The Land Rover Defender has been revitalised for the modern era. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
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 straight six 3.0-litre MHEV mild hybrid engineering. For diesels, this is offered in two forms - the D250 (with 250PS and 570Nm of torque) and the D300 (with 300PS and 650Nm of torque). Even the D250 powers to 62mph in 7.9s on the way to 117mph. If you want efficiency but don't want to fuel from the black pump, there's also a P400e Plug-in Hybrid option with the 110 body style. This PHEV variant uses a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine mated to a 105kW electric motor powered by a 19.2kWh battery, this combination producing a combined 404PS output and offering an EAER-rated all-electric driving range of up to 31 miles. There are also two conventional petrol options, the 300PS P300 and the 400PS P400 variant. Eight-speed auto transmission is mandatory across the range.
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). All three body shapes have impressive mud plugging stats; in a 90 or 110 model, you can expect 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.
Design and Build
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. The three-door is the Defender 90, while the standard five-door is the Defender 110. You can also choose a lengthened version with up to eight seats, the Defender 130. Whatever body style you choose, 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 and 130 models).
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 version can be had in five, six or seven-seat configurations. The five-door 130 is usually offered in eight-seat form, with three seats in the third row, three in the second and two at the front; but you can delete that variant's third row seating if you want a really large boot.
Unlike more lifestyle-orientated SUVs, this Defender in all its guises 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.
Market and Model
There are three distinct sizes of Defender. The three-door 90 is priced from around £61,000; the five-door medium length 110 is priced from around £64,000; and the super-sized 130 version is priced from around £74,000. There are four core trim levels; 'SE', 'HSE', 'X-Dynamic' and 'X'. With the 90 version, a 'Commercial' van version is also offered.
Across the passenger model range, customers 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 Defender P400e Plug-in petrol variant comes with the 110 body style and is available with the option of five or six seats, standard three-zone climate control, Privacy Glass and Solar Attenuating Glass. Specific to the PHEV variant is regenerative braking, a key technological component in achieving impressive fuel economy, recuperating energy lost under deceleration and braking and sending it back into the battery pack.
Cost of Ownership
The whole reason the old original 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. Thanks to MHEV mild hybrid tech, the Defender 110 D250 diesel variant that most customers choose returns 32.1mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 231g/km. The MHEV technology contributes to enhanced fuel economy through an efficient Stop/Start system which cuts the engine at a standstill, as well as recuperating energy normally lost under braking or decelerating. This energy is then sent back into the battery pack and can be redeployed later. A key benefit of MHEV is that this energy is used when accelerating, delivering faster responses for greater performance.
If you want to do better, you'll need a Plug-in Hybrid petrol version. The Defender 110 P400e petrol PHEV produces up to 59g/km of CO2 and is capable of up to 109.5mpg and can go for up to 31 miles on all-electric power (EAER-rated). All PHEV variants come with a Mode 3 charging cable as standard, while an optional Mode 2 cable is also available. The Mode 3 charging cable enables charging to 80 per cent in two hours, while charging via a Mode 2 cable will take around seven hours to charge to 80 per cent - perfect for home charging overnight. Using a 50kW rapid charger, the P400e charges to 80 per cent capacity in 30 minutes.
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 just 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.