What is it?
Overhauled versions of the recently deceased Land Rover Defender are nothing new. Most of us are now familiar with names such as Twisted and Khan, who’ll either take your Defender and modify it, or provide you with a blank canvas to modify at will.
In much the same way, JE Engineering is nothing new either. It’s been around since the mid-1970s and is perhaps best known for its work on performance versions of the P38 Range Rover. In fact, JE would like to think it played a small part in the birth of the Range Rover Sport.
An honest name like JE Engineering should give some idea of what the company is trying to achieve, and how it believes it stands out against its main rivals. Sure, its business includes everything from purely aesthetic modifications to diesel engine upgrades and automatic gearbox conversions, but the Zulu 2 is very much a standalone halo product. In turn, JE Motorworks is its new sub-brand.
You start with a standard 90 or 110, but JE will then fit a unique, bored-up, 475bhp 4.7-litre version of JLR’s supercharged last-generation 4.2 V8. Drive goes through a six-speed auto ‘box borrowed from Ford – more commonly fitted to its F150 – and letting the V8 sing is a bespoke stainless steel exhaust with high-flow cats. A Quaife LSD has been added at the rear, and the 110’s beefier four-pin differential has been shuffled from the back to the front axle.
Thankfully the considerable go has been countered with the addition of some considerable stop: JE’s ‘big brake’ conversion features 362mm grooved discs and six-piston calipers with upgraded pads at the front. Fox racing dampers all round, lowered springs at the rear and stiffer anti-roll bars are included to improve ride and handling.
What’s it like?
While JE feels its bespoke mechanical engineering is what sets it apart, there are aesthetic changes. A full respray is included in a choice of colours, as are LED lights all-round, an exclusive machine aluminium Zulu grille and unique side vents, side steps, 18in Hawke alloy wheels, tinted windows and plenty of JE badging.
Clamber up inside and while the basic dash architecture and controls are familiar, little else is. The Zulu benefits from different front seats with heating and extra bolstering, and all six seats (in their 2-2-2 configuration) can be covered in cloth, Alcantara, or as we experienced fine quilted leather.
The re-trim doesn’t stop there. The Zulu’s roof lining, dash top and grab handles, door cards, carpet and steering wheel all get the JE treatment, too, and there’s extra soundproofing, exclusive air vents and even a different clock face. Our car sported a simple single-DIN Alpine stereo, but JE says everything from 10-speaker sounds systems to sat-nav is possible.
Of course, none of this cures the Defender’s woeful ergonomics. There’s very little driver’s seat and wheel adjustment, so the tall still sit with their knees around their ears, and the most comfortable position for your outside arm remains the window sill. Overall cabin quality is vastly improved, but when you’re starting with a standard Defender this is faint praise. Truthfully, next to, say, a similarly priced Mercedes G63, the Zulu feels a little downmarket.
Turning the key sends the V8 turning over for three or four seconds before firing with a guttural rumble and settling to a slightly lumpy idle. Blip the throttle and the trademark JLR V8 noise rasps from the pipes accompanied by hilarious torque roll.
Any ergonomic discomfort will be firmly at the back of your mind the first time you stamp on the accelerator. Throttle response is savage, although it begins a fair way down the pedal’s travel, and with 369lb ft available from a little more than 2000rpm and 479lb ft arriving soon after, all four wheels often lose traction when you accelerate hard from a standstill.
Heading in straight lines in the Zulu is great fun, with little more than a raised nose and subsequently lighter steering to contend with. Cornering, however, requires serious concentration. Initially, because the Zulu’s brakes are very effective, but like its throttle, effective a good way down its pedal travel.
Once settled into a bend, the chassis upgrades make the Zulu a more upright and composed thing when cornering hard, and our car’s 285/60 Michelin road tyres offered decent grip on dry Tarmac, but even part throttle has the ability to unsettle poise and grip, and mid-corner lumps and bumps are still best avoided. JE has fiddled with the Defender’s steering too, and while slightly more direct, it remains as slow to centre, heavy and uncommunicative as ever.
So, cornering is really about judging entry speed, turning the wheel and leaving the throttle well alone. At least, at a cruise JE’s fettling has resulted in a ride quality that is marginally improved over the standard 110’s. Indeed, much of the sting is taken out of sharp ruts, even if there’s still little genuine primary or secondary sophistication.
General refinement, though, remains pretty poor. There’s still a huge amount of wind and tyre noise at speed, the gearbox often hunts for gears and is noticeably abrupt between fist and second, while quick applications of throttle results in substantial transmission shunt when stepping-off.
Should I buy one?
Spending more than £150,000 on a Land Rover Defender 110 is ludicrous. Even spending that on one as thoroughly reworked as the Zulu2 seems daft. But then, I speak as somebody who can often be found in a financial foetal position half way through the month, lying in wait for pay day to arrive.
After selling 20 examples of its first-generation 4.2 V8 Zulu, JE plans to sell 25 Zulu2s, mainly to people in the Middle East, and I’m pretty certain that I and they don’t share the same financial outlook. For them, exclusivity is absolutely key, and JE Engineering’s Zulu offers just that. Remember the car you see in these pictures is a mere example – everything can be altered, and there will likely be no two Zulus the same.
In reality, whether or not the Zulu is ‘any good’ isn’t really important. In all the objective ways we test cars, it absolutely isn’t, and that it isn’t quite as well sorted as Twisted’s V8 petrol equivalent probably isn’t relevant either. Of more importance is whether or not it’s fun, and the answer to that is, undoubtedly. For the majority of potential buyers taken with the concept, that’s quite possibly all that matters.
JE Motorworks Zulu2 110
Location Berkshire; On sale now; Price £154,500 (inc VAT); Engine V8, 4700cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 475bhp; Torque 479lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd auto; Kerb weight 2010kg (est); 0-62mph 5.6sec (est); Top speed 125mph (est); Economy 20.0mpg (combined, est); CO2/tax band 300g/km (est), 37%
What is it?