Land Rover Defender 130 V8 2024 review: an exercise in excess
The longest version of the Defender is now available with a 5-litre supercharged V8. It’s not the version you need, but it’s one you might want
The weather could not be more appropriate for a Land Rover launch. Heavy rain has left many of Somerset’s roads flooded, waterlogged fields spilling onto tarmac, with the occasional addition of a stricken car stuck mid-ford, reflected hazard lights dancing on the murky floodwater.
The type of conditions that would see most car launches cancelled, yet show Land Rover’s latest Defender variant in its best light. Especially as it motors past yet more stricken vehicles being recovered, before continuing unimpeded off-road across Exmoor.
So far, so Defender. But all of the splashing and wading is accompanied by a rich burble overlaid with a faint whiff of supercharger whine. This is the new V8-powered long-wheelbase Defender 130; the Land Rover Defender 130 V8 P500 to give it its full title.
It’s a car in the somewhat unique position of being able to offer one cylinder for every seat. You can already buy a V8-powered version of the shortest Defender 90 and the longer 110 but this is the first time Land Rover has offered the latest-generation Defender in its longest, eight-seater 130 form together with the V8 engine.
While some of the later V8-powered Range Rover models use a 4.4-litre engine sourced from BMW, the Defender uses the well-known 5-litre supercharged AJ-V8 engine, as employed in older Range Rover Sport and SVR models, and Jaguars including the XKR, F-Type and Project 8. Production of said engine has now ceased, and although there are plenty of units (some of which are saved for run-out-model F-Type production), the stock will eventually run out.
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You can get the same V8 engine in the smaller Defender 90 and 110 variants, too. In those cars it develops 518bhp, whereas in the 130 it’s been downtuned slightly to a still-strapping 493bhp.
Official 0-62mph time is 5.7 seconds, a few tenths slower than the lighter, more powerful 110 but still very quick for a car that weighs 2670kg and measures more than 5.3m in length. And averages less than 20mpg. It’s not very 2023.
The V8 version is available in only two colours: grey or Bond-baddie black. There’s more black for the grille housing, badging, privacy-glass windows and the chequerplate panels on the bonnet (which are plastic, disappointingly).
The 130 V8’s wheels have a dark finish too, and measure a whopping 22 inches. Another external clue that it’s a 5.0 V8 rather than the 3-litre, six-cylinder D300 diesel or P300/P400 petrol Defender are quad exhaust exits below the side-hinged tailgate.
Inside, there’s a suede-trimmed steering wheel, with the seats finished in a mixture of suede and leather. All eight of them: two front, and two further three-seat rows behind, using the 600mm longer rear overhang than the seven-seat Defender 110 (the wheelbase is actually the same as the 110). The front seats are heated, cooled, and 14-way adjustable.
A sliding panoramic roof is standard on the 130 V8, as is a Meridian audio system. Like the rest of the Defender range, the interior manages to walk a line between being durable and weatherproof but also plush and luxurious, a tricky double act it pulls off well.
Out on the road, the 5-litre V8 makes a nice burbly sound although a relatively muted one. It certainly sounds less vocal than some older Range Rover SVR models, which sounded like the grid from an entire Goodwood Revival race had been squeezed under the bonnet.
Nor, being honest, does it feel enormously quick – how could it, given its size and weight? But it’s far from slow, and feeling the 450lb ft push the enormous 130 down the road at an unlikely rate of knots is an addictive sensation.
You’ll need to brake early: this is a lot of car to slow down, especially on all-season tyres. And predictably, it’s far from athletic in corners. It would be wrong to say it’s agile, but it does drive quite tidily given its sheer bulk and remit of being capable off-road as well as on.
Gut feel says more tidily than evo Fast Fleet’s recently departed Defender 110 D300 long-termer, in fact. Land Rover hasn’t yet publicised what suspension tuning alterations have been made for the V8, but subjectively this test car steers more keenly and manages its body movement a little better than the Fast Fleet 110.
Electronically height-adjustable air suspension is standard on 130-spec Defenders. The V8 rides well, considering the 22-inch wheels. You don’t get tossed around much, for a tall, soft-suspended car with a high centre of gravity.
I find the brake pedal rather sensitive, especially while wearing chunky outdoor boots for the weather, as many owners surely will. The eight-speed transmission’s shifts are smooth when left in auto mode, but can be rather abrupt when using the paddles.
The Defender’s dynamics are more impressive off the road rather than on. The V8 can off-road just as well as other Defender 130s, which is to say very well indeed.
With Exmoor’s ground ravaged by rainfall, we scramble down steep, wet slopes using the ‘look-no-feet’ hill descent control, and the car copes with ruts and wells that wouldn’t be particularly easy to clamber over on foot.
Like other Defenders, the 130 V8 has a low-range mode for the transmission, electronically controlled differentials and Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 software. With the air suspension raised, there’s 290mm of ground clearance.
A Defender 90 or 110 has less bulk and better departure angles, of course, but the 130 can still get over very challenging terrain. The cushy air-ride suspension works well off-road, and you’re thrown around the cabin far less than you might be in some other off-roaders while tackling ruts and uneven climbs.
Launched concurrently with the V8, there’s another new Defender 130 variant too, the five-seater Outbound, which exchanges the rearmost seats for an enormous cargo bay. The loadspace is rubberised throughout, with extra lashing points, a cargo net arrangement and the option to swap the leather upholstery for water-resistant fabric. It’s available with the D300 diesel engine only.
And, whisper it, that’s probably the engine that suits the Defender the best. Being rational, a 5-litre supercharged V8 is not an engine the Defender needs. But it is a very charismatic powerplant for a charismatic car. The 130 V8 is an enormously likeable (as well as plain enormous) creation.
An enormously expensive one, too. At the time of writing it costs £117,485 on the road, versus £80,585 for a D300 diesel-powered 130 in HSE trim, or £85,135 for a P400 petrol in Defender X-Dynamic HSE trim. The Defender 90 V8 costs £109,515 and the 110 V8 £112,285.
But it’s not the sort of car that’s a rational purchase. As well as being the biggest car in the Defender line-up, it’s the biggest character. Whatever the weather.
Land Rover Defender 130 V8 specs
|5-litre supercharged V8
|493bhp @ 6000rpm
|450lb ft @ 2500-5500rpm