► We test the 475bhp ‘Super Defender’
► Reworked chassis, supercharged V8
► Yours for a £120k (!) in turn-key form
What do you get when you sling a 475bhp 4.7-litre supercharged V8, a six-speed automatic transmission and an LSD into a Land Rover Defender? Well, the answer to a question admittedly few have asked, is this: the JE MotorWorks Zulu2 Super Defender.
As the old adage goes, however, power is nothing without control – which is precisely why this force-fed Defender benefits further from substantial braking and suspension system upgrades, as well as better tyres. So, overlooking the fact it’s a Defender – which in standard form is about as dynamic as Donald Trump – it stands a chance of putting some of its power to good use.
You’ll also note that Defender has also received some (questionable) cosmetic upgrades, as well as a bespoke interior. But personalization is the name of the game when dealing with the likes of JE MotorWorks, so don’t let that garish nose put you off. You’re paying the money, you can make the choices.
What might cause you to spray your hot beverage of choice over your preferential visual display unit, however, is the price. This, despite being an archaic solid-axle Defender from an aftermarket company, will set you back £120,000 including VAT.
Yes, this is a Defender that costs as much as an Audi R8. Or £24,000 more than a Range Rover Sport SVR. Or £57,000 more than a Porsche Macan Turbo. At least the alarmingly high list price includes the sourcing of a suitable Defender; if you’ve already got one, then the drivetrain upgrade alone – engine, gearbox, axle upgrades, wheels and tyres – will set you back a mere £69,600.
Admittedly the price is a moot point; this is a car bought to stand out when parked up in Knightsbridge, or outside the Cobham training centre and it’ll likely appeal, irrespective of the asking. Regardless, here’s hoping its talents go beyond simple numerical one-upmanship.
Wait a minute – what is JE MotorWorks?
The company formerly known as JE Engineering. It’s no spurious spur-of-the-moment start-up, either; JE’s been around since 1975 and has a long history of tuning, testing and developing Land Rover products.
Currently, the company offers a wide range of options for both Land Rover and Range Rovers, including handling packages, engine and transmission upgrades and bespoke cosmetic work.
JE will also build you a car to suit your exact specifications, should you feel so inclined – and with its expertise and background, it’d be a good move to do so. After all, this is the company that Land Rover itself has turned to on more than one occasion…
What do you get for your money?
Quite a lot. Credit where it’s due: this isn’t one of the more straightforward ‘slap an LS in it and be done’ affairs – or, as is often the case, just a mildly warmed-over diesel derivative.
The major piece of the puzzle is a bespoke 4.7-litre version of JLR’s supercharged 4.2-litre V8. Thanks to its hike in displacement, a large bore exhaust system and a host of electronic tweaks, the V8 churns out a not-insignificant 475bhp and 479lb ft. That’s a hike of 55bhp and 69lb ft over the most powerful OEM 4.2-litre offerings.
Drive is transmitted through a six-speed automatic, sourced from Ford and fettled by JE, into a JE-developed transfer box that splits the output between front and rear. Extra traction’s imparted by a Quaife-sourced LSD at the back, helping the Zulu2 make the most of its torque.
Stopping power’s provided by an in-house big brake conversion kit that adds 362mm front discs and six-piston calipers, and the conventional mechanical handbrake – in automatic Zulus, at least – is ditched in favour of an electronic set-up.
Handling upgrades include slick Fox Racing Dampers, upgraded anti-roll bars and lowering springs. JE also fit 18-inch wheels with Michelin tyres, as well as a range of cosmetic upgrades and a reworked interior; check out that brash, squared-off three-bar grille, for example.
Just avoid spending £1080 on the ‘T800’ (consider that reference spotted) gearshift. Besides looking like the boom from a toy excavator, it’s about as ergonomic and as tactile as the wrong end of a garden fork. At least, being an automatic, you don’t have to interact with it that often…
So, what’s this thing like to drive?
Far better than a regular Defender, make no mistake. Mind you, you’d damned well hope so given the price. What’s most impressive is the ride; it’s far smoother and the body control is much improved compared to the OEM set–up. It’s still a Defender at heart, though – solid axles and all – so don’t expect a rugged-feeling canyon carver. Steering precision has been improved, but it’s still heavy, slow and prone to hooking up on imperfections on the road. If you’re on the motorway, for example, you’ll have to feed in a continual stream of corrections to keep it tracking straight and true.
