Finally. It’s here. And we’ve spent time in the all-new Land Rover Defender 110 P400 on- and off-road in the Australian bush.
Right. Here we go, then. After all that waiting thanks to a global pandemic, we’re finally about to drive the new Land Rover Defender in Australia. The local launch was a bit different to normal in that time was of the essence.
Indeed, we only got half a day with the all-new Defender and there’s a hell of a lot to unpack, but we got to spend some time on- and off-road out the back of Lithgow in New South Wales. Despite only getting a couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel of the P400 petrol Defender, the tracks and roads used for the launch are the same ones I use for testing cars and 4x4s. Lucky us.
That means that while all those other journos were just enjoying a nice day out in the bush, I was able to think about how all the other 4x4s I’ve driven out in the Liddesdale State Forest compare or vice versa. But enough of me, let’s go for a drive.
What is the new Land Rover Defender?
Well, it would be fair to say this thing is easily one of the most anticipated new vehicles on the planet. And that’s because replacing an automotive icon is a tough act to follow. Indeed, this new Defender has a massive job, or jobs, to do.
See, it’s not only got to live up to the heritage of the old Defender but it’s got to extend that heritage and attract a new generation of adventurers into the bargain. It’s also got to be as modern as modern can be with all of the electric do-dads and active safety features that modern car buyers expect.
It’s also got to ride and handle like a modern, dare I say it, high-riding SUV rather than a blood and guts old-school Defender. The mission brief for the new Defender was that it needed to be able to handle the school run just as easily as clambering up a goat track.
But then that throws up the question…if the new Defender is all techno wizardry, soft touch materials, stylish layout and fun to punt will it be accused of being too soft for the faithful. Maybe, but then the faithful will be missing out big time if they dismiss the Defender just because it’s now good looking and comfortable.
So, there’s a lot of pressure on this thing. And that’s why we’ve had to wait so long to see the new Defender in the metal. But it’s finally here. And there’s a lot to unpack, most of which we just won’t get to in this article but, don’t panic, we’ve got the new Defender booked in for a longer drive in the next couple of weeks.
But let’s get into some of the key elements that make this new Defender different from its predecessor but also different from its Land Rover siblings.
Yes, the Defender shares bits of its aluminium monocoque D7 platform with the Discovery, Range Rover Sport and Range Rover but for the Defender it’s called D7x and is around 90% different. So, not the same at all. It’s also the stiffest platform that Land Rover has ever made. And whether you’re driving on- or off-road that’s good news.
Indeed, the chassis and its recovery points (fixed and screw in) have been engineered to handle a 6.5 tonne snatch load. And the screw in recovery points are designed to be able to deform by up to 13mm before needing to be thrown in the bin. That’s just mind blowing.
And for those worried the Defender might be too delicate for serious off-road work… well, the new steel subframes and uprated ball joints and bushes (the biggest on any Land Rover) are designed (when you’re running 18- and 19-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac rubber which equals a 32-inch package) to withstand a staggering 7 tonnes of vertical shock load through the body. And do you want to know how they tested that? They repeatedly drove the thing at a 20cm concrete kerb at 40km/h. Ouch. Even the body work is structural rather than just gift wrapping.
More than that, the tweaked chassis sits 20mm higher than any other Land Rover model which allowed for the relocation of electrics, batteries and more which led to being able to offer shorter front and rear overhangs. And that means, boys and girls, awesome approach and departure angles…38 and 40 degrees respectively. And the wheelbase for the new Defender measures 3022mm which is 99mm longer than Discovery and is 172mm longer than LandCruiser 200 Series.
Running air suspension all round means, like other Land Rovers, the Defender can raise and lower itself to suit the terrain offering up to 291mm of ground clearance and, if the system feels as if it’s about to belly out, it can raise itself even more to clear the obstacle but this isn’t a feature drivers can access.
The new Defender can wade through water measuring up to 900mm deep and the electrics are all rated at IP67 which means they’re all dust and waterproof, able to be submerged in water for up to an hour without being damaged. And the Wade function via the (cost optional) Terrain Response 2 system will figure out when you’ve left the water and drag the brakes for a moment or two to dry them out. More than that, this setting will turn the air to recirculate, set the vehicle in its off-road ride height and lock the driveline.
Speaking of Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, Defender debuts a new setting in the system, allowing you to configure the Terrain Response system to suit the terrain. We had a little play with the system on a hill I’ve driven plenty of times before and I was able to adjust what I thought would be best but, to be fair I could have left in Auto and it would have done just as good a job… using this added functionality won’t be for everyone. Indeed, you’ll need proper instruction and practice before you should bother straying away from the pre-set programs.
