Gee, Landie Wagon: We Drive the Quickest Defender That Land Rover Has Ever Built

Land Rover Defender

While we eagerly await a completely new Land Rover Defender, it doesn’t take much to rekindle our nostalgia over the bare-knuckled brawn of the original, which was introduced overseas in 1983 but had roots in the original Series I Landie of 70 years ago. A recent short drive of a re-engineered version, the Defender Works V8, celebrating Land Rover’s 70th anniversary, reminded us of all that this handsome brute can be while serving up a surprise under the hood: a modern V-8 and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Defender was last offered in the United States in 1997 and has been out of production, period, since early 2016. But now the company’s Land Rover Classic operation chooses primo used vehicles to restore and upfits them with new, factory-original (or better, in this case) components. Carefully chosen off-the-shelf components for this edition include a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter Jaguar Land Rover V-8, an eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission, and upgraded brakes. The traditional live-axle layout remains but benefits from a handling kit that includes new springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars. It adds up to some youthful vigor within the chiseled, handsomely weathered shell. Since Land Rover itself recalibrated everything—the Defender 110 Works V8 we drove was a 2015 model—the bonus is that the powertrain mapping plays nicely with the traction control, and everything simply works. And as we found out in a recent short drive of the Works V8, the transplants go a long way toward improving performance without messing with the magic.

Land Rover Defender

The new engine’s 399 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque are enough to make the Defender Works V8 the most powerful (and quickest) Defender ever created by Land Rover itself. According to the brand, it can sprint to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. That’s for the shorter 90, although we drove the somewhat longer and heavier 110—the designations refer to the wheelbase in inches. In all, it’s quite an improvement over the former Buick/Rover gasoline V-8 (which made 182 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque) and four-speed automatic transmission, the last combination that was offered in the United States. When we tested one in 1997, we were awestruck by the Defender 90’s off-road chops but saw it as compromised for the pavement and “about as sophisticated as a claw hammer.” On that 550-mile trip, this correspondent found it was barely able to keep up with American freeway speeds.

With this transplant, the Defender has a punchiness that it never had in production form—especially if you don’t count the diesels sold in other regions—as well as quick, decisive downshifts and strong passing power. The Jag V-8 sounds the part, too, settling in to a nice thrum at idle and emitting a baritone note on harder acceleration that feels like a a counterpoint to the brashness.

In many other respects, the experience is that of a vintage SUV. It’s a long step up into the Defender, and the driver’s-seat accommodations are tight; there’s not much legroom in front, so taller drivers (like this one) need to splay their legs to the sides and find themselves close to the windshield header as well as the lower rim of the steering wheel. The view outward is excellent, however, and you always have a good lay of the land in terms of where the corners and fenders are. Compared with modern vehicles, its gauges are very low in the line of sight, but they’re big, round, and analog.

Land Rover Defender

Outside of the engine and transmission, there remain plenty of reminders that this actually is effectively a vintage truck. There’s some play in the steering and wander on center that takes some getting used to, as does the full-body waggle when you stomp your right foot down, but it’s easy to embrace the level of communication you receive through the steering wheel from the knobby all-terrain tires.

Prices start at about $210,000, but even if you’re flush with cash and connections, you can’t get one of these in the United States. For now it’s available via Land Rover Classic only in the U.K. and in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets. European countries are handled on a case-by-case basis. The plan at this point is to build just 150 copies of this version.

The next Defender will no doubt deliver a very different kind of on-road (and off-road) experience, along with loads of modern comforts that this Land Rover—the Land Rover to many—never had. Yet for a vehicle that essentially began its life as a farm implement, it has come a very long and very charming way.

Land-Rover-Defender-REEL

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Gee, Landie Wagon: We Drive the Quickest Defender That Land Rover Has Ever Built

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2019 Honda Insight: A More Civic-Like Hybrid Tries Again to Beat the Prius

2019-Honda-Insight-PLACEMENT
-With the 2019 Insight, Honda is hoping that the third time’s the charm for this nameplate, which promises the future but hasn’t always been in tune with it. Nearly 20 years after the introduction of the original high-mpg featherweight Honda Insight—the first hybrid sold in the United States—hybrids comprise roughly 2 percent of the new-passenger-vehicle market, yet they didn’t account for much more than 1 percent of Honda’s U.S. sales last year. READ MORE ››

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2019 Honda Insight: The 50-MPG Civic Hybrid Returns – Official Photos and Info

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Gold Mine: 2018 BMW X2 Tested!

