The 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8 model highlights the fact that, of the many high-powered SUVs out there today, the majority are of the long-wheelbase, four-door variety. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 offers up 470 horsepower from its 6.4-liter V-8, but it only comes nestled within the frame rails of the long-wheelbase Unlimited model. Same goes for the 400-or-so-hp output of the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 in the incoming Ford Bronco Raptor. And then there’s the four-door Mercedes-AMG G63, which hides a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 under its militaristic hood.
Land Rover’s V-8 treatment for the Defender, referred to as P525, centers around a no-nonsense supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 that absolutely gets with the program, with 525 standing for the engine’s output in metric horsepower. We find this somewhat odd, as England is aligned with the United States in the use of brake horsepower instead of PS, but we digress. By our measure, that amounts to 518 horsepower, which peaks at 6000 rpm, aided by 461 pound-feet of torque at 2500 revs. It’s a serious piece of hardware that makes seriously powerful noise. But the bonkers part is that it’s offered in the two-door Defender 90 model with a 101.9-inch wheelbase, which is 17.1 inches shorter than the four-door 110 version and a similar amount stubbier than anything that could pass as a competitor.
At the test track, the D90 V8 launches hard, its four 275/45R-22 Continental CrossContact RX all-season tires hooking up on the way to a 60-mph run of 4.4 seconds. It takes just 10.6 seconds to reach 100 mph, and the quarter-mile is history in 12.9 seconds at 109 mph. It’s quite tractable around town, too, thanks to the V-8’s abundance of low-end torque, the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, and a keenly tuned throttle pedal. Passing maneuvers are a snap, with the dash from 30 to 50 mph dropping in 3.0 seconds flat and jaunts from 50 to 70 mph taking 3.6 seconds. Go easy on the accelerator, and the EPA says the combination is good for 16 mpg combined (15 city/19 highway). We averaged 15 mpg during our week with the 90 V8 model, though we did subject it to some low-range off-roading.
In keeping with the prodigious power on tap, the Defender 90 V8’s front and rear independent suspension has been fiddled with to deliver a sportier driving experience, not to mention the extra stability needed for this tall, short machine to cope with all those angry ponies. The fairly wide, street-oriented tires are central to this, but the air springs also are firmer and the Defender’s adaptive dampers have been retuned. Certain suspension-link bushings have been changed out, and the front and rear anti-roll bars are stiffer. It also helps that the broad-shouldered D90 is 79.1 inches wide and that its 5334 pounds are evenly distributed over its front and rear axles.
The result is a fluid driving experience that feels on point when the road turns twisty. There’s no excessive lean to the body, and the steering is precise and well weighted. It’s not a vehicle that begs to be pushed hard down canyon roads, but it can readily cope with a bit of hustle. Its limits aren’t very high largely due to the tires, which can only hang on with 0.78 g of grip around the skidpad, but that’s probably for the best in a 77.5-inch-tall off-road-oriented rig. That’s also more stick than you’ll get in AMG’s G63, the last of which we tested managed only 0.75 g. The bigger issue is the D90 V8’s long 195-foot stopping distance from 70 mph; from 100 mph, that number stretches considerably, to 379 feet, and is accompanied by enough short-wheelbase squirming to warrant our full attention.
There are no wallowing motions to the Defender’s ride quality, and the suspension soaks up isolated impacts efficiently. But the feeling on poorly maintained roads is less composed and a bit firmer than you’d expect. However, transition to rocky fire roads and the D90 settles back into its element, thanks in part to the flexibility provided by its all-independent suspension. Still, the D90 V8 isn’t truly at home in the dirt. Yes, it acquits itself well on the easy stuff and it has a low-range transfer case, an electronically locking differential, and a height-adjustable suspension for when the scenery gets more jumbled. But it is nevertheless held back by the gentle tread pattern and the short sidewalls of its standard 22-inch tires. All-terrain tires are optional for $350, but they’re also 22-inchers, and we’d expect them to further hamper the Defender’s braking ability and grip. The available no-cost 20-inch wheels only come shod with all-season rubber, meaning you’d still want to go tire shopping if you intend to hit the trails.
What’s more, the D90’s maximum wheel articulation isn’t as good as we’d expect from a stubby off-roader. Driven up a Ramp Travel Index (RTI) ramp, where it scored a middling 511 points, this Land Rover lifts wheels more often than the technician at your local tire store. That RTI score corresponds to 2.3 inches less wheel lift than the last four-door Defender 110 we tested, which is a testament to the deleterious effects that the D90 V8’s stiffer suspension has on its off-road capability. For reference, a two-door Bronco scores 648 points and a two-door Wrangler Rubicon is good for 847 points.
On the flip side, anyone who has spent time in the back seat of a two-door Wrangler probably won’t be raising their hand again. Climbing into the back of a two-door Bronco isn’t an order of magnitude better, though it is fairly spacious once you’re situated. In contrast, the rear quarters of a two-door Defender are actually roomy and pleasant. You’ll never look graceful getting in or out, but the D90’s fixed roof means there’s no roll bar to clamber around, and it makes for wider three-across accommodations, complete with rear climate controls and USB-C ports. Our Carpathian Edition test car thankfully lacked the $200 Signature Graphic trim panel behind the B-pillar, which needlessly creates blind spots for the driver and rear passengers alike.
Up front, the Defender’s controls are relatively straightforward, and the configurable instrument panel is loaded with useful display options. We like the blacked-out Carpathian trim and the varied dashboard texturing it brings, plus the microsuede wrap on the steering wheel feels good in your hands—as long as you keep it clean. Perhaps the biggest no-brainer is the $140 option to upgrade the standard 10.0-inch touchscreen to an 11.4-inch unit, which makes the most of the Pivi Pro infotainment system’s crisp graphics and enhanced user experience.
All this does not come cheap, with the Defender 90 V8 opening at $106,260, the Carpathian Edition tacking $6290 onto that, and our test car ringing in at $113,500 with a few options. Budget an additional $3200 if you want the added convenience of a four-door version. But the V-8-powered Defender ultimately comes off as a mixed bag. While it’s certainly fast, its engine is wonderfully brash, and it works fine as a daily driver, it also illuminates the compromises in tuning an inherently off-road-oriented vehicle for a street-oriented performance mission. Maybe it’s best not to read too much into that and enjoy the two-door Defender 90 V8 for what it is—a wildly powerful and wholly unique take on a modern SUV.
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