Tarts, Tracks, Trees, Turbos and Stilettos: Road-tripping in Portugal - SUV VEHICLE

Tarts, Tracks, Trees, Turbos and Stilettos: Road-tripping in Portugal

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What do eucalyptus trees, Formula One racetracks, designer stilettos, Portuguese tarts and luxury performance SUVs have in common?

There’s no country in the world like Australia. Except maybe Portugal? Driving through the countryside south of Lisbon, I don’t know if it’s jetlag or homesickness but I can’t escape the feeling that I’m back home in Australia.

Eucalyptus trees cover the hills, their distinctive stringy bark hanging off arrow-straight trunks and littering the ground. All that’s missing are fluffy balls of koala nestled in a vee here and there.

I’m in Portugal, covering the launch of the 2024 Range Rover Sport SV, the fastest and most capable vehicle the iconic British four-wheel drive maker has ever produced. The Sport SV’s mission is to be a convincing luxury conveyance, a high-performance track star and an indomitable off-roader.

By the end of the launch, it’s clear to me that no other vehicle can match the Sport SV’s breadth of capability or its incredible abilities across all three disciplines.

Right now, though, the Range Rover Sport SV is doing a convincing impression of a luxury limousine. Its twin-turbocharged V8 powertrain is in its most docile setting, and its multi-mode suspension is dialled for comfort as we eat the miles to our overnight destination, the Vermelho Hotel, one of the world’s best kept secrets.

I’ve engaged the Sport SV’s massage seats to get me in the mood for the hedonistic indulgence awaiting at Vermelho Melides, Christian Louboutin’s first boutique luxury hotel. But it’s more than just your typical crude back-thumping car-seat massage.

Range Rover has taken the innovative step of incorporating four haptic transducers into each of the front seats to enhance occupant wellbeing. A “haptic transducer” is like an audio speaker designed to transmit vibrations instead of sounds. Those vibrations can be controlled and adjusted to mimic a massage, or to enhance the physical sensation of a thumping music soundtrack.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m having a momentary existential dilemma. Am I really in Portugal, or has the Rangie induced a waking dream state where I’m back in Australia?

To pierce the pervading delusion, I ask my phone – hooked up to the Sport’s Pivi Pro infotainment and smartphone mirroring system – to tell me if Eucalyptus trees grow in Portugal. The answer is yes, and that in turn leads me down the “why” path, followed by “what else does Portugal export?”

In my experience, a road trip is a voyage of intellectual discovery as well as a physical one, full of whimsical twists and turns leading to unexpected gems.

Portugal, it turns out, produces more than just the best Portuguese tarts in the world. It’s also a major producer of paper – seven billion euros’ worth every year – and eucalyptus trees are a great source of wood pulp.

It’s not only Portugal that has adopted eucalyptus trees for paper production, it turns out. In fact, many countries in Earth’s temperate zone have cottoned on to the eucalypt’s benefits. But it is a distinctly Australian genus, and responsible for 75 per cent of Australia’s forests.

Google then tells me Portugal is the world’s largest exporter of cork, and not just for wine bottles. In fact, Portugal produces more than half of the world’s cork supply, which finds its way into everything from wine bottles to floor tiles and handbags.

Unlike paper, cork is a sustainable industry in which the trees aren’t cut down or damaged. Instead, they’re trimmed once every nine years, so a cork oak can have a productive lifespan of anything up to 270 years.

In a none-too subtle segue, my mind grabs the sustainable cork production angle and connects it with the sustainably produced seats in the Range Rover. The seat material is a PET-recycled 3D-knit that is woven into shape – a process that means zero waste unlike more traditional upholstering methods. This seat fabric looks and feels stiff, but is surprisingly supple to sit on. It’s also supportive, which is good for exploring the Sport SV’s real-world performance capabilities.

Despite having the same twin-turbocharged V8 engine as the raucous BMW M5 Competition, and therefore the ability to blast from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds, the Range Rover Sport SV is anything but frantic, even when you push the pace. The engine has a muscular largesse that feels limitless and never taxed. It’s also sensitive enough to read driver intent and shift its high-tech, adjustable suspension’s intent from pure comfort to dynamic as the pace quickens.

The homesickness disappears completely as we enter coastal enclave of Melides; a village whose tile-covered stone walls are anything but the weatherboard or brick-veneer of Australian abodes. It’s quite likely these walls were around when Portugal was a world power, some 500 years ago – 300 years before Europeans discovered Terra Australis Incognita.

It’s easy to forget Portugal once ruled half the known world, because the Portuguese people don’t come across as arrogant or superior. Quite the opposite, in fact, and with a deep appreciation for the simple things in life, like long lunches and even longer dinners.

The Portuguese are worldly, probably as a result of their history as a European powerhouse, and some of the people I meet are quick to share their own Australian experiences, usually involving backpacks and Bondi or shared accommodation in St Kilda. Gap-year travel is a global phenomenon, it seems, stretching back decades.

Portugal’s roots, unsurprisingly, pre-date Australia’s European discovery by centuries, millenia even. The nation of Portugal was established in the 1100s, and the country rose to international prominence during the Age of Discovery (1500s and 1600s).

