The Land Rover Defender is a car that has a weight of expectations on its shoulders.
Its job is to replace the original Defender – which kept virtually the same design for almost 70 years and is perhaps the most beloved off roader of all time.
The all new Defender was launched last year and I drove it then at Land Rover’s off road centre in Dunkeld. I spent a day crawling over rocks, wading through streams, crossing hillsides and exploring forests.
That was more than enough to realise the new Defender is even more capable off road than its predecessor. Indeed, it will probably get you further into the wilderness than any other 4×4 in the world.
I’ve just spent a week with the Defender and was able to investigate its on-road capabilities.
It’s a very handsome car. Land Rover hasn’t tried to mimic the original Defender but have come up with something modern and purposeful.
The Defender comes in either 110 guise – with four doors and a huge boot – or the compact 90 version I drove, which has two doors and less space inside.
It’s around £5,000 cheaper – the 90 costs from £40,290 with the 110 starting at £45,240. The two-door model is around 45cm shorter than its big brother. This makes it easier to manoeuvre around town. It’s no supermini but it will at least fit into a supermarket parking space.
The flipside is a smaller boot. While the 110 Defender has a gargantuan 1,075 litres of cargo space the 90 makes do with just 397. That’s only slightly more than you get in a Ford Focus.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5 litre V6 diesel engine. It’s available with 200, 250 or 300bhp. I drove the 250bhp version which, with a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds, is more than quick enough.
My Defender was the SE model, which adds luxuries including keyless entry, heated electric memory front seats, electric steering column, and upgrades the wheels from 18in to 20in.
The press demonstrator I drove had an additional £10,000 of optional extras fitted, including a £1,800 folding fabric roof, a £2,200 Towing Pack and air suspension at £1,685.
Of these, air suspension is the one I would most recommend shelling out for. Indeed, on-road comfort is where the new Defender really amazed me. The old version was peerless off road but awful on road – bouncy, noisy and exhausting on anything but short journeys.
I drove the Defender to the far west of Dumfriesshire, a journey of 3.5 hours, and emerged from the car totally relaxed. Smooth suspension, a whisper quiet interior, comfortable seats and a high driving position make it a fantastic long distance cruiser. In fact, it’s even better off road and virtually as good on road as the more expensive Land Rover Discovery.
The downside is that the heavy four-wheel drive Defender is thirsty. Official fuel economy is 32.8mpg but in reality you can expect mpg in the high 20s at best.
Some could find the interior a little too plush for its intended purpose. Farmers may want to throw a tup in the back from time to time, or tree surgeons a chainsaw and a pile of rounds.
Look closely, though, and everything is designed to be hard wearing and easy to wipe down. Flooring is rubber and door panels contain plenty of exposed metal that should resist dirt, oil and other grime.
The Defender will tow 3.5 tonnes and the optional winch can pull 4.5 tonnes. It will wade through 90cm deep water. You can carry 168kg on the roof while on the move, or put 300kg up there when it’s standing still (a rooftop tent is an optional extra).
Front, side and rear cameras mean it’s easy to keep an eye on the vehicle’s edges when pulling tricky off road manoeuvres.
Of course, buyers should go for the 110 Defender. Rear doors and a huge boot are worth paying a little extra for. However I found myself absurdly fond of the 90 and it was with sadness that I handed back the keys.
Its astonishing go-anywhere ability means the Defender will be overkill for the vast majority of buyers. It is an incredibly capable vehicle, though, and this model’s fantastic comfort means it is now as capable on road as it is off road.
Model as tested: Land Rover Defender SE
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 117mph
CO2 emissions: 226g/km