► Most powerful Defender driven
► V8 power and performance upgrades
► 90 is £98k, 110 version is £101k
It's good to know, in the face of electrification, chip shortages affecting production and grand plans to make the brand profitable again, that Land Rover still has a sense of humour. It didn't have to build a new Defender V8, but here it is – all supercharged 518bhp of it.
The new variant is a sweet range topper for the massive list of Defender variants – read our reviews of the regular 90 and 110 here, and the P400e hybrid if you like – here's why.
Talk me through Defender V8 specifics
Well, that supercharged 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet has a fraction less torque than the P400e variant, developing 461lb ft along with the aforementioned 518bhp. Still, so much shove allows this Defender is capable of a 0-62mph sprint in 5.2 seconds for the 90 and 5.4 seconds for the 110. Not slow.
It's not just about power, either. The chassis and air suspension benefit from bespoke tuning, including sharpening up damping and spring rates, and the electronic active differential on the rear axle has been upgraded to include a yaw controller to better adapt grip in hard cornering. Larger anti-roll bars are standard, too, as are enlarged 20-inch brakes. Electronically, the V8 introduces a Dynamic mode to the Defender's already configuration-filled Terrain Response 2 system.
You can only spec a Defender V8 in white, satin grey or black and they all come with 22-inch wheels as standard. You can drop down to 20s if you like, but Land Rover says the top speed drops from 149mph to 119mph if you tick that particular box. Other than that, there's not much to visually differentiate the V8; some badging on the lower edge of the doors, blue brake calipers and a tiddler of a quad-pipe exhaust.
Inside, V8s benefit from Alcantara on the steering wheel and additional padding on the centre console's rivet-ridden frame. Oh, and it's all black. You can also spec a larger Pivi Pro display (first seen on the facelifted Discovery, Jaguar F-Pace and E-Pace) that bulges over the horizontal shelf-like layout of the Defender's dashboard.
Come on then, what's it like on the road?
Even just starting the V8 up is enough to prompt a wry smile. But this isn't an SVR product – there are no phlegmy thunderclap theatrics like a Range Rover Sport SVR – instead, you simply hear the engine briefly harrumph to life before settling down.
And that's a theme that continues as you're driving. It's remarkably reserved for what we usually expect from a JLR supercharged V8, only letting slip a butler-like 'ahem' scything through towns.
Why? Because Land Rover has effectively had to choke the engine as best it can maintain the very latest emissions standards, allowing the engine to continue service until 2027. Petrol particulate filters muffle the noise, so Land Rover has added some gentle digital replication of the noise in the cabin and, to compensate, has figured out trick ways to amplify the whine of the supercharger. That dinky exhaust, too, is designed not to affect the Defender's innate prowess offroad by compromising the departure angle.
But none of this is a complaint. You still know it's a V8, with such a satisfying snarl as the revs build alongside the eye-widening, linear acceleration. It's baffling that something weighing more than 2.6 tonnes can accelerate with such force – enough for that wry smile to grow into a goofy one as you hurtle towards the horizon.
The steering is tremendously accurate – again, for such a heavy SUV – and has some serious weight to it; enough to give a Cayenne Turbo a run for its money. Grip, naturally, is infallible on the road, even if Land Rover's engineers have injected a bit of rear bias when you're in the new Dynamic mode. Even if the Defender doesn't have 48v active body control like a slew of VW Group rivals, body roll at significant speed is impressively quelled. It's also comforting to know that those larger brakes work their magic, too; the pedal has some proper heft to it. we'd still like a little more bite from them, though.
If your eyebrow is raising at the addition of so many 'for an SUV' caveats here, we understand. But, comparing it to the top-heavy Mercedes-AMG G63 and the thrill-lacking Audi SQ7/8, the Defender V8 is on another level.
What about off it?
We had some time at Land Rover's centre in Eastnor, disturbing campers and local fauna as we mill about the rolling fields, streams and steep inclines that pepper the local landscape. Naturally, the V8 felt no disadvantage to any other Defender when faced with trials like climbing steep, grassy hillsides, wading through deep streams and skipping over rutted tracks.
We also got to experience off-roading at speed – rally-style in a V8 90. With Dynamic mode engaged and full-throttle corners being tackled at significant pace, this too completely unfazed the V8. You feel the differentials doing their work here most, the steering wheel buzzing with feedback as power is shuffled to each wheel. There are moments where Dynamic mode allows a touch of oversteer, but it's so satisfyingly controllable.
Land Rover Defender V8: verdict
It's out-performed dynamically by the Cayenne Turbo and Audi SQ7/SQ8, but they're so dour by comparison that you don't care. Add to the fact that the Defender V8 can handle high-speed cornering better than a Mercedes-AMG G63 without losing any of the off-road capability and there's little to question here. A welcome V8 flavour for the already convincing Defender.
Yes – in 2021 – a heavy V8 SUV isn't with the times. But what a laugh - this thing charms you to no end and makes a compelling case against a ton of rivals.
Specs are for a Defender 110 V8
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