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Land Rover Defender 2023 review: 110 V8

Tough by name, tough by nature - the Defender 110 V8 looks as bold as it sounds. (Image: James Cleary)

The name says it all. The Defender is Land Rover’s most capable off-roader,  descended from the tough-as-nails military, civil engineering and exploration vehicles that have helped establish the brand’s credentials over the last 70-plus years.

Until 2016 it remained a traditional, hardcore 4x4 with the body attached to a rugged, ‘ladder-frame’ chassis. But the introduction of this new version in 2020 marked the shift to a unitary ‘monocoque’ construction, better able to (among other things) incorporate the active and passive safety tech required in current models.

At the same time it was given a comprehensive design makeover, with the new model currently offered in three-door 90, five-door 110, and lengthened eight-seat 130 variants.

But rather than size, the Defender in this review is all about supercharged V8 performance, and the macho personality that goes with it. This is the full-fat, five-door, 110 V8 P525.

Our family of five spent a week with this luxurious, growling beast to see if its more assertive demeanour helps or hinders day-to-day practicality.

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What does it look like?

Tough by name, tough by nature, the Defender looks at you through piercing, hooded eyes, the circular LED running lights, cropped at the top, enhancing a menacing expression.

A broad bulge in the centre of the bonnet hints at the power lurking underneath and faux (plastic) chequer plate panels along the top of the guards either side are a cosmetic tip of the hat to the metal pieces applied to previous generations of the Defender.

Our test example’s ‘Santorini Black’ paint, as well as big 22-inch rims, finished in ‘Satin Dark Grey’ also enhance the imposing vibe.

The circular LED running lights enhances a menacing expression. (Image: James Cleary) The circular LED running lights enhances a menacing expression. (Image: James Cleary)

A chunky side treatment, defined by pronounced wheel arches, an almost slab-sided lower half, and relatively narrow glass area echo Defenders past.

The upright rear end looks like it’s been cleanly sliced with a giant clever, and a full-sized spare mounted to the side-hinged rear door reinforces this car’s off-road cred.

Individual squarish tail-lights are outlined with slick LED rings, and the car’s performance potential is subtly reinforced by fat, quad exhaust pipes poking out from under the rear bumper.

The full-sized spare mounted to the side-hinged rear door reinforces this car’s off-road cred. (Image: James Cleary) The full-sized spare mounted to the side-hinged rear door reinforces this car’s off-road cred. (Image: James Cleary)

Inside, the Defender’s macho personality is expressed through cool design details like industrial-style Torx head bolts securing the door trims and other interior pieces, as well multiple grab handles and a mix of durable materials like leather, Robustec (a tough, technical fabric) as well as synthetic suede on the seats, and parts of the dash.

There’s a thin, rubber-like finish on high-touch areas around the gearshift and air conditioning controls, and a dash-wide storage tray runs behind the central media screen, and under the digital instrument cluster.

Again, plenty of hints to remind you of past Defender models, including twin slotted windows at the top of the cargo area on either side. But everything’s been dialled up to a more premium level, with impressive attention to detail and visual interest applied throughout.

How does it drive?

First of all, the Defender 110 V8 weighs in at just under 2.7 tonnes, measures a little over 5.0m long, is 2.0m wide and almost 2.0m high. So, it’s no shrinking violet. 

And its ‘P525’ designation reflects the supercharged V8 engine’s output in metric horsepower, which equates to 368kW. And that’s plenty when you consider Ford’s 5.0-litre V8 Mustang muscle car produces ‘only’ 339kW.

But it’s this car’s torque, or pulling power, that gets its substantial mass moving down the road rapidly. Land Rover claims it will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds, and I call anything within shouting distance of five seconds for that sprint, properly quick. If your driveway’s long enough it will hit 240km/h!

So, enthusiastic application of the right pedal results in a firm shove back into the seat, and eye-widening excitement for everyone on-board. 

The supercharged V8 engine’s output equates to 368kW in metric horsepower. (Image: James Cleary) The supercharged V8 engine’s output equates to 368kW in metric horsepower. (Image: James Cleary)

Throw in a grumbling, rumbling exhaust sound, growing in intensity as speed rises, and you have the full theatrical experience.

But at more everyday, family-friendly speeds the thing that strikes you about this big beast is how well it rides.

Despite humongous 22-inch wheels, which would normally compromise comfort over anything less than a perfectly smooth surface, standard air suspension with tricky adaptive damping means the 110 V8 remains beautifully composed.

The seats feel as good as they look, with lots of lateral support in the cushion and backrest, and the (heated) steering wheel, trimmed in synthetic suede, is a great tactile touch.

