Paul Horrell gets behind the wheel of the all-new Land Rover Defender 110 D240 First Edition to see whether the new Defender is all it’s cracked up to be.
What we like:
- The looks;
- The on-road ride and handling;
- The practicality; and
- The off-road ability.
What we don’t like:
- The price;
- First Edition is a little too posh to be seen in the bush;
- We’re still thinking…
The new Defender is carrying a huge weight. The weight of expectation. See, it has to replace the old one and be so many different things to so many different people.
For the rusted on Landy-ists it needs to be ready to climb every mountain and ford every stream, nay, river. For Land Rover it needs to show off how far the brand has come…and it needs to make money. A lot of money.
And that’s where the old Defender just didn’t make sense any more. It was rough and ready. A tool. But it was too much of an, er, tool to be taken seriously as an everyday vehicle for those who didn’t like sitting in a tin can. Literally.
So this new Defender has to be just as good off-road as the old car and it has to pay homage to the heritage of the thing. And that’s why it looks the way it does. Not an easy job, right.
Only takes fifty metres…
To work out this new Defender is an incredibly different vehicle to the old one. There’s a machined precision to the steering, and that typical Land Rover suppleness to the ride. It feels solid and smooth. It’s seriously impressive.
And I haven’t even pointed it at anything gnarly. In fact, this test of the first batch of production Defenders has been confined to my family farm in the middle of a damp UK. Nothing too gnarly on this test…that’ll come when the new Defender arrives Down Under later this year.
To be honest, as I drive the Defender down a gravelly track I couldn’t help but think it feels more like a crossover than a gruff old off-roader.
Has the D240 got enough grunt?
We’re driving a 110 Defender D240 First Edition which will sell from $102,450 plus on-road costs in Australia when it gets here later this year. That means, limited edition and expensive, long wheelbase, 177kW four-cylinder diesel, lots of lush trim options too. An eight-speed auto is standard on every new Defender, both the 90 and the long 110. In all cases it’s hooked up to a two-speed transfer box. Base-model 90s will get coils, but all 110s have air suspension.
There’s more than enough power. The right pedal is calibrated ‘long’ and that means it takes a deliberate shove to get the thing moving smartly. And the autobox slurs its upshifts, the revs dropping away only slowly, rather than snapping down which is great for maintaining momentum. But there’s more to it than that. See, that smoothness is the Defender’s ancestry showing through…you don’t want a jerky, all-or-nothing throttle when you’re crawling around off-road.
Besides being smooth and syrupy to drive, the new Defender is quiet when cruising. But lean on the throttle and the engine gets louder if not harsh, and it accelerates pretty smartly too. At highway speed there’s barely any wind bluster at highway speed, and the test car’s Pirelli Scorpion Zero tyres just whisper. Fit a roof rack and swap out to all-terrain or mud-terrain tyres and it’ll no doubt get a little noisier.
Does it ride like a Tonka truck?
If you’ve ever driven an old Defender you’ll know cornering was not the thing’s strong suit. Not so the new one, showing a disciplined adherence to steering inputs rewarding with excellent body control. Through a series of bends, with crests and dips, it keeps impressive control of body roll, pitch and dive. That means it’s an easy vehicle to stroke down the road, even a tricky road, at a surprising pace.
All the time the ride is superb. Not just supple and reasonably well-damped over big undulations, but suppression of wheel hop and shudder. And the brakes are fantastic with a nice initial bite and a progressive action allowing you to slow it with control and ease. All of this makes it a great road vehicle, whether for the daily grind or long-distance road-based hauls. Nothing so far gives the driver a clue whether this is going to be a hardcore off-roader.
Is it any good off-road?
Look, the COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with everything, including road testing of vehicles. Here in the UK where I’m driving this Defender we’ve been in lockdown. I was fortunate enough to be able to drive the Defender at my family’s farm. Not exactly hardcore off-roading, more ruts, mud and sloshy tracks.