There’s still so much to unpack with the new Defender but with a bunch of other tests planned across the coming weeks and months, well, we’ll keep some powder dry.
What’s the Defender’s interior like?
It’s fair to say the old Defender’s interior was about as comfortable as a sardine tin and you could hurt yourself on just about every surface. Not so the new Defender.
That said, the new Defender’s interior, and that of the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco too, reminds you that despite the soft-touch materials and clever design it’s always ready for adventure. But, unlike, say, the Jeep Wrangler, the Defender’s cabin is massive and you don’t feel like you’re mashed up against the front windscreen. This thing is roomy whether you’re in the front or the back, where there’s excellent head, shoulder and legroom. The near flat floor in the back means you can get three adults across the back seat. And there are vents and charging outlets back here too, and plenty of storage too.
But, back into the front for a bit. The first thing you notice when you climb into the Defender is the marvellous looking magnesium alloy bar running across the dashboard. This is industrial design at its best, see, that bar is structural and features on plenty of other Land Rover products only it’s hidden behind padding. For Defender it’s been left exposed and that not only looks cool, and makes the cabin feel roomier but it gives you a shelf running from one side of the cabin to the other.
There’s a huge big centre console which is replaced if you’ve selected the middle seat option, the door liners are structural and the flooring is washable. Sure, you can cost-option plush carpet mats but the washable (not hosable) flooring remains. The interior of the new Defender is all about taking the spirit of the original and applying proper 21st century design and engineering.
There was nothing sophisticated about the old Defender but this new one is a techno marvel. Indeed, buried in the thing are 85 ECUs which can handle up to 21,000 messages at once… The instrument cluster is now digital (analogue on entry D200) and there’s a big 10-inch infotainment screen in the centre which debuts Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro system. To be honest, I didn’t play with the infotainment at all, there just wasn’t the time, but I did use it to access things like sat-nav and the Terrain Response 2 settings and it was easy to use, responding well to touch, didn’t wash out in direct sunlight and with hard buttons and dials below for quick access to things like climate control and Terrain Response. But there will no doubt be those who miss the simplicity of levers and switches. We’ll have a more complete appraisal of the infotainment once we’ve spent more time with Defender.
Let’s talk about the seats, well, there are a bunch of seating materials to choose from but the one my bum was in at the local launch was a khaki-coloured fabric that was both soft yet tough and felt like it would cop and absolute beating. All the materials used in Defender are wipe-down which is great whether you’re out in the bush or your kids are mushing bananas into the seats.
The seats are broad and supportive (for when you’re bouncing around off-road) and offer a heap of adjustment so drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to get comfortable. The vision forwards and indeed all around the vehicle from the driver’s seat is excellent and the cameras are genius with the ability to look at the vehicle, via black magic, as if you’re standing outside and watching it…excellent for manoeuvring off-road.
What about the load space? The back seats are split into 40:20:40 which is exactly how all seats should be split as it allows ultimate versatility. Behind those back seats, if you’ve got the five-seat option there’s up to 646 litres of space to the ‘waistline’ or more than 1000 litres if you load it to the roof. Drop the back seats flat, and they fold flat, and you’ll liberate more than 2000 litres of storage to the roof line. And then you’ve got the roof which if you fit Land Rover’s own 36kg platform-style rack can take a static load of 300kg and a dynamic load (on- and off-road) of more than 160kg when shod in the cost-optional Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tyres otherwise it’s 100kg.
What’s the new Defender like to drive?
The new Land Rover Defender is available with both diesel and petrol engines but at the local launch only the petrol-powered P400 variant was available in either S or SE specs. We spent time in both variants. Diesel? This year’s allocation has already been snapped up. Sigh.
The Defender 110 P400 we drove runs a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged and 48V electric supercharged engine which offers 294kW (at 5500rpm) and 550Nm of torque (from 2000-5000rpm) and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This is enough oomph to get the Defender to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds.
And it feels every bit as brisk as those numbers suggest and remember that this thing weighs more than 2300kg. Indeed, it’s the Defender’s on-road manners that shock and surprise more than anything else about the thing. We’ll get to its ability off-road but it’s on-road where the Defender will blow your mind.
The road loop chosen for the Defender was 126km (not long enough) of delicious twisting bitumen and the Defender just ate it all up. Don’t misread me, I’m not suggesting the new Defender is some sort of sporting SUV, not at all, but it can be hustled along a demanding road with ease and confidence. Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest it’s on-road manners eclipse the Land Rover Discovery and are knocking on the door of the Range Rover Sport.
