First Drive: Land Rover Defender Works V8

20th March 2018
Nat Barnes

As 70th birthday presents go, they don’t get much better than this. Land Rover is celebrating its seventh decade with the introduction of this new Defender Works V8.


Well, we say ‘new’, but technically speaking this Works V8 is a conversion of 150 existing cars (ones that Land Rover has sourced aged between 2012 and 2016) after the last of the originals rolled off the line in January 2016.

Powered by a 405PS 5.0-litre, petrol V8 engine previously used elsewhere in the Jaguar Land Rover stable, this is the most powerful and fastest ever Defender ever created by Land Rover. Those who have driven previous Defenders might rightly argue that 0 to 60mph in just 5.6 seconds is also plenty fast enough too…

It’s also plenty pricey enough. At £150,000 for the 90 and £160,000 for the long-wheelbase 110, nobody would ever call the Works V8 cheap, though that hasn’t harmed its popularity. Land Rover is remaining tight-lipped on the exact waiting list, but off the record, insiders suggest that they had potential buyers numbering more than five times that 150 planned within the first 36 hours of the Works V8’s announcement. If you manage to bag one, then you’ll be very lucky indeed.


There’s another subtext of this Works V8 as well. With the new Defender not expected to be in showrooms until at least 2020, Land Rover needs to keep those customers from drifting to the plentiful numbers of aftermarket tuning companies. It’s no coincidence that the engineers point out with some pride that this is a official manufacturer conversion with all of the electronic systems included within that. That’s certainly not something that those tuners can claim.

Those Land Rover engineers have been busy too. There’s all new suspension with Bilstein dampers, the old worm and roller steering has gone (thank God) with a recirculating ball system in its place, while there are also 18-inch alloy wheels – the largest ever seen on a Defender – and numerous other cosmetic additions including milled aluminium door handles and Recaro seats. Not everything has changed though, there are still no airbags or electric mirrors, the cabin still feels ridiculously narrow and the turning circle remains somewhere between an oil tanker and an aircraft carrier.

All of that is unlikely to grab the attention of most owners however. What will is the absolutely guaranteed grin-inducing reaction when you flex your right foot for the first time. With that V8 ahead of you and a mass of induction noise, unleashing those 405 horses has the Defender leaping up the road ahead of you in a manner that initially catches your senses unawares.


It’s almost as if your brain needs time to recompute that this is a Defender and what your inner ear and eyes are telling you about how fast you’re accelerating shouldn’t, strictly speaking, be possible.

But despite the Works V8’s straight-line performance, be under no illusions about the rest of its sporting pretensions. Yes, the Land Rover engineers have worked wonders with minimal body roll and probably the best ride quality we’ve ever experienced in a Defender, but this is not a sports car.

That steering rack might have changed for one and it’s much more precise than before (though it would have been hard to have been worse) but there’s still a lot of vagueness to it, especially around the straight ahead. To be fair, you quickly adapt to this and can drive the Defender with far more enthusiasm than you might have thought possible when you first climbed behind the wheel, but the reality is that down a twisty B road, you wouldn’t see which way even a quick supermini went, let alone a hot hatch.

Ultimately though, much of this is academic. People will either view this Works V8 either as something akin to four-wheeled heaven or a total waste of 150 grand and are unlikely to be budged either way. Those aforementioned over-subscribed numbers would suggest that there’s more people in the former camp, including us, than in the latter. No, the Defender Works V8 isn’t perfect, but even at this price it’s not far off.

The numbers

Engine: 4999cc, naturally-aspirated, petrol

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

PS/Nm (bhp/ lb ft): 405PS@6000rpm/ 515Nm@5000rpm (399bhp/ 379lb ft)

0-60mph: 5.6 seconds

Top speed: 106mph

Price: £150,000 (110 - £160,000)

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