Speaking of which, the steering is agreeably light, without compromising road feel, which is excellent. 

The (heated) steering wheel, trimmed in synthetic suede, is a great tactile touch. (Image: James Cleary) The (heated) steering wheel, trimmed in synthetic suede, is a great tactile touch. (Image: James Cleary)

All that power makes hill-climbing and (safe) overtaking a breeze. And at highway cruising speeds the engine and exhaust settle into a relatively low-key hum, making for easy family road trip potential.

Although we didn’t venture off the highway in this test there’s plenty of tech under the skin designed to get you from A to B over surfaces other than bitumen.

Everything from an electronic active differential for maximum grip, to configurable terrain-specific systems. 

And for those off-roaders determined to get to their favourite remote camping spot, ground clearance is 218mm, the approach, departure and ramp angles are 30.1, 33.5, and 22.0 degrees respectively, while the wading depth is 900mm.

How spacious is it?

This is a sizeable SUV, and there’s plenty of room for five occupants and their ‘stuff’ thanks to a generous cabin, loads of storage, and a big boot.

Lots of breathing space for the driver and front passenger, as well as a spacious rear seat area with tons of head, leg and shoulder room.

Sitting behind the driver’s seat, set to my 183cm position, I had a limo-like experience, and there’s enough width for three adults to sit back there in reasonable comfort, even on longer journeys. A close to flat floor makes the centre rear position even more liveable.

Two child seats or boosters will be a breeze, with a third possible, depending on the type of seats you have.

There’s enough width for three adults to sit back in reasonable comfort, even on longer journeys. (Image: James Cleary) There’s enough width for three adults to sit back in reasonable comfort, even on longer journeys. (Image: James Cleary)

Cabin storage is hard to fault, with the broad front centre console containing two big cupholders, a wireless device charging tray, and a huge (cooled!) lidded box which doubles as a comfy centre armrest. But the console is a two-tier design with a vast area for bigger things underneath. 

A bookcase-size shelf runs the width of the dash, even continuing behind the central media screen, the glove box is a good size, and the door bins provide even more room, with specific space for bottles. There’s also a sunglasses holder in the roof console.

Move to the rear and there are hard shell map pockets on the front seatbacks, two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, and small bins in the doors.

There are also multiple cubbies around the rear of the car with elastic retaining straps to keep odds and ends under control.

How easy is it to use every day?

Despite its large scale the Defender 110 handles well at slow speeds, although you need to plan ahead when choosing a parking spot because the (12.8m) turning circle is big.

Aside from that, a 5.0-metre long SUV is not to be trifled with, although a hi-res reversing camera, 3D 360-degree view and a multitude of proximity sensors help the process. 

Only snag is the beeping can start to sound like a chorus of cicadas in the mid-summer sun when you get into really close quarters. 

What about cargo space? Even with all seats upright the boot is big, with 972 litres of space on offer, although that’s to the more generous SAE standard, rather than the more commonly applied VDA measure.

Tie-down anchors to help secure loose loads are standard, and extra storage rails, will cost an additional $230. (Image: James Cleary) Tie-down anchors to help secure loose loads are standard, and extra storage rails, will cost an additional $230. (Image: James Cleary)

Either way, it’s enough to swallow the three-piece CarsGuide suitcase set, or our particularly bulky demo pram, with room to spare.

Lower the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat and capacity increases to 2277 litres, which is plenty.

The standard air suspension means the rear of the car can be lowered, via buttons in the boot, to make loading heavy or awkward items that little bit easier. Plus, there’s a handy bag hook and yet another 12V outlet back there.

Tie-down anchors to help secure loose loads are standard, and our test car was fitted with extra storage rails, an affordably-priced $230 option.

With all seats upright the boot is big, with 972 litres of space on offer. (Image: James Cleary) With all seats upright the boot is big, with 972 litres of space on offer. (Image: James Cleary)

There’s even a large storage tray in the side opening tailgate door, and it’s worth mentioning two things about the door itself.

First, you need to be mindful of the need to leave enough room behind you for the door opening sideways, and second, the handle is on the left and the door opens to the right which is the ‘correct’ and safest way in a right-hand drive country.

Some Euro models open the other way, which can mean when parked nose-to-tail you’re perilously close to passing traffic just getting the door open.

For those keen on hooking up the caravan, boat or a horse float, the 110 V8 is rated to tow a 3.5-tonne braked trailer (750kg unbraked) with ‘Advanced Tow Assist’ standard.

How safe is it?