Swings and roundabouts, though; because you’re intrinsically involved and required in the process of getting the Zulu down the road without it spearing off into the countryside, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be garnered from simply coercing the Zulu into making smooth, swift process. The brakes are far more powerful than the originals, fortunately, and their responses easy to judge. Stopping the Zulu is consequently no issue, which is a relief given its performance credentials.
The biggest difference, unsurprisingly, is in the straight-line stakes. Gone is the aged 120bhp 2.2-litre diesel and long-throw six-speed manual, replaced by JE’s 4.7-litre supercharged V8 and that six-speed automatic. Fire up the reworked V8 and – when it catches – you’ll have to wait momentarily for the horizon to stabilise following the Zulu’s initial torque reaction.
Jump on the throttle from a standing start and the response is electric; it will do its best to blow all four tyres off the rims. JE makes heady claims about the Zulu’s performance, but it feels as quick as the figures suggest – and it’s guaranteed to leave many a motorist confused as you blast away from every set of lights, particularly given that the noise at idle isn’t overly obtrusive. As you’d imagine, the in-gear punch is more than adequate, and you can simply sail back and forth in one gear on the V8’s ever-present wall of torque. Of course, dumping so much power into a Land Rover makes it very easy to get yourself into a considerable snafu without much effort, so a little restraint is called for – particularly if the road is twisty, or the conditions poor.
One other key upgrade is the automatic transmission; sure, it’s a Defender, so there’s still as much drivetrain shunt as a Class 55 loco coupling up to a stationary carriage, but the switch to an automatic gearbox improves the Land Rover’s drivability and ease of use considerably. The transmission does seek out the highest ratios as quickly as possible, which sometimes blunts the Zulu’s response, but on the plus side it keeps things tractable and cuts consumption and noise. Manual shifting is possible, but given the Defender’s ability to break traction with ease or nigh-on immediately hit the limiter when punched, it’s sometimes just best left to its own devices.
Has much changed inside?
JE’s spent considerable time retrimming the Defender’s interior, and the effort hasn’t been entirely wasted. The custom seats, door cards and headliner do add considerable visual and tactile appeal. The intrusive wind noise issues of the Defender remain, however, but JE can’t do much about the glasshouse or aerodynamics.
There are a few places where a little more attention to detail wouldn’t have gone amiss, mind. The A-pillar trims in our example were a little ragged, while the cover for the grab handle on the passenger side had rather unsubtle screw holes left in it. Not a crying shame, but a little disappointing given the price. You may be inclined to forgive it a few foibles, but when you’re paying top-end prices, you should expect a top-class finish.
That aside, not a huge deal has been changed – so if you’ve ever been in a Defender, you’ll know what to expect. Well, apart from the Zulu’s innate ability to reduce all six occupants to hysterics when you lay mat for the first fifteen yards from a standing start.
What about reliability?
JE has reputedly carried out a considerable amount of high-speed, heavy-duty testing in order to ensure the durability of its powertrain and other upgrades. We only experienced a few minor glitches during our test, but none of them stopped the Defender in its tracks or caused any real concern – and most could be attributed to the fact that our particular car was a very hard-worked demonstrator with a fair few miles under its belt.
While we didn’t carry out any precise economy testing, the Defender didn’t burn through fuel at a grimace-inducing rate. Long waits in traffic posed no problem, with the coolant temperature remaining stable, while high-speed cross-country work resulted in a similarly unfazed Zulu.
That said, this is still a Defender. Not, by any stretch, a car renowned for its reliability, and pouring more power and torque in to it is likely to test many a component. At least the Land Rover’s relatively easy to work on, although we suspect most will instead simply be quickly shipped back to JE for remedial work.
The Zulu’s not entirely devoid of appeal, and nor is it entirely untalented. It is unquestionably quick, handles in a far better fashion than a regular Defender, and some of the trim upgrades are worth their salt. It’s also, somewhat surprisingly, not desperately poor value for money. These days, as the popularity of the Defender has exploded among the wealthy for its image alone, it’s become comparatively easy to spend £80,000 on a bespoke diesel-engined version. It’ll likely be a 90, too, unlike the more practical 110-based example tested here.
Not that any of those points should serve as justification for anyone other than the die-hard fans. Ultimately, you’ll have to abolutely love the concept to justify buying one of these creations. But, if you were seriously going to spend that much on a Defender, we’d certainly recommend you start by talking to JE.
Only 25 Zulu2s will be made, though – most of which are expected to end up abroad – so some haste is called for if you’re interested in this particular car. Just pay some courtesy to the heritage of the Defender, and skip the brochure pages jammed with daytime running lights and garish bolt-on tat…
Read more Land Rover reviews