The Land Rover Defender is a vehicle of extremes.
From the wild terrains it is capable of traversing to the excesses of the options list, there are plenty of extremes, including the sharp contrast between certain models.
Take, for example, the two cars I recently drove in quick succession. On the one hand, there’s the super sensible Hard Top 110 - a long-wheelbase commercial vehicle designed to offer the most practical application of the new Defender.
On the other, there’s the V8 Defender 90 - a short-wheelbase model powered by a frankly ludicrous 5.0-litre engine and about as sensible as gluing yourself to the road to protest about house insulation.
The Defender has always had a reputation as a versatile workhorse and soon after revealing the passenger car Land Rover confirmed that it was returning to the commercial vehicle segment with the Hard Top variant.
Available in 90 and 110 wheelbases, the Hard Top is a fully compliant N1 certified CV. The rear doors remain but the windows have been blanked out with a “utility” panel to provide additional security and a space for company logos.
Behind the metal, the rear space of the Defender has been turned into a single flat load space capable of carrying 2,000 litres of whatever you can throw at it. The load bed is rugged, ridged and rubber-lined and there are lashing points, plus towage in the rear door and in the side panels.
Beneath the cargo bed, where the passenger footwells would be, are a number of hidden lockable storage areas, including one that stretches the width of the cargo bay from door to door.
As with every Defender, the 110 Hard Top features the latest Terrain Response system and two-speed transfer box to ensure that it can cope with whatever its owner’s working day can throw at it and the Defender has lost none of the rugged go-anywhere abilities that made its name in the first place.
Yet, in the cabin even this “workhorse” version features the latest Pivi Pro infotainment touchscreen, heated seats, a 360-degree exterior camera and cruise control, making it far more appealing than commercial Land Rovers of old.
If the Hard Top is the sensible, practical face of Land Rover, the V8 Defender is what happens when everyone has one too many sherries at the Christmas party and decides to squeeze a supercharged 5.0-litre engine beneath the Defender’s square bonnet.
The engine has seen service in any number of high-performance JLR cars over the years, from the Jaguar F-Type to the Range Rover Sport SVR. Here, it’s tuned to produce 518bhp and 461lb ft, giving this boxy 4x4 a 0-60mph time of just 4.9 seconds and top speed of 149mph.
It is, frankly, ridiculous. You sit as high up as you do in any Defender - that’s higher than most other things on the road - yet power towards the horizon with the speed of a low-slung sports car. It’s joyfully silly and accompanied by a great deep bellow from the tuned quad exhausts.
To try to keep all that power in some sort of order, the transmission has be retuned and an active electronic rear diff fitted, while the suspension has been overhauled to match the Defender’s sudden change in character.
The standard Defender surprised with just how well it handles the on-road business and the V8 version sharpens that up further, especially once you delve into dynamic drive mode.
Uprated springs and dampers have been added to the air suspension to bring a degree more control and responsiveness. The V8 corners faster and flatter than its lesser-powered stablemates without losing their overall ride comfort, despite sitting on 22-inch wheels.
It is not the final word in driving dynamics. It is, after all, still a big, tall two-tonne 4x4 with the ground clearance to allow serious off-roading. However, it is surprising just how handy it feels even on small twisting roads.
And for all its ludicrous performance posturing, like every other Defender this one can tow 3.5 tonnes or disappear across a muddy field at a moment’s notice.
Do we need a 500+bhp version of the Defender - a self-avowed “proper off-roader”? Probably not. Am I glad it exists? Absolutely.
And if that’s just too silly for you, well then there’s always that practical Hard Top.
Land Rover Defender Hard Top 110 D250 S
Price: From £45,208 (excl. VAT); Engine: 3.0-litre, straight-six, mild hybrid, diesel; Power: 246bhp; Torque: 420lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 117mph; 0-60mph: 8.3 seconds; Economy: 31.8mpg; CO2 emissions: 233g/km
Land Rover Defender 90 V8
Price: From £100,890; Engine: 5.0-litre, V8, supercharged, petrol; Power: 518bhp; Torque: 461lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 149mph; 0-60mph: 4.9 seconds; Economy: 19.3mpg; CO2 emissions: 330g/km