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Look, I'm totally onboard with increasing efficiency through engine downsizing and electrification, but there's something about a big, burly V8 in a big, blocky SUV that just feels right. A V8 engine doesn't just boost power, it adds personality. And in an SUV as characterful as the two-door Land Rover Defender 90, that's a very good thing indeed.
The 2022 Defender's V8 is the same 5.0-liter supercharged lump you'll find across the Land Rover range. Here, it makes 518 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. This added power helps shave almost a full second off the D90's 0-to-60-mph acceleration time -- 4.9 seconds, down from 5.7 -- and that's despite a nearly 400-pound weight increase over an I6-powered Defender 90 X, too.
Point the Defender's nose down a straight stretch of road, nail the throttle and try not to laugh. Beyond the sheer thrill of launching an SUV this heavy this quickly, the V8's exhaust pops and burbles when you lift off the throttle -- a small reminder, perhaps, that this is the same engine Jaguar uses in the F-Type sports car. Careful, though: The EPA estimates the Defender 90 V8 will return a measly 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined, and habitually stomping on the gas pedal will keep you from coming anywhere near those figures. Ask me how I know.
Land Rover added a Dynamic mode to the Defender V8's Terrain Response system that stiffens the adaptive dampers and improves throttle response. V8 models also get an electronic limited-slip rear differential and larger antiroll bars, but don't for a moment think this turns the Defender into a corner-carver. With its tall proportions and short wheelbase, the 170.2-inch-long Defender 90 is tippy to say the least, though the standard Continental CrossContact all-season tires offer respectable amounts of grip.
Those all-seasons wrap 22-inch wheels, behind which you'll find 14.9-inch front and 14.3-inch rear brake rotors (with teal calipers!), allowing you to better manage the V8's extra force. This wheel-and-tire package obviously doesn't lend itself to the sort of all-terrain capability typically associated with the Defender, but considering this SUV is more of a fashion statement than anything else these days, I don't think that's a problem.
Besides, if you want to venture off-road, Land Rover offers a smaller 20-inch wheel option with off-road tires for a mere $350. This'll let you explore the Defender 90's full go-anywhere capabilities, especially with the standard air suspension that can raise to a maximum ground clearance of 11.4 inches. Combined with approach, departure and breakover angles of 37.5 degrees, 40.0 degrees and 31.0 degrees, respectively, there aren't many SUVs that can touch the Defender 90's off-road chops. The added torque from the V8 only improves that prowess. Can't seem to get over that hill? Floor the damn thing.
The smaller wheels and tires are one of the Defender 90 V8's only add-ons; this thing basically comes fully loaded right from the start. An available Country Pack ($2,200) gets you mud flaps and underbody protection, and the Extended Black Exterior Pack ($1,200) darkens much of the outside trim. V8 models are boringly limited to just three colors -- white, black or gray -- and the test car pictured here is the Defender V8 Carpathian Edition, which only comes in a matte gray and gloss black two-tone color scheme.
Interior options are similarly limited, where the only choice you have to make is whether you want black or tan upholstery. V8 models get a steering wheel trimmed in Dinamica suede, which I personally hate because it'll be gross after a few months of use. Meanwhile, the 10-inch touchscreen houses Land Rover's new hit-or-miss Pivi Pro infotainment system, something you'll find in other Defenders. There are plenty of storage cubbies throughout the cabin, the seats are super comfortable and the rear bench isn't tough to access in this two-door Defender 90 configuration. If you're hauling people on the regular, you can get the four-door Defender 110 with the V8, as well.
Because the V8 is the Defender's top spec, it comes with Land Rover's best suite of driver-assistance technologies. Full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, a 3D surround-view camera system, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition -- it's all here. Then again, with a base price of $105,750 including $1,350 for destination, I'd expect nothing less.
The restricted configurability is a big bummer, especially on an SUV that's so personality-driven. It's even more glaring when you consider all the colors and options available on the Defender's closest rival, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Yes, the G-Wagen costs tens of thousands of dollars more, but it also exudes coolness in a way the Defender can't quite match. If money's no object, I'd have a hard time picking the Land Rover over the Mercedes simply because I can spec a G however the heck I want.
Still, there are a bunch of reasons to like the Defender -- it's more capable than pretty much any other SUV, and it's equally at home on rocky trails or in mall parking lots. The V8 option only enhances the experience, and the six-figure asking price is appropriate. After all, it's hard to put a price on character, something the Defender 90 V8 offers in spades.
Update: An earlier version of this story listed the torque output as 625 pound-feet, which is what's displayed on Land Rover's US consumer site. The correct spec is 461 lb-ft, and the text now reflects this.