Land Rover Defender V8: mud-plugging with 518bhp supercharged swagger

Published: 25 February 2021

► Latest news on the 2021 Defender range
► Brawny 518bhp supercharged V8 roars in
► Specs, prices, engines rounded up

The Land Rover Defender range has swollen again - this time with V8 supercharged fireworks arriving with a whizz and a bang to introduce a rabid 518bhp 4x4 hooligan.

Available in both 90 three-door and 110 five-door bodyshells, the new 2021 Defender V8 is capable of 0-60mph in just 4.9 seconds and tops out at 149mph. 

It follows a long tradition of slotting V8 power into Land Rover's mud-plugging hero and while it may hold limited appeal in the CO2-obsessed UK, such brawny 4x4s can prove popular in markets such as the Middle East and US. 

Performance doesn't come cheap, however: the cheapest P525 V8 costs £98,505 in the 90 bodystyle, breaking into six figures for the 110 which starts at a startling £101,150. You'll need deep pockets to fuel and tax it, too - CO2 emissions stand at 327g/km and it'll guzzle fuel at a rate probably worse than the claimed 19.7mpg...

New Land Rover Defender: the full CAR review

A V8's too much! What about the Defender Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)?

Land Rover is gradually adding more and more choice to the Defender's powertrain range. If the idea of a supercharged V8 is a little OTT for you, then check out the more modest petrol, diesel and - for the first time - plug-in hybrids.

Land Rover Defender plug-in hybrid (PHEV)

The Defender P400e uses the same combination of 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor as other plug-in Land Rover models, including the Discovery Sport and Evoque. With a total of 398bhp, it's claimed to be capable of 27 miles on pure electric power alone, including off-roading – ideal for some clandestine scrumping or whatever country pastimes you decide to pursue.

Land Rover claims the hybrid Defender will be capable of 85.3mpg combined, with CO2 emissions of just 74g/km, but you'll have to start every journey fully charged to get anywhere near those figures. Prices for the P400e kick off at around £66k in the UK.

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New six-cylinder diesel, too

That’s right – after only a few months on sale, the Defender will drop its four-cylinder diesel in favour of the very latest inline-six unit first seen in the Range Rover. The new unit comes in 197bhp, 247bhp and 296bhp flavours (badged as D200, D250 and D300) with mild-hybrid tech used throughout and maximum fuel economy of 32.2mpg.

2020 Land Rover Defender off-road

Six-cylinder models will come with an improved Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system, which can transfer 100% of the engine’s torque to either axle on demand. Land Rover claims it improves fuel economy but doesn’t sacrifice any of the model’s off-road capability.

New Land Rover Defender hard top vans

The Land Rover Defender Hard Top models have been confirmed, bringing a dash of commercial vehicle work ethic to the new Landie range. Aimed at tradesmen and women wanting a working vehicle, the new additions bring panelled rear ends, fewer luxuries and usefully lower prices.

The Hard Top is available in both 90 and 110 models and Land Rover has revealed that these commercial variants will start from around £35,000 excluding VAT for businesses. Sounds like a good riposte to the rival Ineos project, which takes aim at the simpler working ethic of the outgoing Defender.

Land Rover Defender Hard Top: the commercial van version

The company has resurrected the Hard Top name that dates back to 1950, when early Series Land Rovers were given a removable lid to keep cargo safe and dry. Could there be an open-top Defender pick-up to follow? We'll have to wait and see...

The Hard Tops have been developed by the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division and all rear seats are ditched for a larger loadbay; a jump-seat option allows accommodation for three passengers in the front row only. Clever storage and racking systems are promised and Land Rover claims a 3.5-tonne towing capacity for these workhorses.

The latest Land Rover Defender family: a clean sheet of paper - and now built abroad

Given the particularly difficult task of reinventing an icon, Land Rover’s thrown everything at this new model – with highlights including an all-new platform, a wide range of engines including petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid, and significantly increased dimensions. Production has also moved from Solihull to Slovakia.

