Confident not only in the brakes but your ability to accurately place such a wide car, thoughts turn to the engine. Which is monstrous, in short, with the same bassy, metallic zing enjoyed by F-Type SVR owners and a good response, despite the Bulldog’s longer throttle. This unit peaks at 6000rpm, at which point the full swashbuckling theatre of the thing wants to explode from it glassfibre body. You get charisma to match the absurd concept of a road-going rally-raid car, but without the chuntering, rough idle and aggressive fuelling that make racecar engines such a challenge. Equally, the Bulldog’s engine fires readily, settles into a smooth idle and eases 1800kg off the mark effortlessly. It is not a difficult car to gently flow through Northants’ villages, though it’s hard to escape the feeling one clipped sandstone buttress might bring the whole settlement down.
How fast? You’d lose sight of an Audi RS4 through corners but would certainly catch the thing when the road opened out. The calibration is undertaken by Land Rover, and so while this ZF gearbox doesn’t snap leanly between ratios in the blink of an eye, it is smooth, and in fact a small interruption in the delivery of torque only serves to exaggerate the drama. There’s a pause for breath, then onwards, as you zip through the short ratios.
That the Bulldog does this without comically rearing its nose under power is the giveaway that body control through corners will be excellent, and so it proves. There is roll but not much, and the rates feel just so natural. This is a million miles from the traditional Defender experience and, in terms of the car’s all-round dynamism, not far from what you’d get from the Range Rover Sport with which it shares various mechanicals. Our example isn’t even wearing anti-roll bars, either, which has you wondering whether even trackdays wouldn’t phase a Bulldog.
Meanwhile, untethering the Bowler off road is riotously good fun. Admittedly, this is not news, but I didn’t expect it to present as an Alpine A110 for unforgiving environments. Once you realise the most effective way to change course and head off any understeer is to use the throttle as assertively and early on in the corner as possible, the level of control and adjustability is phenomenal. Rear suspension travel is almost 300mm, with the front only a little less, and the ability of Bilstein’s twin-spring, remote-reservoir dampers to methodically absorb massive inputs and stay the car’s course breeds confidence.
Being nose heavy and with four-wheel drive, the Bulldog tends to quickly pull itself straight after the rear tyres cut loose, but with enough momentum it’ll hold vast, permissive slides that are a joy to supervise. Indeed, the faster you go, the smoother it gets, and the resilience of this chassis is profound. One jump – some may have mistaken it for the BA456 to Tangier – resulted in no more than a crushed skid-plate.