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Andy Harris
Motoring and Property Editor
8:56 PM 1st September 2020

The Wait Is Over – New Land Rover Defender Driven

How do you reinvent an icon? This is something that has vexed the good folk at Land Rover for many a year. The much-loved old version had clearly reached the end of its life, though good examples will be sought after for ever and a day.

A vehicle with global appeal was clearly required, something far more modern, yet just as capable in extreme off-road conditions. Most will tackle nothing more challenging than a muddy field or a snow-covered driveway and then there are the challenging kerbs outside Waitrose to contend with.

Land Rover unveiled the new Defender at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, and I was there to see the covers come off. Undoubtedly the star attraction, the general consensus was that chief designer Gerry McGovern had done a good job.

The global pandemic put paid to the UK media launch earlier this year, so it was a pleasure to finally get behind the wheel.


Fast Facts (as tested)

Land Rover Defender D240 S 110
Price £52,110 (range starts at £40,290)
240PS 2.0-litre diesel engine
8-speed automatic gearbox
430Nm torque
0-60mph in 8.7 seconds
Top speed 117mph
Combined economy 29.9mpg
Emissions from 234g/km CO2
Towing capacity 3,500kg (braked)

The Drive

The old Defender was unstoppable off road, but let’s just say it was less adept at dealing with the cut and thrust of everyday driving. I drove many and owned a Series 2a so I speak from experience…

As if to emphasise the difference, my first couple of hours with the new model encompassed a mixture of city, A-road and motorway driving. What a revelation! From the lofty driving position, the journey whizzed by. Looking back at my notes, refinement was the word that most deserves a mention here.

The high-speed cruise was pleasantly hushed, the ride yielding yet not to the detriment of cornering prowess. Chuck the new Defender at a series of challenging bends and it copes admirably, almost defying its blunt shape and high centre of gravity. The steering is nicely weighted too.

Performance from the powerful diesel engine is suitably brisk and it works well in conjunction with the smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox. There is no manual option – it won’t be missed.

Our destination was Eastnor Castle, Land Rover’s spiritual home, where acres and acres of challenging terrain would be waiting.

All the current Land Rover range are extremely capable off road. My lockdown Discovery Sport was subjected to some of Yorkshire’s harshest terrain and it coped admirably. A combination of a capable 4x4 drivetrain and clever electronics.

With such heritage, it came as no surprise to find the Defender to be extremely capable in the rough stuff. We climbed slippery slopes, squelched through gloopy mud and made controlled descents on hills I would have had trouble to walk down.

Was it any more capable than its siblings? Hard to tell without a back-to-back comparison but you would have to be an extreme clot to get a Defender stuck, no matter what the terrain. Ultimately the car’s girth is likely to be the only barrier to exploring the narrowest of tracks.
With Covid 19 still ever present, I was assigned one vehicle for the day’s event, so after a quick hose down, my formerly mud-splattered Defender and I were ready for the dash back to Land Rover HQ.

The interior

In long-wheelbase form, the Defender boasts acres of space for five large adults with plenty of boot space for their chattels. There is the option of two extra seats, useful for younger passengers. Those wishing to carry seven adults should still default to the Discovery.

Whilst not exactly a hose out interior, a good rub down with a sponge is appropriate if you’ve got mud everywhere. Wipe clean plastics, rubber floor mats etc…
‘S’ trim, as tested is the range-opener and all the expected items of kit were present and correct. SE and HSE models are available if you are feeling flush.

Options

Land Rover is offering a series of exciting accessory packs. Urban includes a spare wheel cover, scuff plates and alloy trim, Country (wheel arch protection, a rinse system and mud flaps), Adventure (built-in compressor and rinse system) and finally Explorer comes with a ladder and roof rack. I’d take them all!

The rivals

The Toyota Land Cruiser is probably the most obvious choice here. Reliable enough for the harshest environments and with an excellent reputation for reliability. Not the most exciting 4x4 to drive, but dependability is the watchword here.

Mercedes-Benz offers the G-Class, recently in receipt of a much-needed makeover. An awesome off-road vehicle, I’m told it is now better behaved on the tarmac. Expensive though…

Land Rover’s own Discovery is likely to be on a buyer’s radar too and I can see many current Disco owners choosing a Defender when they come to change. There is always a certain cachet to driving a newly introduced car.

Verdict

The new Defender strikes the right note and manages to be bang up to date, yet with a definite nod to what has gone before. Clearly now aimed at an affluent clientele who lead an active life, it looks set to please and is surely now the 4x4 to be seen in.

Immensely capable off road, refined and comfortable on it, the future looks bright for a full order book.

The three-door will hit the showrooms sometime soon (please can I have one in basic trim with steel wheels?) and rumours of a range-topping V8 version refuse to go away. More news when I have it.