MOTORS REVIEW: Land Rover Defender V8
It may be the baby of the range, with its two doors and tiny 176-litre boot, but the Defender 90 tested here accompanied its Tonka toy vibe with a distinctive, barrel-chested baritone soundtrack that affirms its status as a thumping 525PS range-topper.
The five-litre supercharged engine under its bonnet means that, despite its lofty ride height and impressive off-road credentials, the bluff-nosed 4x4 will accelerate to 62mph in 5.4 seconds and on to a 154mph top speed.
This is a rarefied level of cross-bred craziness though, and it comes at a price.
As tested, our test car was priced at £99,460, and that is with the no-cost option Yulong White Metallic Paint and the fairly sensible addition of an uprated 11.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system (£140) and the £745 Secure Tracker Pro security system.
The new Defender is a car that makes its presence felt out on the road and that V8 soundtrack only adds to the attention it commands.
Our test car’s 22-inch black alloys were filled by 20-inch disc brakes clamped by powerful, blue-painted callipers.
Otherwise, an Alcantara clad steering wheel and the “V8” script on the kick plates over which you enter the cabin are the only visual clues to its potency.
That large infotainment screen dominated the dashboard.
With its crisp graphics and smartphone and internet connectivity it feels a little at odds with a cabin that still harks back to the simplicity and rugged utilitarianism with its areas of exposed metal, bolts and, in places, overly plastic trim.
But this remains a practical, rugged interior.
It’s a place where leather, satin aluminium and technology including a head-up instrument display, 360-degree parking camera and a 700-watt, 14-speaker Meridian sound system meets big buttons for gloved hands, handily-placed power points, plenty of cubby holes and lots of grab handles.
Grab handles you’ll need, on as well as off-road.
Land Rover’s engineers have equipped the Defender 90 V8 with larger diameter anti-roll bars, stiffer suspension bushes and bespoke spring and damper rates to imbue it with a degree of poise to match its prodigious power.
There is also a new electronic active rear differential and a “Dynamic” mode for the terrain response system.
But in seats that fell a little short of being supportive sports buckets I found myself gripping the steering wheel and bracing myself on the armrests to stay in position as the pace rose and the roads got twisty.
Despite its modifications, Defender 90 V8 never feels overly firm — its certainly not uncomfortable — and pitches and leans as its impressive levels of grip are exploited on a twisty B-road.
There’s a whiff of Dakar racer about its exaggerated responses and when a concerted prod fof the right foot sends the bonnet skywards as it lunges for the horizon there’s the essential soundtrack such drama deserves.
Say what you like about the dawn of the EV age, there is little in automotive to compare to the thrumming, throbbing, warbling sound of a V8 punching out copious torque (625Nm here).
Be in no doubt, this is not a razor-sharp performance car, but it is no less fun for it. I can only imagine what a day with one of these and a quarry or desert-setting would be like.
In fact, perhaps those living in or near deserts will be the main audience for the Defender V8.
Only in oil-producing nations might Land Rover’s 18.1 to 19.2mpg fuel economy claim and 332 to 340g/km CO2 emissions stand a chance of being socially acceptable in this age of plug-in everything.
Those willing and able to get behind the wheel of Land Rover’s 4x4 fun factory will be glad the V8 lives on.
In truth I suspect there was never any doubt that Land Rover would cash-in on its iconic Defender by producing a more outrageous and expensive V8 range-topper.
An even more loopy SVR version is likely to follow, aiming to take the wind out of the sales of third-party tuning operations like Twisted and Khan Design.
Until then, it’s quite crazy enough… in both performance and price.