A couple of weeks ago, spy photographers snapped a prototype 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 with quad-pipes curled under the bumper. When the shooters ran the vehicle's license plate, they discovered the prototype was powered by a 5.0-liter V8. The easy connection is that Land Rover borrowed the automaker's well-traveled AJ 5.0-liter that comes in two supercharged flavors, one making 518 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, the other 557 hp and 516 lb-ft. The easy question is: Why? Unfortunately, we don't have an easy answer, but we can't imagine the testing is for giggles — automakers already have too much to do and less money than they'd like for doing it. Autocar suspects Land Rover is prepping a production Defender V8 because the market is there, and will employ limited production numbers and high price to keep the SUV from blowing up Jaguar Land Rover's fleet average CO2 emissions.
The mag writes that in 2017, Land Rover lead designer Gerry McGovern avowed his desire to use the automaker's Special Vehicle Operations division to put tuners "out of business." The Range Rover is a popular canvas for owners and aftermarket companies drawing up extra-luxurious one-offs. Yet Autocar believes McGovern was talking about the Defender, the old model having become an unreasonably fashionable starting point for six-figure SUVs that can max out on burly or luxury or both; a copy of the Bowler-tuned Defender 110 pickup used in the James Bond film Spectre cost $165,000. It's unlikely SVO could dent, much less crush, the global gaggle of small shops doing Defender restomods — those shops, after all, don't need to worry about CO2 emissions, OEM regulations, and brand pedigree. But an in-house Defender with a big V8 could get in on the very profitable party, the same way Land Rover sold all 150 Defender V8 70th Anniversary models in a month at £150,000 a pop.
We're told SVO isn't marshaling this project, the series-production engineering team is. If a V8 does find its way under the hood, which one would it be? The 5.0-liter the brand is known for is now gray-haired and tied to Ford, and the Ford Bridgend Engine Plant that builds the engine is shutting down later this year. Autocar believes it's possible Land Rover could build up a stash of the V8s, which would be handy if there were a hard production cap on the V8 Defender. Or, with Jaguar Land Rover having all but closed a deal last year for a supply of the BMW 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 — a deal in the works for three years — the German option would provide plenty of power with a little less thirst than the 5.0-liter. Autocar figures a performance Defender would be rated at something like 500 hp or below, giving it plenty of altitude above the Defender's most powerful production version, the mild-hybrid straight-six putting out 395 hp.
With the rollout of the bread-and-butter models still in the early innings, don't expect to see a V8 Defender for at least a year, if it happens.