Auto Review: An SUV with power and a price to match

Here's a road test report of the 2024 Land Rover Defender 110 V8 P525 - Super Ute

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Mon 15 Jan 2024, 6:03 PM

From carrying camera crews across the wilderness to serving the armies as an ambulance, the Land Rover Defender has done it all. The Series 1, first put into production in 1948, often recognised as the WWII Willys Jeep equivalent, was just a box on wheels with aluminium sheet metal draped over it. But it was a truly utilitarian one. Consequent generations shared that iconic brick-like silhouette, and even as more conveniences were added, the Defender remained as tough as nails. Finally, after 67 years and over two million Defenders later, Land Rover called off the production in 2016.

The nameplate was then resurrected for 2021 and its go-anywhere attitude was advertised once again. Expectedly, the new SUV has drawn many to its showrooms despite its big-ticket pricing. Now there is a V8 model in the range, the fastest and most powerful production Defender yet…and we got to experience it from behind the wheel. Here’s what’s yay and nay about the 2024 Land Rover Defender 110 V8 P525.

Design and aesthetics

My first impression of the new generation — code-named L663— was that it resembled a reskinned old LR Discovery. A few years on, I’ve grown to like its size, shape and sophistication. Much like its predecessors, this thing is all square in form. It has a sizeable footprint measuring 5,018mm in length (including the spare tyre). And its pronounced fenders with squared wheel arches and flat panels create a rugged, but clean aesthetic. The LED headlamps are circles that sit in square boxes, while at the rear you have four square lights — both are cues neatly pilfered from its predecessors. And with the matt finish paint, it simply looks gorgeous. It’s like a super truck from the sets of a dystopian movie and perhaps, Gerry McGovern’s finest work yet.

Where the Defender also shines is in its design. The perforated bumper may have reduced the approach angle slightly but provides better pedestrian safety. Then you have the bonnet flanked by textured plastic surfaces, allowing one to stand on it without scratching the paint while setting up the tent on the roof, as adventurers do. It also has an easily accessible spare tyre on the tailgate like the earlier models, (which swings the wrong way) and a camera housed in the shark fin antenna which gives the driver a clearer view of the rear. It’s all very clever. Last but not least, the V8 variant also comes with a proper quad exhaust pipes that trumpets its cause wherever it goes.

The older Defenders were built for function and not comfort; their seating arrangement was such the driver’s shoulder was squashed against the door. The new Defender is much more accommodating. There are also a few seating configurations available with the 110; a 5-seater like our test vehicle, a 6-seater and a 5+2-seater with the third row.

Fun Fact

The Defender’s Software Over The Air (SOTA) technology allows the downloading of data while customers are asleep at home or in far-flung locations without the need for a workshop visit.

The overall cabin aesthetic is signature ‘Land Rover’, with geometric shapes and straight lines. The exposed screws and powder-coated magnesium cross beam reflect its robust agricultural origins well. But the overall fit-n-finish isn’t quite top-shelf. The steering wheel has a 4-spoke design - an LR tradition - and it came wrapped in alcantara which felt grippy and supple, but only time will tell how it will hold up against sweaty palms. Expectedly, you have leather-upholstered seats (with resilient fabric inserts) and soft rubberised surfaces on the doors and dashboard. Do I like the overall ambience? Sure. But is it worthy of its stratospheric Dh660,000 price tag? Not quite. Perhaps, better curation of custom materials would help.

Keeping the Defender tech-relevant is the 12.3-inch digital instrumentation and 11.4-inch centre console screen. Both are wonderfully customisable and give ready access to information like incline angle and ride height. The latter takes it a step further, by showcasing the innovative 360 camera view. And since this SUV is to serve a modern family with more devices than heads, it comes with multiple USB-A, USB-C and 12V outlets and a reasonably efficient multi-zone climate control system.

