There's really nothing like this on sale right now.
The market for high-performance off-road SUV is scorching hot right now. Jeep stuffed a Hemi V8 into the Wrangler, Ford is doing a Raptor version of the Bronco, and let's not forget, the Mercedes-AMG G63 is so popular, there's a waiting list to buy one. All three of these off-roaders are so in demand that buyers are willing to pay over MSRP for them. But what if we told you there's an option that's even better? And requires no markup? Enter, the 2022 Land Rover Defender.
When we last drove the Defender with its 396-horsepower inline-six engine, we remarked how much better it served as a daily driver on the road, where most of these off-road vehicles will spend the majority of their time. We didn't think Land Rover could make it any better, but then those crazy Brits shoehorned a supercharged V8 under the hood. And unlike any of those other SUVs we mentioned, you can buy the most powerful Defender V8 as a two-door. There's nothing else like it on the market, so we recommend buying one now while you still can.
The Defender is not a small vehicle, but opting for the two-door 90 model makes it far more palatable for in-town and city driving. The Defender 90 stretches just 170.2 inches long, not including the spare tire, while the four-door Defender 110 is a whopping 17.1 inches longer. You are going to notice that nearly foot and a half missing when parking. Nearly all of that missing length comes directly from the wheelbase, shrinking from 118.9 inches on the 110 to just 101.9 inches on the 90.
Two-door off-road SUVs are extremely rare these days, with the Bronco and Wrangler being the only other two still available today. Some people think the Defender looks stubby with only two doors, but we believe the proportions work well here. Sure, it's a bit goofy from some angles, but the Defender 90 still has the same modern details we loved on the 110, such as the minimalist taillights, futuristic headlights, and black roof. Plus, those shorter dimensions yield a better turning radius, breakover angle, and approach and departure angles.
You can't take over 17 inches out of a car without losing space inside, and the Defender is no exception. The Defender 90 is heavily compromised as a family car compared to the 110. In the back, trunk space is reduced from 34 cubic feet in the 110 down to just 15.6 in the 90. We could barely squeeze our large roller suitcase without standing it up on its side. Dropping the rear seats down brings the storage to an acceptable 58.3 cubic feet, which pales in comparison to the 110's 78.8 cubes. In terms of storage, there's no contest.
On the positive side, the rear seat is remarkably generous for a two-door vehicle with 36.6 inches of rear legroom and 38.6 inches. Sure the 110 has more with 39.1 and 40.4 inches, respectively, but grown adults won't feel cramped in the Defender 90's 2nd row. Unfortunately, getting in and out of the back seat is a convoluted affair since the front seats automatically slide forward but require you to hold the button to put them back into place.
You can get the Defender 90 as a six-seater with a front bench seat, but this configuration is not available on the V8.
Not much is changed inside the Defender 90 V8 compared to a 110 or a lesser-engined model. The cabin is as nice as a modern Defender can get, with Ebony Windsor Leather mixed with rugged Miko Suedecloth. It all feels super durable, though we wish the steering wheel was wrapped in leather rather than Alcantara, which can often fade over time. We absolutely adore the modern Defender's interior because it mixes the rugged attributes we love from the Bronco and Wrangler with the luxury touches we'd expect from a Land Rover.
The floors, for example, are made of rubber so they are easy to wash after off-roading. The trim is covered in a grippy texture that feels like it can stand up to abuse. Meanwhile, the cushy seats are heated and ventilated and the infotainment feels high-tech. It's such a unique blend of utilitarian design and luxury opulence. We also have to mention how easy it is to see out of the Defender 90. Thanks to large windows, additional safari windows, and a tall greenhouse, driving the Defender feels like being in an SUV from the 1990s before crash structures ruined our view of the outside world.
Everything we loved about the standard Defender rings true here, just with more power. The standard air suspension rides beautifully, though the V8 Special Edition has slightly stiffer tuning along with quicker throttle response. It's not a particularly sporty experience, but the Defender feels more well-suited to back roads than the Bronco, G-Wagen, or Wrangler. We chalk that up to the suspension, which keeps the Defender composed, and also the steering, which feels far more connected and communicative than those aforementioned rivals. Wind noise is also far lower than the removable roof Ford and Jeep.
As for the V8, it's quick. Duh. It's an old-school 5.0-liter mill with a massive supercharger, growling out 518 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque (over 100 hp more than the inline-six). Land Rover says the Defender V8 takes 4.9 seconds to hit 60 mph, a number that feels impressive when sitting at such a tall ride height. Unlike the Jaguar F-Pace SVR we tested last year, which uses the same engine, the Defender is tuned to emit a low growl rather than a roar that can be heard a mile away.
We've driven more aggressive Jaguar Land Rover products with this supercharged V8. Land Rover clearly wanted to harken back to the 3.9-liter V8 models sold in North America during the 1990s without creating a hardcore performance model. This can be felt from the transmission, which doesn't respond with a downshift as quickly as we'd like, even with the vehicle set to dynamic mode. If you take the secondary step of putting the transmission into S mode, then it delivers more immediate power from the V8. Driving around normally, it's a reserved experience. You can also take advantage of the metal paddle shifters, which can jolt the Defender into a frenzy with a few quick pulls.
Land Rover has already been spotted testing a more hardcore SVR V8 model of the Defender. This model should get better brakes and suspension, though it will reportedly lose its familiar supercharged V8 in favor of a BMW-sourced twin-turbo unit. BMW makes a great V8, but it doesn't quite match the character of Land Rover's supercharged monster.
In more ways than one, the Land Rover Defender 90 V8 is a "get-it-while-you-can" type of vehicle. We aren't sure how much longer Land Rover will continue building a two-door Defender, much less a version with a supercharged V8. The new Range Rover completely ditched the Land Rover engine in favor of a BMW unit to pass stricter emissions laws, so it seems likely that the old supercharged mill will be put to pasture soon. Like we said, get one now before it's gone.
The V8 Defender is not a cheap proposition, starting at $104,400 for the 90 or $107,700 for the 110. That's more expensive than a Bronco Raptor ($69,995) or Wrangler Rubicon 392 ($74,795) but far less than the Mercedes-AMG G63 ($156,450). We could almost call it a bargain. Factoring in the inevitable deal markups, buyers will likely end up paying six figures for the Bronco Raptor when it arrives. If that's the case, why not take your money over to the Land Rover dealer and walk out the same day with a Defender V8? It's nicer inside, more powerful, and super capable off-road. We'll miss it when it's gone.