When Land Rover uses the words ‘drift angle’ and ‘Defender’ in the same sentence, it’s time to take notice. Meet the new, range-topping Defender V8.
Under the bonnet is a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 producing 518bhp, the first V8 that this model has received. It’s sitting on tweaked suspension with stiffer anti-roll bars for sharper handling, coupled with a new Electronic Active Rear Differential incorporating Yaw Control to help keep it under control during high-speed manoeuvres. The gearbox is an eight-speed automatic, and it now comes with Paddleshift (‘flappy paddles’) – another first for the Defender.
Land Rover promises that this will be ‘the most dynamically rewarding Defender yet’, without compromising off-road ability or wading depth.
The 90 will reach 60mph from rest in 4.9 seconds, faster than any other Defender. This is even though the V8’s maximum torque output of 461lb ft is slightly less than that of the P400e (472lb ft) and the D300 (479). Top speed is a mighty 149mph. Sadly it consumes 19.mpg and emissions are 327g/km (WLTP TEL combined figure, five seater) – significant by modern standards, but reflective of the blistering performance on offer. Buyers seeking efficiency rather than performance can opt for the P400e plug-in hybrid (85mpg and 74g/km).
Unlike the P400e, it sounds pretty damn monstrous. The four tailpipes are a distinguishing feature of the V8 model, and deliver all the crackles and burbles you could hope for. There’s a decent wail from that supercharger too!
‘The biggest change of all’
The V8 gets a new Dynamic mode in the Terrain Response 2 system, and although it’s easy to dismiss this as just another button to play with, Adam Southgate from the Defender’s Chassis Engineering Team claims the new mode is ‘probably the biggest change of all. Active technology is a core part of Defender. It’s the heart of Defender’s Terrain Response.’
"On paper, Dynamic mode allows greater slip angles before any stability control intervention. In practice that means controllable oversteer, especially on loose surfaces. The software works with the electronic diff to maintain a drift angle and keep Defender predictable and stable at speed. It also includes specific throttle and steering calibrations for faster responses. We liken it to an assist mode on a video game. It’s empowering, not intimidating, and it allows you to explore more of Defender V8’s performance envelope." – Adam Southgate, Chassis Engineering Team
How does this actually work in a corner?
You’ve probably come across ‘Torque Vectoring by Braking’, which Land Rover has used in its performance models for some years. It improves aggressive cornering by gently braking the inside wheels, so that more torque is sent to the outside wheels. This pulls the car more cleanly round the corner, minimising the risk of understeer.
The Defender V8 adds Yaw Control to the recipe, which works in combination with the Electronic Active Rear Diff and the adjustable damper settings. Yaw is a measurement of the car’s left/right pivoting when it turns a corner – not to be confused with the roll (how much it leans) or pitch (how much it angles up or down). Adam Southgate explains: ‘As the driver lifts the throttle and turns in, Adaptive Dynamics pre-emptively increases the front and rear damping rates. The resulting linear increase in front axle force allows the tyres to build their grip progressively.’
When you’re in the middle of a drift, the torque vectoring stops intervening so you can hold the slide, and the dampers soften up to make it more controllable. If your powerslide slips into oversteer, counter-steer from the driver (‘a dab of oppo’) signals the rear diff to begin to lock, providing yaw damping and keeping the back end in check. Meanwhile, Traction Control is metering the engine torque to match the available grip, so you can hold the drift even longer. ‘The torque vectoring and electronic diff work in harmony to build the drift angle up in a smooth controllable way,’ says Southgate.
Top of the (mountain) range
The Defender V8 gets some new aesthetic touches, and some upgraded creature comforts. Buyers now have the option of a larger 11.4-inch touchscreen for the PiviPro infotainment system, rather than the standard 10-inch system. As before, PiviPro’s configurable home-screen puts everything you need within two taps: media, navigation, surround camera system and more.
The Comfort & Convenience Pack now also includes wireless device charging, and a signal booster.
The Defender V8 is available in three colours: Carpathian Grey, Yulong White or Santorini Black. Unique exterior options include Xenon Blue brake calipers and 22in wheels with a satin grey finish, embossed with the Defender logo. Inside there’s a Alcantara-covered steering wheel, and the seats combine an attractive combination of Windsor leather and Dinamica suede, finished in Ebony Black. You’ll find satin black finishes on the steering wheel, door handles and the exposed beam across the dash too.
Land Rover is also launching a new flagship trim level available only for the Defender V8, called the Carpathian Edition – sharing its name with the large arc of Central/Eastern European mountains whose western foothills descend towards the historic Slovakian city of Nitra, where the Defender is built.
Available only in Carpathian Grey, and treated to a scratch-resistant satin wrap, the Carpathian Edition receives a contrast Narvik Black bonnet, roof and tail door, along with Satin Black towing eyes and Xenon Blue front calipers.
At the same time as unveiling its supercharged Defender, Land Rover has also announced the end of the First Edition, which has now been replaced by the Defender XS Edition. Find out more here.
Land Rover is tracing the heritage of the new V8 Defender back to the Stage 1 V8s and the North American Spec (NAS) Defenders – via the old model’s sonorous swansong, the Works V8. All have developed collector status these days, but really, this new vehicle is a different animal. The leaf-sprung Stage I V8 was a stopgap, buying Land Rover a few more years before the reveal of the coil-spring One Ten; workhorse-worthy grunt was the goal of its Rover V8, not high speed. And the NAS Defenders were a group of 3.9-litre and 4.0-litre V8s equipped for the small but eager USA market between 1993 and 1997.
This is a more comprehensive reworking of a very different vehicle. Land Rover these days has more resources to invest in R&D, and its ambitions for the Defender V8 are far more global.
This new addition to the Land Rover line-up cements the Defender’s position as something which can’t easily be compared with any other vehicle on the road… with a price tag to match.
How much does the Defender V8 cost?
You know it’s not going to be cheap, right? In the UK the V8 90 is priced from £98,505 while the V8 110 costs from £101,150. That’s only a few hundred pounds less than a Range Rover Sport SVR. Which would you choose?