Land Rover is working on a range-topping V8 version of the new Defender and the latest spy shots show it’s being put through its paces at the Nürburgring.Although it is not the natural habitat for the rugged 4×4, it suggests that extensive chassis retuning is required to ensure the Defender can handle the additional power.
Previous shots showed an undisguised Defender driving on the roads outside Land Rover’s research and development facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire, sporting the ‘Prototype Vehicle’ stickers reserved for testing mules. That was the first official sighting of a V8 variant, which had been rumoured for some time and hinted at by bosses.
Although no changes were visible at the front, a rear view of the test car revealed a quad exhaust system – used by Jaguar Land Rover for V8-powered variants only. On the Nürburgring prototype, we can now see red brake calipers, again an indication of the extra performance potential.
Sources close to the firm have confirmed the project’s existence, but the official JLR response is: “We are unable to comment on the specific nature of these [technology development] programmes.”
Autocar obtained registration data for the car pictured that shows it has a 4999cc petrol engine, suggesting it’s powered by the ‘AJ’ 5.0-litre supercharged V8 used in the Range Rover Sport SVR and Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography.
However, production of the long-serving AJ will come to an end before this year is out, as the Bridgend Ford factory in which it’s made is closed down.
For future high-performance models, JLR is set to use the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 that BMW produces for its larger M cars, under a wide-reaching powertrain deal struck between the two firms.
This alliance began with the intention to develop electrified powertrains, but sources close to the German manufacturer revealed last year that it has been extended to include supplying JLR with a range of internal combustion engines.
Although the use of the 4.4-litre V8 has yet to be officially confirmed by JLR, Autocar understands that it’s merely a formality.
It’s plausible that the 5.0-litre engine is being used primarily to test the Defender’s dynamic responses with the weight and power increases.
However, Autocar understands the V8 Defender is intended as a low-volume special variant rather than a series-production mainstay. Land Rover may well be stockpiling the Ford-built V8 for use in the Defender, because emissions targets are much less of a priority for low-volume specials.
Interestingly, sources tell us that JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division isn’t directly involved with the Defender V8 project. Instead, it’s an offshoot of the existing Defender engineering operation.
It’s likely, then, that the engine won’t offer as much firepower as full-on SVO cars, such as the 567bhp Range Rover Sport SVR. Indeed, we expect it to be tuned to near or below the 500bhp mark.