Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 15, 2022
V8 engines are a dying breed. Nobody needs an eight-cylinder wardrum pumping out an excess of 400 horses when a turbocharged V6 or even an electrified powertrain could achieve similar results with even better fuel economy, right? Just take a look at Ferrari. Their entry-level 296 GTB is powered by a V6, and Toyota’s workhorse truck, the Tundra, is V6 only as well.
In fact, in today’s ever evolving automotive landscape, the V8 has become more of a symbol than anything else, a relic of the past, an aging method of how we used to propel vehicles. But not all hope is lost. There are some at the top brass that agree that whacking off cylinders and displacement detrimentally affects the character, charm, and sonic appeal of a vehicle, traits that impact car buying decisions.
Lexus has kept their V8 chugging along in the IS 500, Chevrolet has courageously developed a bespoke flat-plane crank V8 for their Corvette Z06, and when we heard that Land Rover has decided to slot a V8 into their Defender, well, we couldn’t help but salivate.
And it’s not just any V8. It’s a 5.0-litre supercharged unit that Land Rover calls the P525, and it’s the same one they’ve used in the Range Rover models and Jaguar F-Types. It pushes out a glorious 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s 123 hp and 55 lb-ft more than the six-cylinder Defender P400, and 0-100 km/h comes in a swift 5.4 seconds, nearly a full second quicker than the P400.
Excessive? Absolutely, but so is the Mercedes G-Wagon, Ford F-150 Raptor, and RAM 1500 TRX, and we all know how well those sell. So there’s still a market for these V8s. The Defender is offered in both two- and four-door variants as well, and you can even get one for MSRP. Not that it’s cheap to begin with, with a starting price at $128,100 and our test vehicle ringing the bell at $132,795.
We know this endowed Defender is not tuned for Nürburgring lap times or track performance, but we think it’s a missed opportunity to not call this a Defender SVR or SVO. Merely calling it a P525 V8 doesn’t exercise its marketing potential. Maybe they are saving that badge for their premium Jaguar and Range Rover brands only, but give the public a halo car to aspire to, like how AMG does it. Let people know that this Defender is special because of its engine, and give it more standout exterior features aside from just the subtle V8 badging on the door sill and quad exhausts. We know that would affect ground clearance and its off-roading potential but let’s be real, who’s buying a V8 Defender to go off-roading anyways? Do you really think the F-Pace SVR would sell as well as it does if Jaguar decided to call it a F-Pace P525 V8 instead? Likely not. But who knows? Maybe they are still considering it. After all, we know that the Defender’s stated 518 hp output is far from the V8’s actual capability, which produces 575 hp in the F-Type R.
Fact of the matter is, whatever vehicle JLR slots this V8 into, it dramatically changes it in all the right ways. From the F-Type SVR, F-Pace SVR, to the Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography - equipping them with this blown V8 adds a whole heap of character to the drive, and transforms it entirely from a standard luxury vehicle to an charismatic luxury vehicle. We’re talking about sound, driver feel, and throttle response - all the essentials that add to driver engagement, and all the things that a V6 or four-cylinder could never dream of replicating.
Not that the Defender’s P400 inline-six powertrain desperately needed an upgrade, but it prefers a slow and comfortable drive rather than one dominated by a heavy right foot. With an extra two cylinders, the V8 tempts you with instant low-end torque and a thrilling soundtrack that sounds like a chainsaw ripping up to its 6,750 rpm redline. Rev it up and there are even pops and bangs on throttle overrun. It’s not as excessive as an F-Pace SVR but it’s definitely loud and unique. Listen carefully and you can hear the supercharger whine on acceleration too, even with the windows up. Frankly, we think it sounds more characterful than the G 550. Let us take that even further. We would take this Defender V8 over the G 550 thanks to its more spacious interior and trunk, less flashy road presence, market availability, and pocket the monetary difference to pay for our astronomical fuel bills.
Acceleration is rapid, effectively masking the Defender’s ungainly curb weight. It’s only when you reach speeds above 120 km/h that the weight and air resistance begin to catch up and slow down the thrill. We’re sure the two-door 90-Series will be even quicker, but the larger 110 is always the one to get. This is the type of power delivery that makes a vehicle feel lithe and athletic. A mere poke of the throttle sends this heavy Defender forward in a jiffy, and without hesitation. You won’t get this type of drive in a turbo V8 and we’re going to dearly miss this supercharged unit once Land Rover begins fully transitioning into its BMW-sourced V8s instead.
Land Rover didn’t just do a quick V8 heart transplant and walk away. They also revised the chassis and suspension to account for the heavier engine. There are new anti-roll bars, updated spring and damper rates, and a new electronic active rear differential to better distribute its newfound output. Could they have gone further? Absolutely. Stiffen up the suspension even more to reduce its profound body roll and alleviate the heavy pitching, add air intakes on the hood to improve cooling and engine performance, and put in some racier seats and interior garnish to let everyone know that that this isn’t your standard Defender. Though, the V8-specific steering wheel with the suede wrap and leather airbag cover is a nice touch, and is actually our favourite wheel from the JLR lineup.
But it hasn’t lost any of the traits that we loved about it in the first place, now just with a heartier engine. The ride is incredibly soft and compliant, even on the 22-inch wheels (20s are standard), justifying its use as a daily driver and a road-trip companion. The steering doesn’t feel any different than the non-V8 models - it’s light and doesn’t require too much rotational effort.
But slotting the shifter into S and activating Dynamic Mode in the driver menu puts the Defender on edge, spicing up every inch of the powertrain, and relaxes the stability and traction control system, allowing for some grinworthy power oversteer moments when you prod the throttle mid-corner. We can tell the Defender doesn’t exactly enjoy this behaviour, but that V8 just constantly tempts you to explore its cornering limits. “Hey, we saw it on No Time to Die, okay officer?”
The 8-speed gearbox is a gem, rapid when needed, and seamless and polished when calmer driving is demanded. It demonstrates why this ZF-sourced transmission continues to the be the gold standard. We love the metallic paddle shifters flanking the wheel as well - they’re chunky, oddly heavy, but frankly feel more premium that those underpinning more expensive sports cars like the BMW M4 and Porsche 911. A warning light did come on after some hard acceleration pulls, citing a suspension fault and the air suspension wasn’t responding either, but cycling the ignition on and off, and leaving the Defender to sit for about fifteen minutes remedied that error. Possibly a sensor issue or electronic gremlin, as it never came up again.
The V6-equipped Defender P400 was already disastrous with its 15.1 L/100km fuel consumption, but the V8 here averaged out at 17.1 L/100km after a mix of both city and highway driving. Oddly enough, that’s the exact same yield as our test with the Mercedes-Benz G 550. But if you’re seriously considering the Defender V8, chances are you’ve already accepted the fate of triple digit fuel bills.
The V8-equipped Defender is an exercise in power for the sake of power. It’s not required by any means - the standard P400 and even the P300 are enough for daily duties and people hauling. But for those that demand the best from the platform, that want to take advantage of the eight-cylinder powerhouse, and simply enjoy the thrill, sound, and engagement offered by an extra two cylinders, then the Defender V8 is the one to choose. Those in line for a G-Wagon should seriously reconsider. Yeah, it’s that good.
Model: 2022 Land Rover Defender 110 P525
Paint Type: Santorini Black
Base Price: $128,100
Price as Tested: $132,795
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,018 / 2,008 / 1,967
Curb weight (kg): 2,678
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Horsepower: 518 hp @ 6,000 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 461 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 17.1