First Drive: Can the Land Rover Defender V8 combine brains and brawn?

·6-min read

What is it?

Land Rover Defender V8
The exhaust pipes do highlight the car’s performance


The V8 engine has been a part of the Defender for decades. A big, brawny petrol engine has often proved to be a great fit for the go-anywhere off-roader, bringing the performance required for any sticky situation. And Land Rover, being one to enjoy tradition, has brought the V8 engine back to the latest Defender.

But rather than going for an agricultural focus, this latest V8 Defender has been given a far more sporting angle than ever before, with a range of tweaks to ensure that it’s not just capable off-road, but a lot of fun on it too. We’ve been behind the wheel to find out what it’s like.

What’s new?

Land Rover Defender V8
The Defender V8 is the latest addition to the off-roader’s range


From the outside at least you’d be hard-pressed to notice what has changed on the Defender in its move to V8 power. There’s no out-there badging, no bonnet scoops or vents and no dramatically flared arches either – just four pipes at the back, blue calipers and a distinctly menacing soundtrack.

But Land Rover has worked extensively to ensure that the Defender can manage all the power that the supercharged bruiser under the bonnet produces. It’s why we’ve got stiffer anti-roll bars and a new ‘dynamic’ mode capable of ‘promoting oversteer’ – should you want that, of course. Elsewhere, we’ve got all of the features that have made the regular car so popular, with a robust yet high-quality interior matching plenty of cutting-edge features. The V8 can be specified in either 90 or 110 layouts, too.

What’s under the bonnet?

Land Rover Defender V8
The supercharged V8 is immensely powerful


It’ll come as no surprise that under the bonnet of the Defender V8 you’ll find, well, a V8 engine. It’s a 5.0-litre unit – the same as that you’ll find powering cars like the Jaguar F-Pace SVR – supercharged and tweaked to the tune of 518bhp. You get 625Nm of torque, too, directed to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Zero to 60mph? That’ll take 5.1 seconds, and give the Defender enough space and it’ll crack 149mph. Land Rover also claims that it’ll return up to 19.2mpg combined and that seems pretty on the money – we got close to that figure during our mixed test route and it’d be easy to exceed on longer drives. CO2 emissions stand at a reasonably chunky 332g/km

What’s it like to drive?

At slow speeds and when mooching around town, the Defender V8 feels just like any normal Defender. Sure, there’s an ever-so-noticeable burble from the exhaust (and a lot of this is piped into the cabin), but for the most part, it’s just as easy and relaxing to pilot as ever. The gearbox shifts smoothly and without fuss and you can potter around to your heart’s content.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Rolling onto the throttle does awaken the V8, however. It’s got some serious punch and will react surprisingly well to heavy boots of acceleration, with far less squatting than you might expect. But this is still a big, heavy car and though it does a good job of keeping its head held high when cornering quickly, it’s not something you feel like whipping along too fast.

It’s at its best keeping a moderately speedy pace, whisking through longer corners where its body roll can be kept in check. Oh, and it’s still superb off-road – with the V8 engine only helping it to perform even more admirably on all manner of terrain, something we tested during our time with the car.

How does it look?

Land Rover Defender V8
Blue brake calipers highlight the V8 as something slightly different


As we’ve already mentioned, the styling of the Defender V8 is delightfully undercover. In fact, you could get it finished in silver or white and you’d have a hard time distinguishing it against the conventional petrol and diesel. In our eyes, this is a real bonus as having this level of performance in an otherwise unassuming package is quite attractive.

But of course, should you want to there will be plenty of scope for making the Defender V8 into a more imposing option. Will many of these models find their way into traditional farming or agriculture roles? It’s unlikely – so we’re quite sure that many Defender V8s will be given more of an urban makeover for their life in the city.

What’s it like inside?

Land Rover Defender V8
The cabin features a range of high-quality elements


The interior of the Defender V8 takes all of the regular – and very good – elements of the conventional car and gives them a little lift. There’s the Alcantara steering wheel, for one, which is superb to use and does transform the way you interact with the car. The chrome gear shift paddles behind it are also great.

You’ve got a wide and commanding view of the road ahead, too, while the seats – trimmed in exclusive ebony Windsor upholstery – offer plenty of support. If you’re after the best possible space then we’d still lean towards the longer 110, but it’s hard to ignore the charm of the shorter wheelbase 90 – even if it comes at the detriment of outright spaciousness.

What’s the spec like?

Land Rover Defender V8
The interior remains robust yet well-made


Because it sits as the range-topping Defender variant, it’ll come as no surprise that the V8 version is packed with features. You get the same Pivi Pro system as you’d get in the standard Defender, but it’s just as impressive here as it is elsewhere thanks to its excellent responsiveness and clear layout.

You also get a high-quality Meridian sound system, a sliding panoramic sunroof and three-zone climate control. And for those who do want to take their V8-powered Defender off-road, you’ve still got Land Rover’s extensive and easy-to-use Terrain Response, which allows you to either take control of the car’s settings or leave it to its own devices to get you out of nearly all situations.

Verdict

It could be seen as a niche product but, given that Land Rover has built over 72,000 Defenders since March last year, this V8 version can only help to increase its popularity. Sure, there aren’t many drivers who require more than 500bhp from their boxy off-roader, but we have no doubt that this car will be a hit with those who want the very tip-top Defender.

It’s well-executed, too, and feels more than up to the challenge of handling all of the riotous performance that the V8 engine brings. Plus, this V8 car has the added benefit of being just as adept as the regular car when you’re not driving quickly – and that makes it very good indeed.

  • Model: Land Rover Defender V8

  • Base price: £98,575

  • Model as tested: Defender 110 V8

  • Price: £101,220

  • Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8

  • Power: 518bhp

  • Torque: 625Nm

  • Max speed: 149mph

  • 0-60mph: 5.1

  • Economy: 19.2

  • Emissions: 332g/km CO2

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting