When it comes to horsepower, too much often is just about right. The current P400 version of the Land Rover Defender, with its 395-hp super- and turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, already produces what many regard as adequate performance for something so big and boxy. We ran 2020’s 5773-pound four-door 110 version to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. But the new 2022 Defender V8 models, with their 518-hp supercharged 5.0-liter engines, bring outsize character and should trim at least a second from that time. With six-figure starting prices, these new range-topping variants prove that the Defender only gets better with more cylinders under its hood.
Compared with lesser Defenders, the V8’s visual cues are limited, amounting to slightly chunkier body cladding, small badges at the base of the doors, and quad tailpipes tucked beneath the rear bumper. There are also blue brake calipers at the front. But the V-8’s deep burble at startup is by far the strongest clue that this isn’t a regular Defender. Jaguar Land Rover’s blown V-8 may be long in the tooth, but it’s still a powerhouse, pulling strongly from idle all the way to the 6750-rpm limiter. Acceleration is strong and seemingly relentless. And the way the Defender’s chassis handles the engine’s full thrust is as impressive as its raw performance, with little of the nose-up attitude common to tall, powerful SUVs. We drove the V8 models in England, and traction was impeccable on dry pavement, the Defender launching hard and without drama on its huge 22-inch Continental all-terrain tires.
The heady acceleration is accompanied by a prominent V-8 soundtrack, although one that seems quieter than the 575-hp Range Rover Sport SVR’s. In the Defender, there are fewer pops and bangs when you lift off the accelerator, and the whine from the supercharger is almost entirely muted. Land Rover admits that some of the cabin sound is digitally augmented, although the hard-edged harmonics spectators enjoy are entirely real. At idle and light cruising, substantial sound insulation makes the engine noise nearly inaudible. At a steady 75 mph, only a slight rustling of wind from the top of the bluffly angled windshield disturbs the tranquillity.
We did notice that responses can be inconsistent at lower engine speeds, with small inputs to the accelerator occasionally eliciting overly aggressive reactions. Selecting the new Dynamic mode, a first for a Defender, sharpens the powertrain’s responses and prompts the eight-speed automatic to hang on to lower gears. Dial it back to Comfort mode and the action becomes much less frenetic with the standard adaptive dampers offering greater compliance. We kept it in Dynamic mode most of the time for the more aggressive tuning the setting brings to the electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential. On pavement, this is particularly noticeable in slower turns, with the Defender exhibiting a willingness to change direction that’s impressive for something so tall and heavy. On lower-grip surfaces, Dynamic mode relaxes the stability-control system and allows you to coax out some easily controlled oversteer under power.
The V8 models have better steering feel than lesser Defenders, with more weight to their racks and even some meaningful communication behind the assistance. The huge Brembo brakes—the fronts sporting six-piston calipers—produce reassuring stopping power with a pleasingly solid pedal feel.
Fortunately, none of the upgraded Defender’s newfound athleticism infringes upon its stout off-road capability. The V8 models feature almost all the available go-anywhere hardware, including standard height-adjustable air springs and a low-range transfer case. Having experienced the larger 110 model on the road, we drove the two-door 90 version around Land Rover’s Eastnor Castle test site, where it conquered pretty much every type of terrain we encountered without breaking a sweat, even though the trundling speeds common to British mud plugging made no particular demands of the extra power. We imagine these trucks will most often find themselves on pavement, with the V8 models’ increased output over the P400’s straight-six likely coming into play only on more open terrain and when climbing steep hills and sand dunes.
The seriousness of the Defender V8’s performance is matched by its price. The two-door 90 starts at $104,260, and the four-door 110 at $107,460—roughly double the cost of the respective base four-cylinder models. That’s a significant premium over the most obvious alternative—the $74,995 470-hp Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392—although the Defender is quite a bit more refined, and the V8s are still significantly cheaper than a Mercedes G-class ($134,300 to start).
Land Rover says the Defender V8 isn’t a limited-edition model, although it is likely to form the basis of at least one special version. But production will eventually be limited by tightening European emission standards, which we’re told will likely kill the 5.0-liter V-8 by the end of 2027. In short, act now. If you can stomach the price and surely abysmal fuel economy, the quickest and most powerful Defender of all time is also the most enticing.
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