Editorial Note: No, we still haven’t gotten the awesome Land Rover Defender in the United States (but it is coming). But while we wait for a redesigned version of Land Rover’s iconic off-roader to return to our shores, we thought you’d enjoy reading this short review from Motor1’s German edition, focusing on the 405-horsepower Defender Works V8.
The dead live longer: At the end of January 2016 the last Land Rover Defender officially rolled off the assembly line. But for the brand’s birthday, Land Rover is putting the Defender line back to work for a small, final run of the iconic off-roader, complete with a 405-horsepower V8 engine. We’ve now had the opportunity to drive the extremely powerful cult classic.
Land Rover had already transplanted mighty engines (for the times) into the Defender’s predecessors. In 1979, the Series II borrowed a 3.5-liter Rover V8 that packed a whopping 91 horsepower. In the 1980s that Rover V8 was amped up to 137 hp. And in 1992, the 50th anniversary Defender got 184 hp. Finally, in 1998, a 193-hp 4.0-liter V8 arrived.
And now, 20 years later, the Land Rover Defender Works V8 is here, but it’s no incremental power increase. Just imagine transplanting the heart of a 20-year-old Olympic champion into the body of a 70-year-old man. That’s basically what Land Rover has done with the Defender Works V8, instilling a hilarious amount of power to a vehicle that’s designed more for trundling down British country lanes than tearing down high-speed boulevards.
Tim Hannig, head of Jaguar Land Rover's classic division, says: "We were already discussing the idea of reviving a Defender V8 in 2014," and now the idea becomes reality: a 5.0-liter, naturally aspirated V8 petrol engine with 405 hp sits between the Defender’s freakishly angular fenders. This engine is familiar, but not exactly clean, managing only the Euro 5 standard.
It doesn't matter, because Land Rover will only build 150 anyway, and each one is delivered as an individual import. Much more important for the customers are the performance data: 380 pound-feet at 5,000 rpms, 5.6 seconds to 60 miles, and an electronically limited 106-mph top speed (considering the brick-like aerodynamics of the Defender, that straight-line speed is equal parts impressive and frightening).
Considering the brick-like aerodynamics of the Defender, a 106-mph top speed is equal parts impressive and frightening.
Add to that 18-inch aluminum wheels with 265/65 all-terrain tires, an upgraded braking system and a handling kit with modified springs, dampers, and stabilizers. LED headlights illuminate from the angular Defender front end. All in all, the Works V8 is as striking as a Mercedes-AMG G63. Or, depending on your point of view, as absurd.
I climb into the cockpit of the Defender Works V8. Yes: You don't get in here, you climb into the Landy. Sat in the driver's seat of "Y8 WKS" (its British license plate), I look around. Four single seats, the front is from Recaro. in the center stack there’s a new navigation/radio interface in the old style. Just behind that sits a selector lever for the eight-speed automatic transmission from modern Jaguar Land Rover models. Finally, there’s a sticker identifying this V8-powered slab of old England as "Prototype 001.” No, this car is not the final product, which is why I switch to "indulgence" mode in my mind.
The five-liter engine wakes up with a clear grumble and I gently set the car in motion. Right-hand drive and left-hand traffic demand additional concentration. As soon as the road is clear to the horizon, I step on the gas pedal. It roars back from the engine room, the car rears up and pushes in a crazy afterburner manner. The Defender Works V8 seems to want to undermine all known limits of aerodynamics, I think, as I look over the massive hood.
I prefer not to try out the limits of physics. Too spongy is the steering, too unruly is the power in connection with a chassis not originally designed for it. Due to the short wheelbase of the two-door 90 (the bad-ass Defender is also available as a four-door 110), the body is always in motion. The Works V8 wants to be kept on the road with an expert hand.
In Great Britain, the Defender Works V8 starts at 150,000 pounds sterling, or $196,000 at today’s rates. You can get a beautifully equipped Range Rover Sport SVR for that. But Casanova knew better 250 years ago: “Reason is the heart's greatest enemy.”
Gallery: Land Rover Defender Works V8 Test
Land Rover Defender 90 Works V8