That's because there is another truth to all this: The majority of buyers will go nowhere near this vehicle's limits, either on-track or off-road. Most buyers of this $110,000-plus top-line Range Rover Sport will simply be seeking, well, a top-line Range Rover Sport.

And in that regard, this new, range-topping Range Rover model will more than match their desires. It provides deep wells of power, yet-more-panache and a taste of exclusivity. That it just happens to not embarrass itself on a track and retains the ability to ford rivers and scale rocks all while providing serene driving manners in the ordinary commuting it will probably spend most its time. This multi personality is testament to the versatility and capability in what remains one of the world's finest SUVs.

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2015 Range Rover Sport SVR packs 550-hp

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