The Land Rover Defender has been revitalised for the modern era. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
The new-era Land Rover Defender brings the design of this legendary Solihull model bang up to date. Despite the modern tech, it remains as solid and uncompromising as it's always been, with off road ability to worry a Challenger tank. Approach it as an alternative to modern luxury SUVs and you've missed the point. Buy a Discovery for that. Here instead, is the hardest wearing, most capable and most cost effective proper off-roader that sensible money can buy.
You may have forgotten what a real Land Rover is - and what it looks like. These days, we associate the Solihull maker with lifestyle SUVs and Range Rover products. Rather than the kind of farm working 4x4 that Maurice Wilks developed for agricultural use back in the Forties. There are still some people who feel that this is exactly what a true off-roader should be. It shouldn't feel like a car on stilts. It needs to be rugged, practical and offer a number of field-serviceable parts. Is that what we have here? Everything has been changed to differentiate this modern era Defender from the Land Rover original - but ultimately, nothing is really very different. Thank goodness for that.
Engine-wise, the range is fundamentally built around three 2.0-litre four cylinder powerplants. The diesel offering is based around the 200hp D200 and the 240hp D240. And the petrol choice is a 300hp P300 unit. At the very top of the range, the rare Defender X gets a 3.0-litre six cylinder P400 400hp unit. On all models, you have to have 8-speed automatic transmission. You can also talk to your dealer about a plug-in hybrid model. Land Rover insists that this new-era Defender is even more capable than its predecessor, despite the fact that, unlike that previous model, there's no hard core separate chassis or rigid axles. Instead, the architecture is fundamentally the same as that which features on the current Discovery, Range Rover Sport and range Rover modes. But it rides on reinforced suspension with greater travel and there's more ground clearance too. Both coil springs and air suspension are available. As you'd expect, there's permanent 4WD, along with a Terrain Response system allowing you to set the car up for various driving conditions (or you can simply select an automatic setting and let the Defender handle everything for you). Both body shapes have impressive mud plugging stats; an approach angle of 38-degrees and a departure angle of 40-degrees. It can climb a 45-degree slope and descent a 47-degree one. And it'll wade through water up to 900mm deep. Try doing that in your lifestyle SUV.
You'd recognise this as a Defender - there are lots of design cues ensuring that, including squared-off wheelarches, super-short front and rear overhangs and so-called 'Alpine light' narrow windows set into the roof. Like the old Defender, it's possible to buy both three and five-door body shapes and, to keep some historical continuity, as before these are badged '90' and '110' respectively. Modern touches include full-LED headlights and a square body-coloured panel in the rear side glass (which is optional on the '90' and standard on the '110'). Inside, the exposed metal on the doors and the minimalist dashboard give an appropriately Defender-style feel but this time round, the cabin's wider, so you won't be bashing your wrists on the doors every time you twirl the wheel round. The mandatory auto gearbox leaves room at the front for an optional centre seat that would allow even the smallest '90' model to seat up to 6 people, even though its roadway footprint is no bigger than something like an Audi A3 family hatch. The five-door '110' model can be had in five, six or seven-seat configurations. Unlike more lifestyle-orientated SUVs, this one has its spare wheel mounted on the tailgate, which means that must be side-opening; that'll be a problem if you're in a tight parking bay.
There are two distinct sizes of Defender, the three-door '90' and the five-door '110' (though those latter figures no longer designate wheelbase length). There are five core trim levels - the standard models, then 'S', 'SE', 'HSE' and the top Defender X. Initially, there'll be a lavishly-equipped 'First Edition' model too. Whatever your choice, you'll need a plump bank balance. Forget affordable farm transport; for the '110' five-door version most will want, prices start at around £45,000 but you're far more likely to be paying well over £50,000 for the variant you want - and the top Defender X costs close to £80,000. A 'Commercial' van version will also be offered. Buyers get to choose from four optional design packs. There's 'Country', which you'll want if you'd like to replicate the classic Defender look. If you want something a little more modern, there's 'Urban', which adds a bit of bling with 22-inch wheels. 'Adventure' gives you underbody protection and side-mounted storage boxes. And 'Explorer' includes a roof rack, a roof ladder and an anti-glare bonnet. Plus of course, you'll be able to personalise your Defender to your heart's content with everything from an electric winch to a roof-top tent. There's even a removable body wrap package that protects the metallic paint when you're off roading. This model also employs Land Rover's 'ClearSight Ground View' technology which shows you the area ahead of the front wheels on a fascia-mounted screen.
The whole reason the old Defender had to be discontinued was that there was no way to make it comply with current stringent emissions regulation. This modern-era model has no such issues. In fact, the two diesel engines (both D200 and D240) can even dip just below the 200g/km NEDC-rated CO2 emissions barrier (199g/km in 110 form, variants which can also manage up to 31.7mpg of WLTP-rated combined cycle fuel consumption). If you want to do better, you'll have to talk to your dealer about the plug-in hybrid version. For the 110 P300 petrol model, the figures are 227g/km of CO2 and up to 24.7mpg. For the Defender X P400 petrol model, you're looking at 220g/km and up to 25.2mpg. Like all Defenders before it, this one will enjoy healthy residual values, buoyed by a strong rural market, easy parts availability and a vibrant owners' community. Insurance is reasonable although VED tax will sting a little. That only leaves the warranty, an unremarkable three year unlimited mileage deal. Also included is European cover and a promise to get you on your way as soon as possible in your own car or in a loan vehicle if the required repair will take longer than four hours.
Land Rover has re-invented the Defender for a new era without allowing this model to lose its iconic feel and legendary off road ability. The amount of time this car spent in development suggests how difficult it must have been to achieve this but we think many will very much like the end result. Like its predecessor, this Defender effectively operates in a virtual class of one, being a vehicle that's exempt from the usual rules of assessment. The style is unique, it'll embarrass you about any other SUV off road and it'll probably out-last you. For most people, most of the time though, a Land Rover Discovery will still be an infinitely more suitable choice. But there remains a section of the population for whom nothing other than a Defender will be quite right and these people have waited a long time for this car. If you want the real deal, there really is no substitute.
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