Does the 2023 Land Rover Defender 110 V8 ‘Out-Defender’ the OG?

Cars, Reviews I By Jeric Jaleco I May 01, 2023

You there! Fancy a new SUV and need it as well-rounded as possible? Right, of course. After all, you’re a busy person with all that business or whatever Bond villains do besides collecting designer apparel, terrorism, or purchasing island real estate. You need something sporty for your backroad jaunts bundled with capability and versatility for shuttling the kids to school and the goons to the jungle lair. What you need a whole lot of is the 2023 Land Rover Defender 110 V8.

The reborn Land Rover Defender is an endearing SUV and a modern-retro take on an old fan favorite, but its attempts to pay homage raise a couple questions. With a $107,700 base price and upcoming 2024 models to start at $111,300, you’d hope for some substance behind that nameplate. So how much of that classic Defender DNA is really there? And has the sporty V8 treatment, introduced for the previous model year, done anything meaningful for the formula?

Spoiler alert: Kind of.

First things first when discussing any Defender: yes, this thing can haul ass off-road and perform gnarly feats that’d have Wrangler folks blush. But I tested none of that. Given I was in LA for less than three days, primarily for the We Are Porsche exhibit at The Petersen, taking on a press car was a bit of an afterthought, and I simply didn’t have time to get stuck in a mud pit or sail off the dunes at Pismo. But be real here. You didn’t need my confirmation. You already know what this thing can do, and it does it well.

As the flagship, all of the Defender 110 V8’s come loaded with adventure-ready tech goodies that would otherwise be option boxes on lesser trims. For example, my “base” tester, with an as-tested price under $110,000 – the equivalent 2024 will sticker for a smidge under $113,000 – hardly left anything on the table save for some off-road accessory packages and an off-road wheel package. That buys you adaptive and height-adjustable air suspension, locking diffs, and Jaguar-Land Rover’s ever-so-clever Terrain Response 2 system and its specially tailored drive modes.

Perhaps the only thing stopping the Defender 110 V8 from being a perfect candidate for an overlanding rig is its 22-inch wheel setup. Rocking a sporty set of sleek five-spokes wrapped in Continental CrossContact all-seasons, I wouldn’t exactly trust this setup in anything particularly deep or slick, but it’ll dispatch fire roads and sand-covered beach parking lots A-OK.  Thankfully, a downsized wheel package with all-terrains is available for $350. So as an adventure rig, the V8 Defender is certainly true to its roots, if a bit complicated, heavily reliant on tech, and a single option box away from a proper setup.

Oh. If you care, gas mileage is 14 city, 19 highway, and 16 combined. I averaged 17 miles per gallon with 60% highway cruising. If you choose the big-baller Defender with the big-baller engine, you know exactly what you’re in for.

The V8 Defender’s “F*** it, we ball” mentality towards trailblazing and global oil depletion bleeds into its nine-to-five demeanor. Its beastly engine dons a tux and hums along smoothly, eager to provide ample passing power at any speed, bolstered by a (mostly) brilliant eight-speed, which only had a couple hiccups with sudden throttle stabs in Eco mode.

The Meridian sound system is always prepared to play “Real Big” on full blast and exercise the commendable solidity of the interior build quality and materials. The included wireless or wired CarPlay and Android Auto are infallible, not that the standard infotainment system is hard to use. But it’s nice when manufacturers give you the choice. Either way, you can rest your phone in the cavernous center console in front of the refrigerated console box or the dashboard shelf, whose upper and lower edges double as off-road grab handles.

You could argue such comfort traversing the urban jungle is quite un-Defender-like. But hey. Daddy Doug’s Defender never had adaptive cruise with lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, godsends in LA traffic. But purists fret not!

Land Rover took note and baked in a few ergonomic quirks to remind you of its heritage. Such concessions include AC knobs that bind drive mode, heated and cooled seat, fan speed, and temp controls to only two knobs and a radio volume knob/power button on the passenger side of the center stack. And the windshield washer jets are mounted to the blades and manage to spray everything except the square-foot patch of glass directly in front of you.

What fascinating displays of British corporate decision-making. Fail, fail, fail.

But you can forgive all that, no matter the learning curve of its controls, because let’s be honest. You don’t buy a Defender 110 V8 because it’s the perfect commuter. Lesser trims of Defenders are a stronger value and just as, if not more, capable when properly equipped, and the equivalent Range Rover, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz is more posh and ergonomic (yes, even the New G Wagon). No, you score a V8 Defender for its talent for seamlessly blending most of the capabilities of its forebearer with its newfound gift for pulling off the least Defender-like driving style possible.

This leather-clad Mega Blok on wheels is a hellacious riot of a driver’s machine in the twisties, a Dakar rally raider for the road with room for the whole family.

The V8 Defender occupies the niche of being the flagship Defender and the sportiest model in its lineup. The adaptive air suspension pitches and rolls but in a gradual, controlled manner that never incites fear, even at a rapid pace. It’s firm enough never to feel ponderous yet plush enough not to be upset by road imperfections. As such, you’ll never corner as fast as a hot hatch, nor will you ever mistake it for one, but it’s far more composed and in the canyons than you’d ever believe just reading this. It’s downright astonishing.

The steering is delightfully sharp and perfectly weighted in Dynamic mode, not just for an SUV but for any car. As a result, you’ll never find yourself crossing arms to clear the tighter turns of Angeles Crest or Angeles Forest. Reigning you in to take advantage of this sledgehammer cosplaying as a scalpel is the boat-anchor Brembo setup, which is unique to the V8. Six-piston calipers bite down ferociously on 15-inch rotors up front, which, while well-tuned for brisk drives, just seem barely appropriate for how fast this 5,600-pound brick can hustle.

And Bloody Norah, can it hustle! That 5.0-liter triumph of British corporate decision-making feels every bit of its 518 supercharged horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. It revs fairly high for what it is, too, willing to roar to its roughly 6,700-RPM ceiling as it rips high-four-second zero-to-60s and low-thirteen-second quarter-miles all day. Win, win, win!

It bellows out those subtle quad exhaust tips with a well-tuned throttle that’s never lazy and only rarely jerky. The same goes for the eight-speed that changes personality from sports utility to sports sedan-worthy, thanks to rapid-fire manual shifts and quick paddle response.

It’s evident this steroidal rally truck shares a soul with the likes of the Range Rover Sport and F-Pace SVR, and its shocking composure and playful eagerness to tackle roads no Defender was made to tackle have me wishing for a track day.

And to prospective owners, they sell Pilot Sport 4 SUV tires in the Defender’s size. Just saying.

I dare you to try and experience any of these canyon-carving exploits in a classic Defender. I’ll see you at the bottom of the gulch.

As an adventure rig, the Defender 110 V8 is a great follow-up performance to the Defenders of old. As a practical, usable car, it modernizes and refines the formula in ways owners of the old models can only dream of. And as a performance vehicle? The Defender 110 V8 is in its own league, leaving behind any prior model in pursuing a mission that was never becoming of its family and proving to be a legitimately enjoyable driving machine even after you’ve returned to the beaten path. It’s not perfect, but neither was the old Defender. And in an age of increasingly mundane commuters, this chunky lad is worth enjoying for as long as cars like this can stick around.

Dastardly fiends, take note. Safin’s enforcers in No Time To Die really were on to something.

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