Powertrain and performance

Initially, the Defender was only available with the turbocharged 2.0 or 3.0-litre gasoline engines and they can be best described as adequate. But for those who crave more power comes this supercharged 5.0-litre monster. This growling V8, also found in the RR Sport SVR and the F-TYPE R, may find its final application here. It is matched to a smooth 8-speed automatic with chrome paddle shifters if you wish to command the ratios yourself.

The glory of this V8 is reminded in every throttle dip. Give it the full juice and the experience is exhilarating. The hood raises, the haunches squat, and you are thrust forward like nobody’s business. The specification says it will do 100kmph in just 5.4 seconds and that’s impressive for a 2,603kg machine. The shorter 90 variant is still quicker. And so, whether it's traffic light take off or flying down the highway you won’t find it wanting for power. The V8 also adds a Dynamic program to the Terrain Response 2 system which makes the throttle sharper and suspension tauter for more grip.

SPECIFICATIONS

Body type- 5/6/5+2-seater; 5-door premium full-size SUV

Engine- Front-engine; supercharged 5.0-litre V8; four-wheel drive

Transmission - 8-speed automatic

Peak output - 525 PS @ 6,000 – 6,500 rpm

- 625 Nm @ 2,500 – 5,500 rpm

In city limits, the Defender is an easy steer thanks to its 2.7 turns from lock to lock, but the parking lot manoeuvres need some diligence as the 1,284m turning radius isn’t the tightest. With the electronic air suspension comes a certain ‘waftability’. It works with the double-wishbone front and integral link rear suspension to provide a supple ride, rivalling even its siblings.

The Defender may not have the old-school body-on-frame chassis, but Land Rover assures customers that the new aluminium monocoque is three times as stiff. Allowing to put that power down efficiently, whether on tarmac, sand, mud, rock, or gravel is an Intelligent AWD System which can deliver variable torque to each wheel. The mandated 2-speed transfer box is also there to help. The Defender will even swim past streams, thanks to the available air suspension that can raise wading depth to 900mm. As capable as it sounds, I wouldn’t venture far into the desert without swapping those beautiful grey 22-inch alloys for the optional smaller 20-inch wheels and matching off-road tyres.

As for range, while the 90-litre tank is apt for road use, if you plan to go off-roading a larger tank would have been preferred, especially considering this V8’s thirst.

Features and functionality

The 110 comes with sufficient space for your limbs and luggage. Behind the tailgate, there’s a sizeable 543 litres of space. Dropping the rear rows not only gets you 2,380 litres but also sends out an automatic invitation to your friends to have their furniture moved. As for everything that can’t fit, like a pair of jet skis or a mobile home, there is an electrically retractable tow hook that allows it to haul anything up to 3,500kg.

The once-built-for-war machine is still built like a tank and the evidence is in its 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It also comes with a host of active and passive safety features that if I were to expand upon, I’d sound like an exhausting brochure.

Connectivity is also prioritised in the Defender. Besides the available Bluetooth which allows connecting up to two devices, the infotainment is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s also equipped with a wireless charger to avoid plugging in and there’s a variety of audio systems to choose from. The high-fidelity 700W 14-speaker Meridian sound is the one if you like a loud pre-game journey before a night out.

Verdict

The Land Rover Defender 110 is a versatile retro-inspired SUV done right. It brings a fresh perspective to automotive design merging a rugged form with a modern, clean aesthetic on the outside while cleverly incorporating familiar elements and genuinely functional attributes in its comfortable and feature-laden cabin. The growling 525 PS V8 – perhaps the last of its kind – is also the motor of choice for anyone who likes a little rumble in the ear and ‘race’ in their pace.

On the flip side, fuel economy can be dismal, and reliability isn’t the brand’s forte. As for its astronomical price, this Defender justifies it well by way of heritage, design, luxuries, power, and off-road capability. It’s a yes from me if you’ve got the dough.

GOOD - Retro-inspired design; practicality; V8 power; throaty exhaust; customisation options

BAD - Some fit-and-finish issues; heavy; gas-guzzler; expensive

EDITOR’S RATING- 8/10 stars


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