Land Rover Defender range 2020

Three-door 90 and five-door 110 (numbers that no longer relate to the 101 and 118-inch wheelbases) models are again available, priced from £45,460 for a 90 D200 diesel.

New Land Rover Defender: tech specs

The Defender 4x4 is internally codenamed L663. It has switched from body-on-frame construction to an aluminium unibody derived from the D7 platform of current Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery siblings.

As is the case with those cars, that also means the Defender has switched from solid axles to double-wishbone front suspension and Integral Link independent rear suspension. Buyers can opt for either coil-sprung suspension or air on the 90s, while the 110 variants are only offered with air suspension.

However, the Defender’s platform is said to be 95 per cent new compared to that used in existing models, and is dubbed D7x – denoting ‘extreme’. Land Rover says it’s the strongest, stiffest structure it’s ever engineered, with torsional rigidity of 30kNm/Degree. To put things in perspective, that’s slightly better than a Jaguar E-Pace SUV.

In order to help bolster its off-road performance, hardware such as the battery, cooling circuits and spare wheel (normally positioned underneath, now fixed to the side-opening rear door) has been moved to help shorten the front and rear overhangs.

2020 Land Rover Defender

The wheelbases are unrelated to any other D7 models (or indeed the imperial measurements that 90 and 110 once represented). The suspension hardware has been significantly beefed up, too: the Defender’s steel subframes feature sturdier welds, and it also benefits from extra braces, more durable bushings and ball joints for suspension control arms, and the longer and stiffer front control arms.

The Defender is also bigger than it was before: the new 90 and 110 models measure 4583mm and 5018mm long respectively (including the spare wheel on the rear door), which is up 722mm and 440mm on previous models.

New Land Rover Defender: Gavin Green's view

The wheelbases of the 110 clocks in at 3022mm (or 119in), which is 99mm longer than a Discovery’s, helping keep the Defender’s trademark short overhangs that are so essential to its off-road performance.

Wheel sizes have grown from the previous 16-18 inch wheels to 22 inches. The interior space has increased dramatically, as we’ve already experienced in our passenger ride, and weight increases over 200kg on like-for-like models. The new 90 model, for example, weighs a minimum of 2133kg as a four-cylinder diesel.

New Land Rover Defender: engine range

You’ll certainly leave the old-timer behind on the road thanks to the new Defender’s range of modern engines. Powertrain options include four- and six-cylinder petrols, and hybrid and plug-in variants, as well as the more traditional four-cylinder diesel option.

The entry-level Defender, badged D200, is powered by a 2.0-litre SD4 diesel with sequential twin turbos. It produces 197bhp and stout 317lb ft; a more powerful D240 version is also offered, which punches out a higher 237bhp and the same 317lb ft. These engines will be replaced by six-cylinder alternatives for 2021.

On the petrol front, buyers can pick between the four-cylinder P300 or six-cylinder P400 MHEV Defender. The P300 features a single-turbo 2.0-litre Si4 petrol engine which produces 296bhp and 295lb ft.

The P400 MHEV, however, is a very different variant. It features a 3.0-litre i6 engine, for starters, which features a single turbocharger, a 48-volt electric centrifugal supercharger and a mild hybrid set-up. As a result, it pounds out an impressive 395bhp and 406lb ft – which made it the most powerful and quickest variant of the new Defender until the 518bhp supercharged V8 arrived in early 2021.

Regardless of which you pick, however, you’ll always get an eight-speed ZF automatic which sends power to all four wheels via a two-speed transfer case. 

2020 Land Rover Defender towing

New Land Rover Defender: performance specs

At launch, the performance figures for the new Defender engine line-up is as follows.