2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i

There’s a BMW roundel stuck to the C-pillar of the new X2. It’s an impossible-to-miss detail on a crossover-hatchback thing that is in itself impossible to miss, especially in Galvanic Gold Metallic. It looks great stuck back there, behind the X2’s version of the Hofmeister kink. Does it matter that only the most devout of the BMW faithful will know that this badge is a tribute to the CS coupes of the 1960s and ’70s? READ MORE ››

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2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i – Instrumented Test

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Waymo Chief Says His Company’s Self-Driving Tech “Would Be Able to Handle” Fatal Uber Crash Scenario

This March 19, 2018 still image taken from video provided by ABC-15, shows investigators at the scene of a fatal accident involving a self driving Uber car on the street in Tempe, Ariz.

Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said he is confident his company’s technology “would be able to handle” a scenario like the one that resulted in a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber vehicle, the first such death on a public road. Krafcik was speaking Saturday at a National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) convention in Las Vegas just six days after the accident; the ripple effects on automated-vehicle development and the auto industry as a whole are expected to continue for some time. Uber has since suspended its self-driving-vehicle testing across its operations in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto, and Toyota has said it will “temporarily pause” testing of its self-driving systems on public roads in Michigan and California.

It’s still unclear why Uber’s automated Volvo XC90 was unable to avoid fatally hitting 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg on March 18 as she crossed a road with her bike in Tempe, Arizona. Tempe police have released camera footage of the crash, and in an inward-facing video of the cockpit, the Uber human backup driver appears distracted and looking down in the moments leading up to the fatal collision with Herzberg. In an outward-facing view of the road ahead, Herzberg is seen with her bike, having crossed at least one lane of the road, just before she is hit. Questions such as why even a basic automated emergency braking system apparently failed to detect Herzberg remain. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Krafcik told NADA attendees his company has been shaken by what happened in Tempe. “For those of us at Waymo, it was a very sad day, because that was an accident that was in a car that had technology representing the self-driving space,” he said. He said that, at Waymo, “It is that mission of safety and avoiding accidents just like that one that really bring us all together as a company.”

Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving-car program, said earlier this year that it has completed more than five million miles of autonomous-vehicle testing on public roads. Krafcik emphasized the company’s automated-vehicle technology goes through rigorous testing before it is deployed on its Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Asked directly if Waymo’s self-driving technology would have reacted differently than Uber’s did in the fatal crash, Krafcik said he wanted to be respectful of the victim and noted that there are still ongoing investigations, but he added: “Based on our knowledge of what we’ve seen so far with that accident, and our own knowledge of the robustness that we’ve designed into our systems, I can say with some confidence that in situations like that one—pedestrians, and in this case a pedestrian bicyclist, or with a bicycle—we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that.”

Regardless of how Waymo and Uber may differ technologically, the companies are linked financially in a frenemy sort of way. Waymo sued the ride-hailing company, reportedly for $1 billion in damages, alleging it had stolen trade secrets. The two settled in February 2018, giving Waymo a 0.3 percent stake in Uber. With Uber then valued at $72 billion, that added up to about a $245 million holding.

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2019 Toyota Yaris Sedan: iA No More

2019-Toyota-Yaris-Sedan-PLACEMENT

After two model years, the Toyota Yaris iA is dead. In its stead comes the 2019 Toyota Yaris sedan. Like its Yaris iA forebear and the Scion iA that came before it, the Yaris sedan continues as a rebadged, fish-faced Mazda 2 (a model that’s no longer sold in the United States). Minor changes to the Yaris sedan’s mug relative to its Yaris iA antecedent include a new honeycomb-style grille and available LED headlights. READ MORE ››

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2019 Toyota Yaris Sedan – Official Photos and Info

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2018 Hyundai Kona – First Drive Review

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