In case you didn’t know, in 1494 Portugal and Spain arbitrarily divided the known world between themselves. The Treaty of Tordesillas was intended to resolve the conflict caused by the Pope’s 1481 attempt to allocate ownership of the recently discovered – and hugely lucrative – Americas.

Of course, no other (then-international) players such as the British, French and Dutch, were given a seat at the negotiating table. Nor did the Spanish or Portuguese invite feedback from the non-European countries they were annexing from afar.

Portugal’s role as a global superpower diminished in the 1800s, and by the 1900s was so weak it warranted only a minor role in World War One (on the British side) and was neutral through the entirety of WWII.

Even so, Portugal’s influence on the world remains to this day. Only 10-11 million people live in Portugal, but it’s estimated that more than 250 million people speak Portuguese as their first language.

Despite its deep roots and well established traditions, Portugal is also open to the influences of other nations. Vermelho Melides is a 13-room hotel that flamboyantly expresses both Portuguese and Indian cultures. It’s a curious clash that creates a signature as unique as its owner Christian Louboutin’s trademark red-bottomed stiletto shoes.

The property nestles on the Atlantic coastline 90 minutes south of Lisbon. It was once a fisherman’s house, which Louboutin bought during an unexpected stopover here in 2012, turning it and the surrounding land into a 13-room retreat for himself and his friends. More recently, it became a hotel, which means you and I can experience its unique mix of ancient European elegance and gaudy Indian opulence – highlighted by the dozens of Bollywood posters lining the walls in public spaces.

Vermelho Melides is a tantalising taste of the lifestyle Range Rover Sport SV owners enjoy, from the huge rectangular Roman bath in the en-suite to the expansive bedroom that easily triples my bedroom back in Australia. It’s a lifestyle one could quickly get used to, if one had the means to sustain it.

The next morning we leave Melides and tackle the meandering roads south toward the more demanding curves of the Algarve International Circuit where we put the Range Rover Sport SV’s performance claims to the test.

The Algarve circuit which opened in 2009 is one of the newest F1 race tracks on the calendar, hosting the Portuguese Grand Prix during the COVID-19 affected seasons in 2020 and 2021. Its combination of long straight, tightening corners and intense undulations made it one of the most challenging permanent circuits on the calendar.

The safe and controlled surrounds of a race track is the only place to really explore the Range Rover Sport SV’s performance credentials – the anger of its engine, the prodigious grip of its 23-inch tyres, the tenacity of its huge brakes and the finesse of its advanced 6D suspension.

The Range Rover provers to be faster than anything with its size and girth should be, faster even than some similarly priced sports coupes. It’s a showcase to the modern era of computer-enhanced ‘smart’ powertrains and suspension systems giving engineers the freedom to seemingly flout the immutable laws of physics.

Range Rover acknowledges very few owners (if any) will exploit the extremes of what this car can do, but it’s important the vehicle can still do all this. Owners are buying a reputation borne of reality as much as to fulfil their motoring dreams.

With the track testing behind us, we grab a quick lunch (and another Portuguese tart) and point north, headed for another unique abode perched high above the Comporta coastline.

Casa 4 Serras is a spectacular architecturally designed clifftop retreat which can be rented for just $26,000 a week, which in Australia gets you six months rent in a nice suburb.

This country escape is a pantheon to the reclusive and sedentary lifestyle. The concrete structure is elevated on its already high hill with a commanding view to the coast and beyond, and the rooms are laid out in a long single file so that every room enjoys the 180-degree view.

An equally long balcony runs down the length of the house, dotted with outdoor furniture to suit your lounging mood. Where the balcony ends, a verdant lawn runs takes over, pulling your attention to a lap pool on the cliff’s edge, its broad concrete walls perfect for placing a champagne flute or a wine goblet as the sun sets over the ocean.

Again, the implication that this is the Range Rover lifestyle is not lost on me, but neither is the fleetingness of our stay. An hour later we’re on the road again, headed for the airport to begin our homeward journey.

Overall, the Range Rover Sport SV launch in Portugal is a start-to-finish declaration of the Range Rover brand, and the Range Rover Sport SV in particular. At $360,800 plus on-road costs, the Sport SV is aimed at people for whom ‘making the mortgage’ is never an issue – on any of their houses.

This impressively capable vehicle is for people whose bank balances not only communicate their worth, but their expectations. Big money buys big value but demands a big payoff, and few vehicles reward as generously across such disparate disciplines as the Range Rover Sport SV.

Few vehicles would shine as bright among the six-star luxuries and excesses of our Portuguese tour. Lesser vehicles would pale into the background, but not this one. The Sport SV was at home here, on the road, the racetrack and the mountain track, as it will be on the fancier streets of Australia when deliveries commence next month.

Sadly, all I left with was a six-pack of Portuguese tarts, which barely lasted the plane flight home.

Drive flew to Portugal as a guest of Range Rover.

The post Tarts, Tracks, Trees, Turbos and Stilettos: Road-tripping in Portugal appeared first on Drive.

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