REVIEW | 2021 Land Rover Defender made better with V8 muscle
It would be fair to say that most were reserved in their expectations for the reinvented Land Rover Defender. The company faced a difficult task in marrying the elements that made the original so respected, with the overwhelming spread of competencies buyers demand from a modern vehicle.
Many will agree that they succeeded. Of course, there will always be the fringe of ardent enthusiasts who believe that the former version is the one and only de facto Defender. Same story when it comes to any breed of machine that has evolved over generations: keeping everyone happy is impossible.
At this publication, you could describe us as fans of the modern-day incarnation. Yes, its predecessor wielded a rugged, simplistic charm, but the new version delivers levels of comfort, refinement and sophistication that are difficult to beat. All while retaining the stylistic character of its forebear, right down to the so-called Alpine lights in the ceiling.
And now there is the high-performance version, packing the 5.0-litre, supercharged heart we know and love from a number of other Jaguar Land Rover products. Moreover, it brings rivalry to the monstrous Mercedes-AMG G63, calling an end to an unchallenged streak. You can have the Defender V8 in long-wheelbase format or the shortened 90, which we tested. The last occasion we sampled this configuration, it was in basic D240 guise, replete with steel wheels.
But this full-cream version scoffs at the austere look of lesser Defender variants, taking on a meaner swagger instead. It wears huge, 22-inch, five-spoke wheels, while an optional Black Pack does exactly what it says on the tin: this Defender blends into the dark quite easily. Another giveaway to the credentials of the V8 is the blue hue of its front brake calipers. The most obvious clue is the quartet of tailpipes. The black-on-black example pictured here is basically identical to the Defender V8 Bond Edition inspired by No Time to Die – just without the 007 insignias and a few other tricks.
While the idle tone and on-the-go acoustics of the Defender V8 seemed a smidgen quieter versus the last time we sampled this motor (in the Jaguar F-Pace SVR); there remains a great deal of presence from this source of power. And plenty of shove, as you would expect, delivering 386kW and 625Nm.
The Defender is rapid – but truth be told, the sensation of moving so quickly in a vehicle with the aerodynamic properties (and height) of a small apartment block, can be disconcerting. Especially when you are coming in hot and find yourself deploying anchors with more verve than anticipated.
It dashes to 100km/h from standstill in a claimed 5.2 seconds, with power permanently transmitted to all four wheels and an eight-speed automatic gearbox on duty. We achieved an average consumption of 14l/100km over our week – obviously unappealing in these times of R20 per litre.
Land Rover describes uprated spring and damper rates as part of the suspension enhancements for the V8, as well as an electronic rear differential and larger, stiffer anti-roll bars. You would have to really be pushing the boundaries of sanity to experience its “yaw controller that allows fine control of cornering attitude as the Defender reaches and exceeds the limit of grip”, because there is an inevitable degree of pitch and roll even when accelerating and braking normally.
What do you expect, given the size and height of the beast? The V8 features pneumatic suspension as standard and the Terrain Response 2 system remains unchanged, which means you could quite easily put it through (more or less) the same level of treachery as you would one of its standard siblings. But somehow, one doubts the average buyer of this derivative will be purchasing it for such an application.
It would make for excellent cross-country sojourns, as well as towing duties. Like the regular Defender, the cabin of the V8 is a mix of minimalism and contemporary plushness. The exposed rivets are still a novel touch.
Tactile pleasantries include a suede steering wheel, with satin chrome garnishing reserved for the gearshift paddles. The heated and ventilated seats are upholstered in a combination of suede and leather.
On the infotainment front, it is Land Rover business as usual, with the excellent 11.4-inch Pivi Pro system, bolstered by niceties such as wireless charging and a head-up display. The Meridian audio system packs 700W, with 14 speakers and a subwoofer.
With the addition of this derivative, the Defender has a well-rounded portfolio, from four-cylinder diesel, to six-cylinder petrol and hybrid.
The brawny, brisk virtues of the V8, coupled with its street-credible aesthetic, makes it a hugely appealing prospect, especially if making a statement is your thing.