As much as it frustrates plenty of four-wheel drivers, the fact is that all modern 4x4s rely on software every bit as much as they do hardware. And the new Defender is no exception.
The list of electronics is a long one. First the Terrain Response system which allows you to tailor the vehicle to the terrain you’re driving on; it fiddles with throttle and transmission mapping, locking of the diffs, the ride height, the slip-control thresholds and more. The ‘wade’ setting even shuts off the cabin air intakes. Clever.
Then there’s low-friction launch which allows you to inch forward slowly on ice or slippery wet grass. I got stuck going up a mud slope. Didn’t bother reversing back down for another more aggressive attempt. Did the opposite. Dialled up the low-friction launch and it inched me up to the top. ‘Clearsight’ is a suite of front-bumper cameras and processors that turn their feed into an image of the out-of-sight area under your nose. Great for avoiding ruts, rocks and stumps.
The air suspension can raise ground clearance up to 291mm. And without diff banjos the underbody is smooth. At that ride height you also get 900mm of wading depth and the electronics and wiring are all dust and waterproof, rated to be submerged for up to 30 min and still operate. More numbers, approach and departure angles are 38 and 40 degrees with a 28-degree breakover on the 110 we’re testing.
The off-road capability probably hasn’t been transformed. It’ll go further than the old Defender but probably not that much. What’s most changed off-road isn’t what it does but how it does it (the old Defender needed a driver who knew what they were doing to get the best from it). Another highlight of the new Defender is the way it uses technology to make the off-road driver’s job easier and its progress across the terrain more comfortable. It has democratised the job of driving off-road.
Off-roaders will like that…
Payload is 900kg and the maximum braked towing limit is 3500kg. The recovery points are safe for a 6.5-tonne snatch load, and the optional winch is good for 4.5 tonnes of pull. Sure, there are some vulnerable and fragile plastic parts around the lower section of the nose. But behind is a tough chassis.
What’s it like inside the new Defender?
It’s big inside here. You sit upright in a wide supportive seat. It’s a properly commanding position and makes the square-sided vehicle easy to place, whether between outback trees or city car-park pillars. The windscreen is upright but not so close as to feel constraining. And it’s wide.
To help eke out room inside the Defender, cleverly, the door cards are actually structural – they carry the window motors and locks. Normally they’d be covered by a further layer of space-consuming trim, but not here, so the Allen bolts that hold them in place are genuine and not for looks.
Also structural is the cast magnesium beam running across the dashboard – it’s the main carrier for dash systems and the steering column. And by omitting its trim cover, LR has made room for a big shelf, just like on an old Landie. The floor is wipe-clean rubber, and the base of the boot comes out and can be hosed clean.
The centre screen is a brand-new system, far more responsive than the laggy setup in other Land and Range Rovers. Competitive with anything even the premium rivals have. The display has pages of off-road graphics – axle and steering angles, state of the diffs, depth of wade, suspension height, terrain response mode. You switch between those modes by pressing a hardware switch on the climate-control panel, and then the driver’s heat knob becomes the TR selector. Nifty. Suspension-height and low-box buttons also reside there.
Rear seat legroom is impressive, and there are options for separate climate control and infotainment back there too. Even base cars have heaps of spec, including LED lights, surround camera, wade sensing and connected navigation.
2020 Land Rover Defender 110 D240 Specifications
Price: $102,500+ORCs Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power: 177kW Torque: 430Nm Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Angles: 30.1 degrees approach (up to 38-degrees in off-road mode); 37.7-degrees departure (40-degrees in off-road mode); 22-degrees rampover (28-degrees in off-road mode) Ground Clearance: 218mm (291mm in off-road mode) Dimensions: 5018mm long (including spare); 1967mm high; 2105mm wide (mirrors included); 3022mm wheelbase Wading: 900mm Bootspace: 1075 litres; 2380 litres second row folded Weight: From 2323kg Towing: 3500kg Towball Download: 350kg Payload: 900kg GCM: 6650kg