The last time I drove a V8-powered Land Rover was in the grounds of Eastnor Castle in England, where I managed to get myself behind the wheel of Lara Croft’s Defender 110, the very one specially prepared for the original Tomb Raider movie.
Even though it was a movie car with more show than go, and all a bit rickety given the multitude of attachments hanging off it; the fact there was a burbling V8 under the bonnet was still something to get excited about.
Now there’s a new one based on the universally lauded latest-generation Land Rover Defender, and officially called the P525 V8. And as you might have guessed, it’s got a lot more grunt on tap than Lara Croft ever had under her right foot and quite simply, it’s the fastest production Defender ever made.
If ever a sequel to the 2018 Tomb Raider movie gets up – she’ll definitely be well armed as far as rapid, all-terrain transport goes. Rivers and jungles will present as mere obstacles in front of the V8 Landie while evil treasure hunters will be well and truly outpaced.
The question though, is what to go for – the ultra-cool profile of the three-door, short-wheelbase Defender 90, or the inherent practicality of the five-door Defender 110, given you can have Land Rover’s 5.0-litre V8 in either version.
It’s a tough choice and largely dependent on lifestyles. Nevertheless, I’m partial to the more showy and arguably less useful Defender 90 in head-turning Santorini Black as tested here. It’s what Mi6 field operatives would likely opt for and call it the stealth option.
At least, that’s the image I’m going for despite the inherent downside to a three-door SUV, even if you are at a kid-free stage of life.
Mind, even in that guise, you might be hard pressed picking it from the standard P400 version with similar livery. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few tell-tale signs that call the P525 out as something a bit special, but it’s just not properly bonkers as we all might have hoped it would be.
There’s the V8 badging in Black script of course, sensational 22-inch wheels with a Dark Satin Grey finish which do little to hide the Xenon-Blue brake calipers and huge 20-inch brakes.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the P525 Defender, besides the supercharged V8 lurking under the bonnet, are the quad pipes out back. But even they’re too small in diameter to be properly offensive or shouty. We think they could have been twice the size at least for aesthetics alone, if not exhaust-note volume.
Yep, that’s another disappointing thing about V8 Defender. It’s nowhere near loud enough, even in Sport. What’s more, there’s no individual loud button you can press to dial up the low-speed bellowing. Because as we all know, there’s nothing quite so satisfying than crawling along in an underground car park while sounding like a Centurion battle tank.
Inside, you’ll find a great-looking Alcantara steering wheel with four anodised spokes, as well as suede-like seat inserts nestled in the leather upholstery. It’s not exactly luxurious, but it’s soft and comfortable and a great choice for cold mornings.
That said, it still looks and feels largely utilitarian in nature but for the stitched leather and softer surfaces in both seat rows. I know it’s a Defender, and by default a go-anywhere machine of serious capability, but somehow I was expecting more, simply based on its stratospheric price point and significant premium over the next rung down.
Right from the outset any V8 version of a Land Rover Defender was never going to be cheap, but prices have only climbed since launching in 2021.
For the 2023 Land Rover Defender 90 P525 V8 tested here, you’ll pay from $221,300 excluding on-road costs, while the long-wheelbase 110 is priced from $226,500 before on-roads. That’s up from its launch price $200,450 for the 90 and $205,500 for the 110.
While there are stacks of options available across most of the Defender range, the P525 V8 version is mostly well-equipped as you might expect of its sky-high price points.
Nevertheless, our tester was fitted with:
- Extended Black Exterior Pack: $1707
- Front Undershield: $1037
- Intrusion sensor: $1001
- 22-inch Style 5098, Gloss Black alloy wheels: $520
Combining these options meant our tester’s price was bumped to $225,565, excluding on-road costs.
If you’re after a comparison of sorts to a luxury off-roader with genuine, go-anywhere capability and a V8 under the bonnet, that would be the Mercedes-AMG G63 – if only you could get one.
For 2023 the G63 is priced from $365,900 plus on-road costs and any optional extras you might want. We checked with one agent who had one for sale at $440,000 plus on-roads.