The Defender received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020, and active, crash-avoidance tech highlights include AEB, operating from 5.0 to 130km/h (with pedestrian and cyclist detection, plus ‘Junction Assist’), blind spot assist, cornering brake control, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, lane keeping assist, 3D multi-view camera view, rear cross-traffic alert, and tyre pressure monitoring. Not bad, at all.

If a crash is unavoidable, there are front and side airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, as well as side curtain airbags covering both rows. Missing, is the increasingly prevalent front centre airbag designed to minimise head clash injuries in a side impact.

There are three top-tethers for baby capsules/child seats across the second row, with the positions lower at the side than in the centre. There are also ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.

The Defender received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020. (Image: James Cleary) The Defender received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020. (Image: James Cleary)

What’s the tech like?

Connectivity and power options in the front run to two USB-C ports (one media, one charge-only) and one USB-A, plus a 12-volt socket.

Kids in the back won’t have anything to complain about, either, with adjustable climate control as well as two USB-C power ports, and another two 12V sockets.

The 11.4-inch multimedia touchscreen, managing audio, nav, car settings, and more is easy to use. That said, physical controls for the ventilation and stereo volume are welcome.

The 11.4-inch multimedia touchscreen, managing audio, nav, car settings, and more is easy to use. (Image: James Cleary) The 11.4-inch multimedia touchscreen, managing audio, nav, car settings, and more is easy to use. (Image: James Cleary)

The configurable, digital instrument display allows you to prioritise the information you want to focus on most, and you have the ability to spread functions across it and the standard head-up display.    

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity is standard and the latter worked flawlessly during my time with the car. Both formats can be flaky at times (in other cars), and to have a stress-free experience was a pleasure.

How much does it cost to own?

Cost-of-entry to the Defender 110 V8 club is $220,530, before on-road costs, which puts it in the same price bracket as the BMW X5 M Competition ($227,900), Mercedes-AMG E 63 S ($257,991), and Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($250,500).

All luxurious, macho, five-seat SUVs with huge performance and looks to match. But there’s an outlier in the shape of the crazy Merc-AMG G 63.

Yes, it weighs in at no less than $365K, but I reckon that makes the Defender 110 V8 a relative bargain. The Defender looks and feels cooler, for around $140K less!  

The Defender 110 features a panoramic sunroof. (Image: James Cleary) The Defender 110 features a panoramic sunroof. (Image: James Cleary)

As you’d expect for a family SUV costing north of $200K the standard equipment list is lengthy, but the highlights reel includes, adaptive cruise control, the 22-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, 14-way electrically-adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof, 15-speaker Meridian ‘Surround’ audio (with digital radio), Matrix LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, the cool upholstery, the screens, the off-road systems, etc, etc, etc. It’s loaded.

Land Rover’s official fuel economy number for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 12.7L/100km, the 5.0-litre V8 emitting a solid 295g/km of CO2 in the process.

Over a week of city, suburban, and some freeway running we saw a dash-indicated average of 17.6L/100km, without being particularly hard on the accelerator pedal. 

Even in this lofty part of the market that’ll make for sobering visits to the petrol bowser, especially as 95 RON premium unleaded is required, and you’ll need 90 litres of it to fill the tank.

Land Rover covers its Australian line-up with a five-year/unlimited km warranty, with roadside assistance included for the duration. (Image: James Cleary) Land Rover covers its Australian line-up with a five-year/unlimited km warranty, with roadside assistance included for the duration. (Image: James Cleary)

Using the official number that translates to a range of 708km, which drops to just over 500km using our real-world figure.

Land Rover covers its Australian line-up with a five-year/unlimited km warranty, with roadside assistance included for the duration. That’s par for the course in the luxury market these days.

Servicing is variable, in that the car will tell you when maintenance is due, although Land Rover offers a five-year/130,000km service package for $3750, which equates to $750 annually, or an average of 26,000km. Not cheap, but not outrageous for a sophisticated vehicle in this price bracket.


The Wrap

The Defender 110 has the space, practical features and tech required for comfortable family duty. The specification is top-shelf, and this supercharged V8 flagship adds a performance edge matched by its more aggressive looks. You won’t always enjoy trips to the fuel station, but if my experience is any indication your kids will love its presence in the driveway and the noise it makes when you hit the starter. They gave it 4.5 out of 5, and I’m giving it the same. It’s a great package.

Likes

Performance
Practicality
Seamless tech

Dislikes

Big turning circle
Thirsty
Lots of beeping

Scores

James:

4.5

The Kids:

4.5

$99,900 - $183,990

Based on 27 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

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