This isn’t only the fastest Defender that Land Rover has ever built – it’s also the most refined. Mark Dixon finds out what it’s like to drive
The 18th Century dictionary compiler Dr Johnson is, of course, best remembered today for his appearance in Blackadder the Third, but he is also famous for having said: ‘A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’ Can you say the same about Land Rover’s decision to shoehorn a 400bhp petrol V8 into its venerable Defender?
There were certainly a few raised eyebrows when, two years after Defender production ceased, Land Rover announced that it would be re-engineering a further 150 examples as top-spec V8s and flogging them for a reassuringly expensive £150,000 each. However, while the Works V8 is the fastest Defender that Land Rover has ever made, that apparently wasn’t the only objective: refinement and civility were just as important. After an afternoon spent driving prototypes of both the 90 and 110 versions, we feel Land Rover has hit the mark.
Of course, house-brick aerodynamics, a massive separate chassis and cart-axle suspension that a drayman would recognise are never good starting points for building a high-speed luxury vehicle, but Land Rover has made a damn fine attempt. Development included towing three-tonne trailers down to Morocco for hot-weather testing, and every uprated part – brake discs, diffs, propshafts and so on – has gone through a rigorous proving schedule. And, despite rumours to the contrary, it’s all been done in-house.
On the road, the Works V8 feels blisteringly quick, particularly when giving the traction control a work-out by gunning it off the line on a wet surface. While lacking the bassy burble of an old-school muscle car, the AJ133 normally aspirated V8 sounds great too, bellowing its way with just a touch of jet turbine overlay to 6000rpm-plus. Top speed is limited to 106mph because of the 265/65 x 18 BF Goodrich All-Terrains but, to be honest, that’s as fast as you’ll want to go. Talk of steering feel is slightly redundant – basically, if you ‘feel’ you’re about to fall over in a corner, then it’s time to back off.
That said, the 110’s longer wheelbase does improve directional stability, for the 90’s steering gets a bit exciting when you’re hooning along a bumpy B-road. The 110 rides slightly better, too. Add in its much greater usability as a family wagon and it’s really a no-brainer.
Inside, either vehicle is reassuringly bling-free, with just about the only shiny part being the alloy surround to the eight-speed auto’s pistol shift, and the Recaro seats are not excessively hip-squeezing. While others may sell yet-faster versions of the Defender, the Works V8 does impress as an all-round package with ‘big car company’ engineering behind it. May we offer Land Rover our most enthusiastic contrafibularities?
Words: Mark Dixon