Its 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 makes significantly more power and torque at 430kW and 850Nm respectively, and good enough for a 0-100km/h dash in a comically-quick 4.6 seconds, but it’s effectively twice the price of the V8 Defender – of which there is stock available we’re told.
The giant panoramic sliding sunroof, Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and combo leather/Dinamica seats give you an immediate impression that this is the top of the pecking order in the Land Rover Defender range.
The tech is up-to-date too, with an 11.4-inch Pivi Pro tablet-style infotainment touchscreen front and centre, along with a configurable digital driver’s display providing the usual suite of information.
Ergonomics are excellent. Better still, there are dials for the climate control and a knob for the volume, both are a welcome addition to what is otherwise a usefully utilitarian cabin with everything you need and almost nothing you don’t-kind-of-ambience.
It might be a hardcore, three-door off-roader with the inherent impracticalities associated with this body style, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on living space inside.
On the contrary, there’s a stack of useful cubby holes up front for the trifecta of phone, sunnies and wallet, as well as generous passenger space for rear-seat occupants – both in leg and shoulder room.
Access to the rear seats can be problematic for adults or larger passengers alike, but it’s made easier by electric seat adjusters that move the front seats forward or aft.
Along with wireless Apple CarPlay there’s also two USB ports (USB-C, USB-A) and a 12V up front in the centre console, while rear-seat passengers benefit from two USB-C ports and two 12V inputs situated under the individual climate-control dials.
However, boot space is undeniably limited behind the second row, where you’ll find just 240L available. It’s enough for our weekly grocery shop but that’s about it. Mind, the Defender has a high roofline so if you stack it to the roof, luggage space expands to 397L.
Fold the rear seats as flat as they’ll go and only then can the Defender 90 swallow the likes of suitcases and/or longer, bulkier items with its 1563L max capacity.
Nevertheless, it’s a far cry from the 543L/2380L space available in the five-door Defender 110.
And, because the Defender V8 is a proper high rider with electronic air suspension, you can just as quickly lower (or raise) the vehicle for easy loading of heavier items, simply hitting either button in the boot.
As the fastest production Defender ever made Land Rover has virtually shoe-horned its 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol into the engine bay.
It makes 386kW of power at 6000rpm and 625Nm of torque from 2500rpm to 5500rpm through Defender’s standard eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
That’s good enough to catapult the 2546kg Landie from 0-100km/h in a hot-hatch-conquering 5.2 seconds. Top speed is 240km/h.
By way of comparison the larger Defender 110 P525 V8 needs 5.4 seconds to complete the same 0-100km/h dash.
I can’t help think had the Defender V8 been a proper SVO (Special Vehicles Operation) developed vehicle like the Range Rover Sport SVR or even the Velar SV Autobiography – both of which made magnificently boisterous sounds, this Defender would have made far more decibels than what it does out of the box.
Instead, it’s simply far too quiet – even in Sport, which doesn’t really do all that much unless the rev counter needle is nudging 4000rpm plus and only then do you start to enjoy a little theatrics.
All-in-all it’s a bit of a disappointment, at least to this tester who was hoping for similar levels of canon fire as the AMG G63 – if not more.
Here was a chance for Land Rover to go completely bonkers with its most extreme Defender ever and likely the last V8 version ever, as Land Rover mud-hops its way to an all-electric future and complete carbon neutrality by 2039.
It’s quick though, so there’s no question there, but you’ll need to get used to the front end lifting and adopting a similar pitched-up attitude as a power boat before it starts to plane and move more gracefully.
I would have thought the suspension might have been tuned to keep things on a more even keel – if we’re sticking with boating analogies.
Having said that, there’s some low-down lag if you’re a bit too eager with the throttle in the default drive mode – less so in Sport and Dynamic.
Nevertheless, ride comfort is always assured despite the upgraded suspension on the go-fast Defender. There’s still plenty of body roll in the tighter corners mind you, but it never feels unwieldy and the front end is composed, while turn-in is sharper and more accurate than you might expect.
Braking, though, is outstanding given the pace this thing is capable of and its substantial heft. But then Land Rover has always excelled in the stopping department for as long as I can remember.
