First, I have to declare an interest. I’ve owned a Land Rover Defender since 2001. We’ve been inseparable for tens of thousands of miles, suffered the occasional ‘marital’ breakdown but through the oil leaks and tears remain truly, deeply in love.
So when Land Rover pulled the plug on the Defender in 2016 I and many other enthusiasts were left in a state of grubby-fingered mourning. How could they kill off a vehicle that remains a symbol of great Britishness around the world?
That was three years ago and now I’m standing next to the all-new Defender. Available to order from 11 September 2019, one of the most long-awaited vehicles in motoring history is about to face its toughest challenge to date.
After scaling the peaks of the highest mountain tracks, traversing the deepest rivers, the new Defender now confronts an almost impossible task.
Can the new Land Rover Defender live up to its predecessor?
It not only has to please the farmers and enthusiasts who have yearned for its long-overdue return but a new generation of prosperous SUV drivers too – those who are more concerned about image and cupholders than durability and genuine off-road ability.
To be honest, the old Defender was noisy, polluting and based on a 70-year-old design, darn right dangerous in many ways. The new one is very different indeed. It will drive like a ‘normal’ car, offer a smorgasbord of lifestyle options and even feature hybrid electric versions – they won’t like that down my local in the shire.
Clever, characterful and still instantly recognisable as a Defender, Land Rover promise their new baby has already been tested to the limit around the world and will boast proper all-terrain ability – even parking on the pavement outside Harrods.
Available in traditional long and short-wheel base, first on the road early next year will be the 110 - that’s 110 inches long - version. It’s priced at the not insignificant £45,240, and from mid 2020 the 90 model will come onto the market at around £40,290. A farmer-friendly commercial version will cost from £35,000 plus VAT.
Chief designer, Gerry McGovern, told Saga: “The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it. This is a new Defender for a new age. Its unique personality is accentuated by its distinctive silhouette and optimum proportions, which make it both highly desirable and seriously capable.
“It is a visually compelling 4x4 that wears its design and engineering integrity with uncompromising commitment.”
The high tech interior of the new Land Rover Defender
Inside, it’s good to see the basic, stripped-back personality of the original Defender has been embraced in the new model. Some structural elements and fixings usually hidden from view in a conventional car have been left exposed.
Innovative touches include a dash-mounted gear shifter to accommodate an optional central ‘jump’ seat in the centre, which provides three-abreast seating across the front, just like early Land Rovers.
However, the interior also features advanced technological innovations that would make a traditional Land Rover buff drool. A radio, proper door handles and some rubber mats were about as good as it got in the old model.
Land Rover’s new ClearSight Ground View camera technology helps drivers take advantage of Defender’s off-road capability by showing the area usually hidden by the bonnet, directly ahead of the front wheels, on the central touchscreen. You will never run over the cat again.
New Defender is also loaded with Jaguar Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system. The next generation touchscreen is capable of receiving remote updates, even when the owner is asleep.
“It’s more intuitive and user-friendly,” said McGovern. “By downloading data the latest Defender will get better with age, as electronic updates cascade down to the vehicle immediately, without delay and with no need to visit a Land Rover retailer.
“Defender gives us the licence to do things differently, to push the boundaries and do the unthinkable, without ever losing the character and authenticity of the original.”
Petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid?
A choice of advanced petrol and cleaner diesel engines will be available, while a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) powertrain will join the range next year, providing the prospect of silent, EV-only progress.
At launch, the petrol line-up will comprise a four-cylinder P300 and a more powerful six-cylinder P400 – the latter featuring efficient hybrid technology. Alternatively, customers can choose from a pair of four-cylinder diesels – the D200 and powerful D240 – both of which deliver decent fuel economy of 37.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 199g/km.
The Defender 110 offers five, six or 5+2 seating configurations, with a loadspace behind the second-row seats of up to 1,075 litres, or 2,380-litres when the second row is folded. The 90 will be able to accommodate six occupants in a vehicle the length of a compact family hatchback.
An optional Folding Fabric Roof provides an open-top feel and allows passengers in the second-row seats of the 110 to stand up when parked to provide what Land Rover calls ‘the full safari experience’.
A new Land Rover classic
I didn’t want to like the new Defender but after meeting it in the metal, I have to say it feels like the real deal. It might look like a grumpy bullfrog from the front but I appreciate the fact the design pays homage to the original and, if Land Rover’s claims are true, it will be able to tackle the rough stuff too.
It’s a sign of the times that you are probably more likely to see your first new Defender on the streets of London than in a muddy lane, but it’s impossible to please all the people all the time.
This is a new generation of great British car and probably the start of another long-running love affair.
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