Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Not your grandpa’s Defender!

For Anton Willemse Jnr the Land Rover Defender 90 V8 posed an interesting question, a question he never thought he’d have to answer. And that question is: what is a Land Rover?

If you think Land Rover, you probably imagine Kingsley Holgate venturing into deep, wild Africa or other rural parts of the world. Well, this particular version of the Land Rover Defender would fit the bill, except that Kingsley trims his beard, only wears Gucci, lives in Sandton and spends way too much time in the gym… Because this isn’t your average Defender, but rather the R2.5-million 5.0-litre supercharged V8 version.

Head-turning style

When I got into the Defender V8, I immediately felt “proper”. The new-generation Defender has been an attractive car for me since its global launch back in 2019, and the V8 still has that same familiar design. Although now nearing its third birthday, it feels timeless and still modern, even futuristic.

As for the interior, I’m a massive fan. Granted, initially I was slightly confused by the ergonomics a bit all over the place. However, as I spent more time with the Defender, I found a real simplicity in how each function of the vehicle works. Everything – from the 4WD systems to the towing assist and the active safety features – work beautifully in tandem with the infotainment system and the heads-up digital cluster behind the steering wheel in the windscreen. The key aesthetic differences between the base Defender and the V8 are minor but do still distinguish it somewhat. The V8 exterior has an entirely black finish, with everything – badging, windows and wheels – blacked out. I love it… particularly how the blue Brembo brake callipers at the front wheels create a contrast in the design. The interior continues with the dark theme. Most Defenders have a two-tone finish, blending metal or wood with the leather interior. The V8 cabin, however, features an all-dark finish with some variation in texture. The steering wheel, for example, has an Alcantara finish and paddle shifters that make it feel more like a race car than an overlander.

I like the overall styling of the V8 Defender, and although I would personally not opt for the 90 due to practicality, the shorter wheelbase makes it feel a bit nippier and sportier. With that being said, I think Land Rover could’ve done more to distinguish the V8 from its lesser siblings. It will take a trained eye to spot the V8 in a Defender line-up.

Again, it’s a personal taste – I quite like its understated nature but some buyers may want the differentiation to be more obvious. The R754 000 price difference to the Defender 90 X (at R1 740 000) surely demands it, doesn’t it? At R2 494 000 for the V8, the major difference to the base model is the suspension, brakes and the all-important 5.0-litre supercharged engine.

Performance

When Land Rover dropped off the Defender 90 V8, I already knew it was fast. I knew its power output and the 0 to 100 sprint time, but those were merely figures on a sheet of paper. I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I slammed my foot down on the accelerator. It goes like a bat out of hell, like a house rolling down a hillside. It is not just quick for a SUV – it’s quick, full stop.

This engine has been featured in a few other products for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), notably the XJ and XF, not to mention the Range Rover SVR. The base P400 has decent power output of 294kW, but that pales in comparison to the 386kW and 625Nm of the V8. This means it sprints from standstill to 100km/h in only 4.9 seconds and will go up to 240km/h with ease, thanks to a fantastic eightspeed ZF gearbox. Just keep a petrol card handy because it does an astonishing 15 litres/100km in town. It can probably get down to around 12 or even 10 if you drive it decently, but with the sound of that V8, you probably wouldn’t want to!

Since its introduction, Land Rover has been making ongoing changes to the Defender. A decent set of blue Brembo brakes calibres were fitted over some massive rotors and this model also features massive 20-inch wheels and continentals H/Ts to keep you firmly on the road. The base Defender was the first to be built on a monocoque chassis rather than a conventional ladder-on-frame construction. Most modern vehicles, passenger cars in particular, utilise this type of architecture and with good reason. This particular chassis was developed by JLR and is known as the X platform.

During the initial launch, Land Rover stated that it is the safest and best-handling Defender ever, thanks to the new construction. This translates into a good sense of confidence and control when you smash it down the straights. Having said that, I must admit that the Defender suffers from body roll when going around corners. The improved suspension makes it less severe, but it becomes noticeable during high-speed cornering. And this is why it is important to remember that this is not a performance vehicle. Despite the straight-line performance, it is still just a Defender, not a racecar.

The Defender remains an extremely capable off-roader. It’s the first Defender with a centre and rear locking differential and is also available with a low-range gear. And the addition of the supercharged V8 doesn’t affect its off-roading ability. But still, it’s a far cry from the original. The modern version is a great blend of luxury and utility. And it does feel weird to have such a good balance in a vehicle since, usually, there is some sort of compromise of one or the other in either the off-roading ability or on-road performance. The Defender, however, is one of the vehicles on the market that gets the balance just right. It is not perfect, though. As I mentioned, it has a fair amount of body roll, and the architecture does not have the flexibility you’d find in a conventional ladder-on-frame construction.

In closing

The Land Rover Defender 90 V8 is an extraordinary vehicle. It’s something so wild, so fun, so weird. But let’s be honest, is it practical? R2.5-million is a considerable sum of money, and fuel consumption is a real issue. So, one has to ask: for whom was the car designed? To be honest, I really don’t know… Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, love the Defender 90 V8. It’s fast. It’s loud. It’s a thrill a minute. But it is also rather small, quite thirsty and super expensive. Would I buy it if I had the money? Hell, yes!

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