Land Rover Defender Works V8
Old-fashioned workhorse meets luxury cruiser courtesy of JLR Classic
‘A 0-60mph time of 5.6sec might seem pretty tame, but the reality is anything but’
I NTRIGUED? SURELY JUST A LITTLE bit? Like a very hot chilli there are some things that you feel inexorably drawn to, no matter how much you’re pretty sure you won’t like the result. They seem like a crazy notion, but nonetheless there is a Sirenlike lure to them. And so it is with the Defender Works V8. However much you dislike 4x4s or think £150,000 is ridiculous for something based on a farm runaround, there is probably a nagging desire to sample it. Just once.
It’s worth pointing out that this is not a new vehicle. Not just conceptually, but physically. Land Rover has been buying up good, lowmileage, late examples of Defenders in order to convert them into the 150 Works V8s that it intends to sell. You can choose between a 90 or a 110 and it will then be stripped and rebuilt in the JLR Classic workshop.
The heart of the thing is Jaguar’s naturally aspirated 5-litre V8, putting out 399bhp and 380lb ft of torque through a ZF eight-speed auto. The springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and, perhaps most importantly, brakes have all been uprated to give the chassis a fighting chance. You can spot a Works V8 by its 18-inch wheels (a first for a Defender) and, if you look a little closer, the door handles machined from aluminium. Inside, things are positively luxurious, with lots of leather, bucket seats and Land Rover Classic’s new DAB Classic Radio, which even has a little screen for satnav.
If you ever find yourself behind the wheel of a Works V8 then I recommend sampling a full-bore standing start. It’s not a course of action I would promote in a lot of cars, but I think it’s the best way to get straight to the nub of this vehicle’s character. A 0-60mph time of 5.6sec might seem pretty tame, but the alarming reality is anything but. I think the biggest reason for this is that, even more than in a Discovery or Range Rover, you really feel like you’re sitting up high, on top of a chassis rather than in it, so the speed feels precarious. Think old-fashioned, wooden toboggan (with a short-fuse rocket attached) as opposed to modern, plastic tea-tray sledge.
It is also important to note that while it will keep up with quick hot hatches in a dash away from the lights, a Works V8 will drop back significantly when corners are involved. The slow rack and knobbly tyres mean the steering has the vagueness of a politician answering questions about his or her university days. Although disconcerting, the only way to improve the situation and get a better idea as to how hard you’re pushing the tyres is to turn in with more commitment. This means you go through all the Defender’s innate roll and lean more positively on the tyres. However, having rallied a Defender, I wouldn’t recommend getting one out of shape to any great degree.
Curiously, the mighty Works V8 is actually at its best when pottering or cruising. It’s during this sort of everyday travel that the increased refinement is appreciated. The fact that the V8 doesn’t sound quite as raucous as you might expect also makes more sense, and you realise that the main benefit of the larger engine is simply the greater ease with which you can keep up with other traffic and maintain a decent speed on the motorway.
Yes, a supercharged Range Rover Autobiography or AMG G63 is cheaper. And, having driven the Works V8, I think it remains intriguing rather than inspired. But it’s certainly not insipid, and for that reason alone I’m rather glad it exists.