  • D200: 196bhp, 317lb ft, 0-62mph in 10.2sec, 109mph
  • D240: 237bhp, 317lb ft, 0-62mph in 9.0sec, 117mph
  • P300: 296bhp, 295lb ft, 0-62mph in 8.0sec, 119mph
  • P400 MHEV: 395bhp, 406lb ft, 0-62mph in 6.0sec, 129mph
  • P525 V8: 518bhp, 461lb ft, 0-60mph in 4.9sec, 149mph

These figures are all for the 90 versions, but the heavier 110 models are only fractionally slower and slightly less efficient.

On the economy front, you can expect the following – and these are the most recently published WLTP figures, so should better represent real-world usage.

  • D200: 29.9-32.2mpg, 230-248g/km of CO2
  • D240: 29.2-32.2mpg, 230-248g/km of CO2
  • P300: 23.2-25.1mpg, 255-277g/km of CO2
  • P400 MHEV: 23.6-25.6mpg, 251-271g/km of CO2
  • P525 V8: 19.5mpg, 327g/km of CO2

Additionally, all versions have a braked towing weight of 3500kg.

New Land Rover Defender: going off-road

Off-road smarts are bolstered by permanent all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case as standard, plus an optional locking rear diff in addition to the centre diff, which is locked by swiping the central touchscreen.

Air suspension can lower the ride height by 50mm, but also raise it by up to 75mm, with a further 70mm boost to a maximum of 145mm (for a maximum of 291mm ground clearance overall) – for when the body needs a brief lift to clear obstacles. The wading depth matches the 900mm of a Discovery, and represents a huge 400mm over the previous model.

There’s new off-road technology too, including the ClearSight GroundView that projects a picture of the ground normally hidden by the bonnet onto the central touchscreen and first debuted on the second Evoque. The familiar Terrain Response system now has four individual profiles that owners can configure to their liking.

However, while the new Defender promises to best its predecessor off-road in many areas, its reduced ground clearance and longer overhangs make it inferior in terms of off-road geometry. A 90’s maximum approach (38 degrees), departure (40 degrees) and ground clearance of 291mm on raised air suspension are all lower than its coil-sprung predecessor’s 47-degree approach- and departure angles, and 314mm ground clearance.

2020 Land Rover Defender

Land Rover cites the need to comply with modern crash and emissions regulations, but stresses that overall the new hardware and technology have made this generation more capable in the vast majority of off-road environments, and that it has aced trials that were previously off-limits to the old workhorse, including the notorious Steel Bender, Poison Spider and Hell’s Revenge trails in Moab, America.

Still, if you were a particularly devious TV producer you might arrange for an old Defender to be driven up a steep incline that represented the very edge of its abilities, then make viewers gasp when the new one failed to repeat the trick.

New Land Rover Defender: updated interior

The interior embraces the Defender’s utilitarian roots with rubberised flooring (though UK cars get easily removed carpet inserts too) and an exposed magnesium cross-car beam that’s hidden behind the dashboard in sister models. An optional ‘jump-seat’ in the first row (inspired by the early Series models) means buyers can choose from five-seat, six-seat or seven-seat variants, if not eight.

Defender also jumps forwards several generations with technology including a 12.3-inch digital instrument binnacle, 10-inch infotainment touchscreen with over-the-air software updates and the full A-to-Z of driver-assistance systems.

2020 Land Rover Defender

Five trim levels are available: S, SE, HSE, First Edition (available for the first year) and range-topping Defender X, with upholstery spanning base models’ Resolve textile to top-spec Windsor leather.

There are also four accessory packs – Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban – and 170 accessories, including a pop-up roof tent to take full advantage of the roof’s ability to support a 300kg static load.

For a more in-depth look at the new Land Rover Defender, including interviews with design boss Gerry McGovern, vehicle line director Nick Collins and durability and robustness programme manager Andy Deeks, check out CAR’s October 2019 issue.

New Land Rover Defender: prices

Starting prices for the key models are as follows:

  • 90 3dr  £45,460
  • 110 5dr  £46,215
  • Hard Top CV  £44,200
  • P400e PHEV  £65,915
  • P525 V8  £98,505

Read our editor-in-chief's verdict on the new Land Rover Defender

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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