Here are the 14 reasons we reckon the new Defender will continue Land Rover’s tradition of great towcars…
Land Rover has had its critics, but nobody who’s pulled a trailer with the likes of a Discovery or Range Rover would say they’re anything other than great towcars, and the previous Defender was hampered only by its 90kW engine, a drawback certainly fixed in the new model.
Few of the towing-friendly features below are unique to Defender, but the combination of them certainly is. I began writing this list after noticing the short overhang, and was a bit surprised it expanded to as many features as it did.
This is a really, really important feature for towing dynamics. It’s the distance between the centre of the rear axle, and the towball. On Defender, both 90 and 110, it’s really short. That means the trailer doesn’t boss the car around as much, and it also means less extra weight added on the rear axle. Those utes you see with extended towbar tongues…well, that’s a chassis crack waiting to happen if the trailer doesn’t throw the towcar off the road first. I think Defender has the shortest rear overhang of any long-wheel base wagon on the market, with the possible exception of the JL Wrangler which, while I love it, is not a top-end towcar.
I’m a big fan of all-wheel drive for towing. Just so much more grip whether that’s pulling away from the lights, around a dirt-road corner, always in the wet and even slowing down…yes, all-wheel drive does help when slowing especially these days with computer-controlled engine drag torque control and automatics which select lower gears for you when descending hills. Land Rover’s all-wheel drive systems are about the best there are, so traction-maximus. And have you ever tried to reverse a trailer in 2WD and had a wheel spin? Easy to do. But if you’ve got a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that doesn’t happen.
Clearview Rear Mirror
When you tow, you can mostly forget about your rear-view mirror. Not in the Defender, which has a roof-mounted rear-vision camera which can display a picture of what’s going on behind you on the rear-view mirror. Very useful.
Low range without locking the centre diff
Sometimes you want to really inch a trailer so you need low range, but in some vehicles you can’t selected low range without locking the centre diff. In Defender, the centre diff is computer-controlled, so you can drive in circles on bitumen and not get transmission windup.
Independent suspension is not superior to live axles in every way and every situation, but for towing, it’s better. That’s because for towing you’re moving at speed on bitumen or dirt, and that’s where you want the superior handling of fully-independent.
Self-levelling air suspension
Back-end sag is a thing you’ll experience with steel suspension like coils or leaves, but with air suspension like that of Defender, the ride will be level. The computers just add a little more air. A level ride is important for trailer and towcar stability, and the variable-height function also means the car can sneak into underground carparks, perform off-road, and also make trailer hookup that bit easier.
Advanced Tow Assist
Land Rover is continuing its quest to make the driver fully redundant by introducing Advanced Tow Assist. You look at the reversing cameras and use a knob to determine the direction of the trailer, take your hands off the steering wheel and the car takes care of all that tedious steer-opposite-lock-follow-it-around business. I suspect there will still be a need for awesome trailer-reversing skills, but nevertheless…might be useful for some.
Always handy to have 360-degree cameras so you can see what’s where.
The Defender’s payload is up to 900kg, which is good news for heavy towers as by the time you factor in a 350kg TBM, people, fuel, some accessories and a load then you’re often up above the vehicle’s payload. Also, note the relatively light load on the rear axle thanks to the short overhang.
350kg towball mass
A towball mass (TBM) of 350kg is what you want to see, 10% of the max braked tow. Many European cars have TBMs of only 150-200kg, so while their braked tow rating is impressive, their low TBM means in practice they can’t tow our nose-heavy trailers. Whether or not our trailers should be so designed is another matter…
3750kg overseas rating
In the USA, the Defender can tow 3750kg, so the fact it’s down-rated to 3500kg for Australia should give some comfort. Most vehicles are, in my view, rather over-rated in the tow department. Nice to see one that isn’t.
Trailer stability control
Hardly unique to Defender, but it’s good to see that the variant of electronic stability control (ESC) is standard across the range, helping reduce trailer sway. But, never rely on TSC to fix a poor trailer setup.
Projected 5-star safety
Not all the 3500kg tow wagons have 5-start safety, but Defender should. Notably, the big American utes which have excellent tow capacity aren’t ANCAP-rated. Pretty much all the utes do have a 5-star rating.
The Defender can take three abreast in the front row, which for families opens up some possibilities for seating – can take 6, and leave the entire boot free. The only other vehicles that can do this are the light trucks like Canters and some American utes.
Sounds good, but surely there are some drawbacks?
So far, I can’t see any significant negatives with the Defender as a towcar, with the possible exception of the door-mounted spare – these things have a tendency to get in the way of drawbars, especially off-road. On the positives, the spare is full-sized and easy to access.
Diesel power is average to good, with 147kW or 177kW diesels both with 430Nm, but the petrol should be well up the top of class with 294kW/550Nm petrol; either the Defender should pull nicely given its 2300kg tare matched with an 8-speed ZF automatic, and I find Land Rover’s engines tend to feel more powerful and tractable than the numbers suggest. The fuel tank at 85-90L for the 110 is a decent size, and the vehicle is fuel-efficient at 7.6L/100km for the diesel and only 9.9L/100km for the petrol so range should be above average.
But all the above is theory, we’ve got an epic tow-test planed and see if expectations meet reality.