It doesn’t feel at all like a hardcore off-roader. There’s no axle shudder, no vagueness, and none of the roly-polyness of the 200 Series or Patrol. There’s no jiggle or judder across broken surfaces, no hard jolts into the cabin. Nothing. The new Defender feels tight and tied together perfectly.
The long travel and adaptive air suspension mean that reactions are soft and gentle and that even the worst of the road’s surfaces, be it bitumen or dirt, are smothered. This is a vehicle you could easily cover 600km of bone-jarring corrugations and arrive feeling refreshed. That’s not at all something you could say about the old Defender…after 600km of corrugations you’d have arrived at your destination exhausted and perhaps even mildly concussed from the constant bucking and nodding from side to side.
The new Defender is no lightweight, weighing more than 2300kg, but provided you’re smooth it can be driven with real urgency along a twisting road. It’s got that typical Land Rover feel when you tip into a corner in that it’ll lean over, settle and then grip the road like a barnacle on a ship’s hull. And the steering, while slow, is perfectly matched to the vehicle. See, sharper steering would be easily upset on broken surfaces and become tiring. Our Paul Horrell wrote that the new Defender feels almost SUV-like on the road, but I’d go so far as to say it feels like a luxury car. So, yes, on-road the new Defender is a revelation.
The off-road loop was similarly short but it gave us a chance to try out the various Terrain Response settings across a variety of terrain from pot-hole-filled dirt roads, water-logged mud ruts and some rock driving with one or two steep rutted sections to test out the downhill descent control and one steep uphill section to test out grip. To be fair we want a lot more time to fiddle around with the Defender in the bush but having driven a bunch of other 4x4s across the same tracks as we drove the new Defender I can honestly say that none of those other vehicles were as comfortable or easy to drive on the same tracks.
Out of the box the Defender is well equipped for life in the bush. Permanent all-wheel drive with low-range gearing at the press of a button, standard centre locking differential and a cheap-as-chips cost-optional rear locking diff that everyone should add, adjustable air suspension, and Land Rover’s genius Terrain Response 2 system is another must-tick option. See, as good as the standard Terrain Response is, TR2 adds extra elements like Auto and the ability to configure the hardware to suit. Then there’s the strong chassis, the big clearance and the 500mm of wheel travel.
The vehicles we drove off-road were shod in no-cost-optional Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac rubber which is a more aggressive all-terrain than the standard-fit tyre Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure. The pressures were dropped for increased off-road traction and ride comfort.
There’s not a lot to tell about the off-road loop as I reckon it was only about 30% of what the Defender is capable of…something we’ll explore when we’ve got more time. What was interesting was just how easily the Defender did everything, indeed it felt much more comfortable and effortless to drive than anything else I’ve driven across the same obstacles. From the outside, I was told wheels were in the air, tyres were scrabbling in the mud and more but on the inside you just wouldn’t have known. The thing just gripped and went as easy as you like, and I purposely idled it up and over obstacles to really stress the traction control systems and nothing I did upset it. I mean, it’s not good driving practice, but most of the things we drove could have been driven with just one hand, while drinking a coffee.
Sure, there’ll be those who think that driving a four-wheel drive shouldn’t be so easy but I don’t agree. For me a four-wheel drive is the tool to help you get to where you want to go…if you’re looking to test yourself on tracks, rather than actually be driving to a destination then buy an old Defender, or a Jimny or a Wrangler. And I get the argument about personalisation of a vehicle but there’s plenty of stuff available from Land Rover right now and the aftermarket will catch up soon enough.
What about price and ownership?
Prices start from $69k and sky-rocket to $136,000 plus on-road costs. The two vehicles I drove, one an S and the other an SE, which are priced from $95,335 plus on-road costs and $102,736 plus on-road costs respectively. The standard features list is impressive and includes a full active safety suite including autonomous emergency braking, dual-zone climate control, permanent all-wheel drive with Terrain Response, air suspension, full-size alloy spare, 10-inch infotainment screen, LED headlights and more.
Of course, there’s a cost-options list as long as your arm, including everything from decals, to accessory packs, heated rear seats, leather, privacy glass and more. If you’re planning on driving your Defender off-road then the no-cost-optional Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs, the Terrain Response 2 system which includes Auto mode and configurable settings, and the rear differential lock are must-tick items.
In terms of warranty, Land Rover is carrying on its five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, as well as five-year service plans which include five-years of road-side assistance. So, pay up-front and your servicing for five-years will cost you $1950 for diesel engines, and $2650 for petrol engines.
2020 Land Rover Defender 110 P400 Specifications
Price From $95,335+ORCs Engine 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged and 48V electric supercharged engine Power 294kW at 5500rpm Torque 550Nm from 2000-5000rpm 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