The consistent proliferation of raised-body vehicles has euthanised that decades-old SUV term, relegating it to a rather broad mix of machinery in which you now find more apt and more specific descriptors. The Land Rover Defender though, can’t be described as anything else. It doesn’t fit the many moulds scattered across the segment.
Instead the new Defender has managed to transcend the distinction of its historical ilk into hallowed territory of aesthetic and mechanical excellence combined with real-world street cred.
To start, I’d call the overall design quite clever. To combine styling cues from a bygone generation with modernity and robustness in equal measure takes some doing. And it’s been done. Defender oozes all the superlatives you can ponder: cool, sophisticated, tough, fresh, authentic…and so it goes. This design is more of a win because it caters to a variety of tastes. There is a package or aesthetic option available either free or at a well-priced optional value that will appease all, from the most city-centric to the most intrepid adventurer.
It’s much the same as you climb aboard into a cabin that feels as homely as Sunday lunch yet as technologically savvy as a 10-year-old with a device and some WiFi. Again, Land Rover’s attention to traditional detail is appreciated. The exposed screws, the hand holds, the storage spaces, the material finish all point to a car that will withstand the harsh realities of an overland excursion with the same shrug as a family of 5 trekking to and from school and extra-curriculars every day. It’s charming, uncomplicated and loveable - and that’s before you drive it.
Cabin space is superb. Legroom, headroom, shoulder room and seating position comfort is all simply stellar. This reality of space is made even more appealing because of the amount of external light let in through the windows, the panoramic roof and the little side windows reminiscent of the old steed that this new car replaces.
From the front, the driving environment is distinctly modern Land Rover. The control panels and switchgear are woven into a central Pivi Pro infotainment display that houses most functions of the car. Information, entertainment and connectivity are housed within Pivi Pro – but you’ll also get access and view the Terrain Response 2 system. There’s a whole bunch of technology just within that but you can read about that when you click through the DRIVE tab. Camera-based technology has been employed by Land Rover to possibly the greatest user effect. The cameras surrounding the vehicle assist with 360-view as well as offering the driver the ability to specifically see a certain part of the vehicle and receive superimposed vehicle location images for various angles of the vehicle too, not just from the top. And then there is a team of what Land Rover calls ClearSight technology. ClearSight ground view lets you see ‘through’ the bottom of the vehicle for wheel placements particularly in rough terrain. ClearSight rear view allows you to see out the back of the car even when it is fully loaded and normal rear view mirror sight is obstructed.
This 2.0-litre, turbodiesel D240 is the range-opening powertrain. With a power output of 177kW at 4,000rpm and 430Nm from 1,400rpm, it’s a peach of an engine despite the near 2.4-ton heft of the Defender. Fitted with the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, the combination is refined, reassuringly powerful and able to play to a number of the Defender’s strengths. One of these is on-road comfort where somehow, fitted with the optional air-suspension, Land Rover has endowed the Defender with impeccable road manners and an ability to make light work of nearly any road imperfections. In this regard, it’s as far from its predecessor as anything you can imagine. Consider body roll, NVH levels, composure – all the things that you could wonder about a car’s on-road competence – these have been covered.
Off-road competence is unsurprisingly beguiling. Within the simplicity of the switchgear is Land Rover’s smart Terrain Response II System, packed with ECU’s and sensors that smartly detect and decide on the easiest way up and over or through a rough bit of terrain. Smart and intuitive cameras surrounding the vehicle give you a 360-degree view of the entire car, including what’s under the front wheels (yes really). Getting it wrong in a Defender is inexcusable. The Defender has been built with everybody in mind. For the purist adventurer or die-hard 4x4 person – the new Defender has configurable settings for off-roading. I.e. one is able to individually select behaviour or response from the steering, the differentials, the traction control settings and the powertrain. But if you’re entirely useless at off-roading but happen to find yourself in some tricky terrain, the automatic mode or the pre-configured modes are already there for you.
Maximum 4x4 capability is best exploited with the air suspension fitted which raises the ground clearance to just under 300mm. Approach and departure angles are 38-degrees and 40-degress respectively and it will happily wade in murky water that is 900mm deep. What more?
There are many options with which to load your Defender and this places it in a category of luxury ownership that some direct competitors don’t. Of course, most added extras will hike the price but if you’re smart, you’ll opt for the D240 so that your end number isn’t too much to gulp down. Either way, you’re onto an excellent purchase.
This is the value for money choice in the long range of Defenders available. It’s the cheapest but certainly punches above its weight.
The demerits are around the waiting period on these and on how these cars will weather the storm of long-term ownership. Toyota drivers will tell you that the Defender is just too computerised and complex – and therefore it will let you down when you absolutely don’t want it to. Only time will tell.
What is certain is that it is indeed a complex machine designed to improve life for its owner. I can’t deny its excellence on the value of my time with the Defender.
On merit alone, the Defender scores highly and there are early signs of resale value retention being better than any other Land Rover product out there. That makes this Land Rover Defender in any shade or grade worth all the money…and the waiting. Our only suggestion would be to serious adventurers who would do well to fit more fit-for-purpose off-road rubber. But apart from that, this is a seriously capable and desirable car from Land Rover. I want one.