While it’s unlikely many owners of this rare beast will ever attempt more serious off-roading excursions, it’s still a Defender and as such is armed to the teeth when it comes to the kind of hardware and high-tech weaponry necessary to tackle the really difficult stuff.
Multiple terrain modes, hugely adjustable ride height control, 900mm wading capability and locking differentials are enough to sort things out for most folks.
But if you do find yourself behind the wheel of this, or any other Land Rover Defender without a clue, just search for the Auto mode in the Terrain Response menus and it will automatically dial up the most suitable setting for the conditions. Brilliant stuff, and it works seamlessly.
It’s also one of the most distinctive, if not stylish, 4x4s ever designed and equally at home in any one of our most salubrious Sydney suburbs, especially in Santorini Black and Ebony Windsor leather like that tested here.
Defender P525 V8 highlights:
- Black Exterior Pack
- Privacy glass
- Black exposed rear recovery eyes
- Matrix LED headlights
- Darkened taillights
- Santorini Black with black contrast roof ($NCO)
- 14-way heated, cooled electric front seats incl. memory
- 40:20:40 fixed, heated rear seats incl. front jump seat
- Quad exhaust pipes
- Satin Chrome paddle-shifters
- Electronic air suspension with easy boot loading
- -40mm and off-road height increase of +75mm
- Adaptive Dynamics
- Terrain Response 2 with Dynamic Program
- Electronic Active Differential with torque vectoring
- Panoramic roof
- 22-inch Satin Dark Grey alloy wheels
- 22-inch full-size spare wheel
- Cross-car beam in Satin Black Powder Coat Brushed Finish
- Robustec veneer
- Illuminated metal treadplates with ‘V8’ branding
- Electrically adjustable steering column
- Heated, suede-cloth steering wheel
- Ebony Morzine headlining
- Extended leather upgrade
- Windsor leather seats
- Windsor leather/Dinamica suede-cloth are $NCO
- Bright metal pedals
- ClearSight rear-view mirror
- 10-colour ambient lighting
- Front centre console refrigerator
- Tri-zone climate control
- Cabin air-purification plus
- 15-speaker 700W Meridian sound system
- 11.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless charging
- Head-up display
- Digital driver’s display
The Defender 90 hasn’t been individually crash tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the all versions of the Defender 110 get a five-star safety rating.
It scored 85 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 71 per cent for vulnerable road users and 76 per cent for safety assist, a lower score due to the lack of AEB backover detection.
Six airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchor points as well as a genuine feeling of solidity throughout the cabin.
Standard safety features include:
- 6 airbags
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
- Blind-spot assist
- Surround-view cameras
- Forward traffic detection
- Forward vehicle guidance
- Tow-hitch assist
- ClearSight ground view
- Adaptive cruise control
- Lane keep assist
- Rear traffic monitor
- Rear collision monitor
- incl. lane-keeping aid, closing vehicle sensing
- Traffic sign recognition
- Wade sensing
- Driver condition monitor
- Safe exit alert
- Front, rear parking sensors
The Defender range is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years free roadside assistance.
When it comes to servicing your Defender, Land Rover offers a five-year/130,000km (whichever comes first) service package for $3750.
Fuel consumption was always going to be considerable with a supercharged V8 under the bonnet of an SUV that tips the scales at around 2.5 tonnes.
Even if you’re gentle with the throttle, you’ll struggle to get anywhere near the 14.7L/100km combined consumption which Land Rover quotes. For us, it was closer 18L/100km, but mostly in urban conditions.
Whichever way you lean – whether it’s the more stylish Defender 90 V8 or the more useful 110 version – there’s something inherently special about a hardcore 4×4 with bucketloads of style and hard-hitting supercharged V8 under the bonnet.
This aspect was never in question, nor was the fact the privilege of owning such a unique vehicle was always going to be a costly enterprise. But in fairness it’s still around half the price of its only legitimate rival – the Mercedes-AMG G 63.
It’s almost there but for a proper, full-blown exhaust note more bonkers than even the Benz. Then it could have been great.
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