Driven: 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8 – When Excess is a Virtue, not a Vice

There’s a certain cool factor of two-door SUVs that more than compensate for the lack of rear doors. Usually, these vehicles have a shorter wheelbase and a much sportier demeanor. Among the few examples are the two-door versions of the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco. Earlier this year, the Alpha dog of this breed launched in the 2022 Land Rover Defender 90.

While it shares the same foreshortened looks of its erstwhile rivals, the V8 version packs a punch that’s unheard of in this realm. For under the hood is a 5.0-liter supercharged engine that cranks out 518 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. It’s truly a beast. Land Rover says its capable of sprinting to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds.

According to David Hemming, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief product engineer, “The introduction of our V8 powertrain adds a new dimension of driving engagement and off-road capability to Defender. Fast and fun to drive, it represents the pinnacle of the Defender family and is as rewarding on the road as it is capable off it. We’ve also broadened the appeal of the entire Defender lineup with new derivatives, option packs and enhanced connectivity, so there really is a Defender for everyone.

Beyond its impressive performance numbers, there’s something in the Defender 90’s looks that stirs hearts of anyone who played with Tonka trucks or Matchbook cars. The boxy profile hearkens back to the original Land Rover with its long hood, short wheelbase, massive wheels. The tidy footprint, towering ride height and menacing looks thanks to its Santorini Black paint scheme, makes it stand out in the increasingly crowded SUV space.

The design is purpose-built for off-roading and the design cues reinforce that capability. And there are also elements in the styling that hew to Land Rover tradition. The short front and rear overhangs and lifted body provide exceptional approach and departure angles to go along with the generous ground clearance that ranges from 8.5 to 11.5 inches with the advanced air suspension system. There are front and rear tow hooks, bright LED lighting, a large panoramic sunroof and Land Rover signature skylights in the roof to provide a bright interior and excellent all-around visibility.

It’s the tall stance of the Land Rover Defender 90 that makes the vehicle fun to drive off-road and on. Even in an urban environment, the high seating position, large glass area and high level of maneuverability allows it to slip deftly through crowded streets while being able to see around traffic in stop-and-go commuting.

Riding on a 101.9-inch wheelbase, the Range Rover Defender V8 employs massive 22-inch wheels and tires. Hitting the start button brings the V8 to life with a rumble that grows into deep growl through the tuned exhaust on hard acceleration.

The ride is supple thanks to the well-tuned suspension. A vehicle with a short wheelbase like the Defender 90 can be hoppy over uneven surfaces, but the air suspension coupled with large diameter solid anti-roll bars fight this tendency and provide relatively flat cornering. This neutral attitude in corners is further aided by an electronic active rear differential with yaw control.

Since it’s a Land Rover, it is equipped with the most sophisticated multi-mode adjustable suspension on the market. This Terrain Response setup also include additional modes to take advantage of the exceptional on-road performance that comes with the V8 drivetrain. The Dynamic setting enables sharper throttle response, quicker shifts from the smooth 8-speed automatic transmission and revised damping in the bushings and shocks. It also employs torque vectoring using the brakes to deliver more power to the wheels with the most grip.

This great on-road performance does not come at the expense of the true off-road nature of the Land Rover brand. The ability to adjust ride height and employ systems like descent control while taking advantage of the all-around camera views gives it exceptional capability to go anywhere and do anything whether its on tarmac or well off the beaten path.

All of this doesn’t mean giving up comfort. The interior features seating upholstered in luxurious Ebony Windsor Leather with Miko Suedecloth inserts, a thick four-spoke steering wheel covered by Alcantara, and generous use of satin trim on things like the steering wheel gear shift paddles and floor pedals. There’s a large 11.4-inch center touchscreen with navigation, infotainment, and a wide range of vehicle settings. There’s even a page detailing the exact dimensions of the vehicle including approach and departure angles to aid off-road escapades.

The two-door body style still has room for up to five passengers. Rear seat space is generous, but it takes a bit of athleticism to access the back bench – the front buckets fold forward slightly and there’s a switch on the seatback to power it forward enough to provide a path in or out. The process is about what you’d encounter in accessing the third row on a four-door SUV.

The 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8 is not for buyers on a budget. The sticker on our test vehicle starts at $104,200. The 11.4-inch touchscreen adds just $140, a Wi-Fi package costs $360, and a premium interior protection and storage pack is another $660. With $1,350 destination, the bottom-line nets out to $106,710.

While the Defender 90 V8 is the ultimate expression, buyers who want the two-door cool factor don’t necessarily have to break the bank. The base level Defender 90, which comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 295 horsepower and 296 lb-ft of torque starts at $47,700. If you’re looking for a bit more output, Land Rover also offer the vehicle in the 90 X Dynamic S hybrid that has a 3.0-liter six with 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. It lists for $59,500.

Article Credit: Matt DeLorenzo
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