Perhaps unsurprisingly for a car of Olympic-class proportions, the Defender 130 has tended to divide opinion. Depending on your day-to-day requirements, it’s either too big, ungainly looking and costly to ever consider buying for a moment - or, if you want a 110 with a usefully big boot or a ‘proper’ SUV for a large family, it might be just what you’ve been waiting for. Land Rover probably knows that the first group dramatically outnumber the second. Yet evidently it has enough faith in the 130’s potential customer base to think it sufficiently pumped at the idea of being able to buy one with a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 that the six-figure asking price ought to prove no deterrent.
Of course, when it comes to the business of uniting its largest engine with capacious SUVs, the manufacturer has considerable form. Beyond the go-to example of the last-generation Range Rover Sport SVR - which finished up with 575hp - Land Rover installed various derivatives of the V8 in the L405 Range Rover from day one. The successors to both models have since migrated to the turbocharged 4.4-litre alternative, but the Defender, it seems, is immune from BMW’s influence; the 90 and 110 Defenders are already available with a supercharger, making it probably only a matter of time before the 130 followed suit. Certainly, Land Rover has treated its introduction like a fait accompli.
Nevertheless, there are subtle differences. In the eight-seater (though you can have it as a five) the V8’s peak output is slightly lower at 500hp and 450lb ft of torque (compared with 525hp and 461lb ft in the 110) and its maker made no mention of the dynamic chassis tweaks that were trumpeted when its smaller stablemates were introduced. Based on it wearing the same standard 22-inch wheels - and weighing in at 2,670kg unladen, assuming you’ve opted for a third row of seats - it’s probably safe to assume the larger V8 gets its own model-specific suspension settings. As you might also expect, with less outright power shifting even more people-carrying heft, it gets model-specific performance figures: 0-60mph is claimed to take 5.4 seconds, three-tenths shy of the 110.
Truthfully, even that number feels a tad optimistic from the driver’s seat. Bung another adult in the 130 and stretch the finishing tape to 62mph, and PH would be comfortable betting the Christmas lunch money on the resulting number starting with a 6. Land Rover’s latest V8 badge-wearer is never less than ingratiatingly hasty, but residual memory of the previous SVR Ultimate (and even the lardy, super-luxurious Range Rover SVAutobiography) suggests that some of the old rabidness - especially the sensation of unrelenting acceleration throughout the rev range - has been smothered by the sheer bigness of the stretched Defender.
Some of this deficit is likely by design. When it launched the previous V8 derivatives, Land Rover made a point of telling us that it was keen to preserve the integrity of the Defender’s suety handling, which precluded the option of tying down the air suspension as it did with the SVR (even conceding that the 110 had started in a far more extreme place before being walked back). With an even larger, heavier car to bear in mind - one specifically designed to accommodate up to three children over the rear axle - the manufacturer probably concluded that the V8-powered 130 is plenty quick enough as it is with 500hp.
It feels like the right decision. In fact, it is precisely because the supercharged version seems only fractionally different from the D300 we drove last year that PH emerged from it with a cheese-eating grin. Even if the V8 doesn’t propel you forward with quite the same physical venom you’d find elsewhere - or sound quite as raucous - it has lost nothing in the mischief-making department. In the diesel 130 you drive contentedly and considerately, like a librarian at the wheel of a plush school minibus. In the flagship model, with the supercharger’s whiny elasticity egging you on and a gear selector to manually prod, there’s a tendency to drive like the captain of the football team on a promise.
Again, that the car isn’t quite capable of ludicrous speed works to its advantage; you tend to keep your toe in for longer as the V8 works against the tonnage. Plus there’s the sheer wanton silliness of whipping something barn-sized into a mock frenzy, not least because the 130 is so good at soaking up surface-level punishment. Precious little upsets the air-sprung chassis, even when loaded up on its preposterously large wheels. And unlike a supercharged L405, which would lift its skirt magnanimously under similar conditions, Land Rover’s decision to make the Defender a better connected and more involving steer pays off: the 130 is a guilty pleasure to hustle along a fast, flowing road.
Handily, its limit is fairly obvious, too. We’re probably becoming worryingly accustomed to tipping high-sided EVs into corners at bewildering speeds, so it’s something of a relief to discover that the best-part-of-three-tonnes Defender wants a fair bit of cautionary braking before you turn in. Helpful, too, that the speed of the steering and rate of body roll are so well aligned with your expectations, and that the 130 is just communicative enough for your sense of control to seem intuitive - a knack that Land Rover specialises in.
Its other speciality - peerless off-road ability - is naturally here in spades. That hen house of a back end might shave a few degrees off the Defender’s departure angle, but you’ll need to be doing something fairly ambitious for it to become a problem. Virtually anything else you encounter that seems even halfway doable is probably going to turn out for the best, what with every gizmo under the sun onboard and a lusty V8 supplying the grit. Punctures might be an additional consideration given the mass pressing mercilessly down on Mother Nature, although PH will concede that the one picked up during a one-hour romp across a waterlogged Somerset was likely the result of excessive speed, not weight.
That you’d need the patience of saint’s blessed mother not to ignore the plodding advantages of low range and drive everywhere earthy with the gearbox in ’S’ says much about the 130. Its maker has left plenty of room to insert a still more powerful, purposeful SVX trim level above its existing V8 lineup should it wish, but it’s hard to imagine anything exceeding the big fella for a gratuitous sense of fulfilment. Short of a race track - or possibly the narrow back streets of a city or anything involving a tight parking space - it is hard to think of a backdrop that would thwart your enthusiasm for being in one.
But PH already counts itself among the converted. If you have no use for the 130’s point-of-difference size or remain unconvinced by its forthright styling, then the introduction of a V8 isn’t going to change your mind. And while the flagship’s £116,845 starting price might be greeted by some as merely par for the course, the thought of saving £36,260 by buying a (hugely commendable in its own right) D300 HSE is likely to linger. Probably, though, that's all by the by. The 130 was already an outlier in the marketplace, suitable for precious few. As we suspected it might, the introduction of an outlandish, petrol-gulping halo model has done its maverick reputation no harm whatsoever. Quite the opposite. This might be Land Rover’s most likeable car.
SPECIFICATION | LAND ROVER DEFENDER 130 V8
Engine: 5,000cc, V8, supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 500@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 450@2,500-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds (to 60mph)
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 2,670kg (DIN)
Price: £116,845 (as tested £117,375)
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