Over 20 years ago, I was in a Land Rover dealership in Cape Town’s CBD getting my Discovery serviced when I noticed a slightly different Defender waiting to go up a ramp. Further investigation revealed it to be a left-hand-drive model belonging to a Swiss owner.
Aside from a bespoke interior, the thing that grabbed my attention was a discreet V8 badge. You couldn’t buy a Defender V8, that’s why I had to go for the Discovery… well, that, and because my partner at the time didn’t like the Defender.
We’re not together anymore for obvious reasons. Technically, Land Rover made a Series III V8 in the 1970s and there was a Defender V8 available in North America in the ‘90s but we never saw either of these. The closest you can get to one is buying a brand-new ClassicWorks Defender V8 but you’ll pay a small fortune for it.
That was the old Defender though and now, in this era of eco-consciousness and electrification, Land Rover has decided to give us, yup … a new Defender V8. And the crowd goes wild. Cue terms and conditions voiceover person, “We should point out that Land Rover is also introducing a Defender plug-in hybrid and you might want to read on for that.”
You have to wonder what took Land Rover so long and why it is doing it now. The V8 is a halo model, the top of the range, the big daddy. It’s what the SVR version is to the Range Rover Sport, except it’s not made by Special Vehicle Operations. Now you want to know if there will be an SVR version of the Defender?
So did we, which is why we asked Adam Southgate, vehicle dynamics senior manager, that very question. “Who knows” was his response.Well, obviously, he does but he’s not telling.
The V8 you can have is basically the same one that has been in Range Rover products for years now. It is essentially the old Ford V8, a legacy of the days when Ford owned Jaguar/Land Rover. It’s been updated, of course, and is now built at JLR’s Ingenium engine plant. It’s a supercharged eight cylinder developing 386 kW and 625 N.m and capable of launching the bigger 110 version to 100 km/h in 5,10 seconds and the 90 in just 4,90 seconds.
At this point you’re probably thinking that’s just ludicrous; after all, this is a Defender with masses of wheel travel, unsurpassed off-road capability and the dynamic handling of a bag of Jelly Babies (especially the 90 which is as wide, as it is tall, as it is long). To quell those thoughts, let me reassure you it has bigger anti-roll bars front and rear that do slightly reduce wheel travel. The suspension has been recalibrated and it has something called Pitch Balance that uses the adaptive dampers to keep things as level as possible at all times, especially while cornering hard.
You also benefit from torque vectoring by braking and an electronic limited-slip differential. Plus – and here’s the big surprise – it has a Drift Predictor. When we stopped laughing at the idea, we were told we could put it to the test in a short wheelbase 90, on a rally stage, in a field, in England.
Does it work? Who knows. After all, it’s predicting the drift not stopping the drift or analysing the drift like in the BMW M3. If it predicted it then it was spot on because we certainly did drift it, pushing it through 90° lefts and a tight hairpin, hammering the throttle down and doing our best to unsettle it. This is the kind of thing you used to see people do in a specially engineered Bowler Wildcat. It didn’t become unsettled. In fact, it seemed to enjoy itself as much as we did.
All of this performance is in a package that looks rather understated. There are small V8 badges on the side sills, darkened if you choose the black trim package. A pair of twin exhausts at the rear gives the game away a bit though, and it has Xenon Blue Brembo brake callipers upfront. Interestingly, the rear brakes with callipers finished in black were developed by Continental.
Southgate says the reason is simply because they found the Brembo to be the best up front and Conti at best at the rear. End of. The colour difference is because Brembo uses powder coating and Conti does not, and they just couldn’t get the colours to match. Now that’s a cool story to tell around the braai.
So there you have it, the new Defender V8, the best Defender you can buy. But hang on, remember that plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Defender we mentioned earlier? What if I tell you it’s electrically assisted four cylinder turbopetrol will power it from standstill to 100 km/h in just 5,60 seconds, mere tenths slower than the snarling V8. Plus, it can drive up to 43 km in electric-only mode, even while off-road with low-range engaged.
And it’s taxfree as far as emissions are concerned because, believe it or not, it emits as little as 74 g/km, versus the V8’s put-your-handover- your-mouth 332 g/km! The hybrid doesn’t have a Drift Predictor though but that’s fine because it has more body roll than the V8 and if you tried to drive it like a rally car, you would probably feel a bit ill. What it does have is instant torque, excellent tractability, a superb interior and good ride comfort, even on the allterrain Goodyear tyres fitted on the model we were driving.
It’s not quite as efficient as Land Rover claims. Officially, it can do “from 3,30 L/100 km” but with both the electric motor and four-cylinder petrol engine in operation in normal Hybrid mode, the best we could achieve was 9,45 L/100 km.You can switch the electric motor off to save EV mode for town driving, for example, but when we did that, the petrol had to work so much harder and it increased consumption to around 11,70 L/100 km.We did 95 km with and without the electric motor in use and at the end, we had just eight kilometres of electric range left or 28% of the battery capacity.
Still, if you live close to work, I suppose you could run in pure EV mode and charge it up again each evening through the wall socket, using the petrol motor for longer journeys at weekends. In that respect, it’s a viable option.
For that reason and because the Defender PHEV feels so quick, it is the current pick of the range. The V8 is great, don’t get us wrong, but it sounds more muted than other models using the same engine, is prohibitively thirsty and going to be awesome fun only on the odd occasion you get to really exploit its unique character. It is the halo, the most dynamic version and many will buy it purely for that reason.
However, it’s marginally quicker than the PHEV and it can’t cruise about silently on a game drive in electric mode. For now, we have to say it’s the PHEV we’re most looking forward to testing. A Defender SVR might come along to change our minds and there are whispers BMW will be supplying the next generation of V8 for Land Rover. By then we might all be more used to plugging in anyway.
0-100 km/h: 4,90 seconds* Top speed: 250 km/h* Fuel consumption: 14,70 L/100 km CO²: 332 g/km Rivals: Audi SQ7, BMW X5M, Mercedes-AMG G63
By Mark Smythe