► We drive the ultimate Land Rover Defender
► Tuned up to 11 by Urban Truck
► Is a 430bhp V8 Defender too much?
At some point in the middle of the last decade, Land Rover lump-hammered a new switch into the dashboard of its incorruptible Defender. On the strength of this significant upgrade, the company PR wallah, poacher-turned-gamekeeper Gavin Green (yes, that Gavin Green), organised an expedition to Namibia.
For the best part of a Camelthorn beer and kudu burger-fuelled week, we spanked the map of unpaved roads; slewed on semi-flat rubber up monumental sand dunes; choked on the talcum powder dust of dried river beds; crunched illicitly over the glittering mirage crust of the Etosha salt pan; accidentally pelted an irritating German film crew with high-velocity aggregate at every opportunity; cowered from two-tonne rhinos behind woefully sparse shrubbery that wouldn’t slow a miffed marmot; and laughed ourselves to the very cusp of hernia truss at one notably tedious ‘lifestyle’ hack as he proudly tallied his designer Wellington collection whilst tripping over every single rock in Africa.
A Land Rover Defender with a Corvette engine
Perhaps a relief, then, that Land Rover’s responsibilities for the Urban Truck RS Ultimate begin and end with donor status. For if the simple savouring of a new switch elicits the finest hol… erm, launch I have ever attended, then, surely, nothing would suffice in celebration of shoe-horning a 430bhp, 398lb ft 6.2-litre small block Chevy V8 into it a Defender save an outing to the rings of Saturn.
Truth be told, driving the Chevy into the heavy isn’t actually the work of Urban Truck either. ‘Everything you see is us,’ Urban Truck’s Simon Dearn tells me. ‘But the engineering is in collaboration with Wildcat. They already know how to install this powertrain better than anyone. Our mission statement is to modernise and refine; a Defender isn’t that at all…’
Everything you see, then, constitutes the company’s stock in trade; making the Land Rover that much more bearable to live with in SW3. This RS Ultimate is their first foray into monstering the powertrain, however, the fettling norm involving upgrading the Land Rover engine to 175bhp and then ladling on a bewildering array of exterior and interior options.
The former includes everything from a paint finish that hasn’t simply been poured optimistically out of the back of a passing C130 and the replacement of bolts and exterior fixings renowned for rusting to a full LED light upgrade including the company’s signature twin bumper-mounted running lights.
Inside the Urban Truck RS Ultimate 4x4 cabin
The latter encompasses Recaro seats, leather upholstery, endless trim finishes, lashings of soundproofing, audio systems that’ll blow the wax clean out of your ears… The list is extravagant. ‘It’s about retaining the look as long as you can,’ says Simon, ‘because it doesn’t take long to start looking tatty.’
Urban Truck’s first RS Ultimate is anything but tatty, and nicely understated. The only things that give the game away are a whiff of additional engine bay ventilation, red Tarox six-piston front calipers lurking behind bespoke, Yokohama-shod 18-inch alloys, discreet RS badging nicked from the Ford Heritage parts bin and a pair of howitzer-radius exhausts artfully punched through the rear mudflaps.
With a little less self-control in evidence, the interior constitutes more of a mixed bag to my eye. Urban Truck is clearly using the RS Ultimate as a showroom, and it’s something of a surprise not to come across a kitchen sink recessed into the cross-stitched leather somewhere amidships.
Though the whole may be a tad too boudoir for some, nice touches abound, such as the chunky aluminium door pulls, alcantara roof lining, rubber checkerplate floor mats, heated Recaros and push-button control panel for the six-speed automatic transmission.
Unfortunately, the least pleasing touch is the misplaced Momo steering wheel, set at a fixed angle more usually associated with a star-gazer’s telescope. However, the radius of same is at least small enough to facilitate helming with the window closed; a Defender first.
How does the Ultimate Truck Defender drive?
Barking into life at the prod of a starter button, the RS Ultimate sounds predictably glorious from the pavement but, at speed, evinces more snarl than thunder on board. Three drive modes –described as ‘fierce’, ‘fiercer’ and ‘even fiercer’ – are available, but a throttle mounting which invariably snags the shoe-tip as you lean on the pedal makes modulation in even the laziest setting difficult; the embarrassing surfeit of clumsy prodding and resultant lunging no way to impress the man whose only child you’re making off with…
The words ‘rat’ and ‘stabbed’ do not actually spring to mind as the RS Ultimate yells to 60mph in about six seconds, perhaps due to the distance from proceedings elicited by such a high driving position. But it is amusing to note the remarkably short order in which the speedometer needle tries to bend itself round the pin that punctuates the 120mph mark at the other end of the dial.
Accompanying a performance hike equivalent to sandwiching a tortoise between a roller skate and a lit Sidewinder missile, rigorously fettled suspension features new springs, Bilstein dampers and uprated anti-roll bars and bushes, the whole riding two inches lower than a standard car. Defenders have never been renowned for body control, so the marriage of potentially riveting suspension and predominantly riveted bodywork makes for interesting progress, not least because, though a Bilstein steering damper is quoted as part of the upgrade, I can’t tell the difference between this helm and that of my own 1983 V8 110. So what we have here marries stacks of grip and a decidedly tough ride incorporating no little jostle with steering wherein you could wedge a baby and rock it to sleep without once deviating from a straight line.
Doesn’t bother me in the least, though. Indeed, such behaviour seems bang on message for an hilariously fast, fastidiously finished and dauntingly pricey Defender. This loaded Ultimate Edition will set you back £93,000; the same oomph with a less flamboyant cockpit closer to £78,000.
The wick on the Chevy V8 can actually be turned up to 550bhp on request. And that, the suspension upgrades and Recaros crammed into a pick-up body would do very nicely, thank you; the English El Camino.
Best hurry though; Urban Truck has just 225 build slots until the end of the year and, with Defender production ending on 20 December, will no longer be able to register new specimens after August 2016. Sniff.