Make no mistake, the new Land Rover Defender 110 is a ripper, but is it a real Defender? No. Spoiler: What it is, is a better Discovery.
This one’s been sitting on the shelf for a while now. The reason being that I needed to give myself the best chance of doing this vehicle justice. See, it’s easy to rush straight into a review of the new Defender and start banging on about its brilliance.
And I did that in my first drive. That’s because it caught me on the hop. There I was expecting some sort of mud-runner and it turned out to be more sophisticated on the road than a Discovery and near-as-dammit to a Range Rover Sport.
And that’s not something you expect from a Defender. Sure it needs to be able to go around corners without falling over but the road is not really where we all expect(ed) a Defender to excel.
So the Defender I spent a week in was exactly the same spec as the one I drove at the local launch – P400. This time I spent a little more time off-road in it than I had at the local launch. And, I also, obviously, spent more time rolling around town in it; taking the kids to school, heading to the shops…the sorts of boring everyday stuff.
But before we get too purple prose with this, let’s get some of the nuts and bolts out of the way. Under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged and 48V electric supercharged engine, try saying that 10 times fast. It makes 294kW and 550Nm of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
That’s more than enough to propel this thing along at the sort of speed you wouldn’t expect a Defender to be able to manage even if you’d tipped it off a cliff. And it does it all with a serenity that’s really something to behold.
Click HERE to read my first drive of the Defender where I bang on about the strength of the chassis and more. But, suffice it to say this new Defender is not only the strongest ever Defender, it’s also the strongest ever Land Rover/Range Rover.
But to recap. The chassis sits higher than any other Land Rover, has been designed to handle a 6.5 tonne snatch load, and the front and rear overhangs are shorter than any other Land Rover. And the screw in recovery points can deform by up to 13mm before they need to be thrown away. The electrics are all dust and waterproof, able to be submerged in water for up to an hour without becoming buggered. And when have you ever been able to say that about a Land Rover.
And for lazy four-wheel drivers like me, the Defender arrives out of the box well equipped for life in the bush even if almost none of its buyers will ever take it beyond the city limits.
It’s got permanent all-wheel drive with low-range gearing at the press of a button, standard centre locking differential, a cost-optional rear locking diff (which you should buy and should really be standard), adjustable air suspension, and the option of Land Rover’s genius Terrain Response 2 system. It’s got wade sensing and will even automatically drag the brakes to dry them when you leave the water and if it thinks you’ve got yourself hung up on something it’ll raise itself a little more to try and clear the obstacle.
So, the rough stuff. I spent the day driving around near Mount Walker out the back of Lithgow, NSW. I drove across rivers, along graded dirt roads, up and down rutted hills and then pointed the thing that’s defeated plenty of other 4x4s I’ve tested. And at the time I tested the Defender we’d had a couple of weeks of decent rain followed by a couple of days of hot weather. That meant the surface had dried out and was nice and powdery, but push through that and everything became loose and slippery.
The hill I threw the Defender at was steep and covered in sharp-edged rocks and deep holes. The sort of holes that would just about swallow a Suzuki Jimny. Indeed, every 4×4 I’ve driven up this hill has needed to be worked back and forth and then different lines selected when forward progress was lost.
Not wanting to go too easy on the Defender, but also not wanting to tip it on its roof, I made sure it was in low-range, the correct Terrain Response setting and that the suspension was in its off-road mode. And then off I went. Half-way up the hill it becomes steep enough that you lose sight of the ground ahead of the bonnet and wheels lift and it all becomes just a little sphincter-quivering. But the Defender literally wafted its way up the hill. I could have been in a movie theater watching a movie, it was so comfortable.
Sure, I could hear whirring and ticking and could feel wheels lifting and touching back down but the thing never raised a sweat.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the new Defender will take you places other 4x4s won’t but what I am saying is that no other 4×4 will tackle mountain goat terrain quite so comfortably. Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that with the new Defender Land Rover has built a better mountain goat.
And I haven’t said that since I reviewed the Land Rover… wait for it because it’s key to this whole thing…Discovery 4. In Scotland. In 2009. Yep, this fool was lucky enough to stick around after the international launch of the thing and thrash about the Scottish Highlands for a week.
See, just last week, while cleaning out some cupboards I stumbled across an old copy of Top Gear Australia (remember that rag?) and found my old Discovery 4 review. I almost didn’t recognise the younger me staring out of the pictures.
But what caught my attention when I was rereading that yarn was just how flipping similar it was to my impression of the new Defender. Yep, I talked about the Discovery 4’s comfort and control on the black top and how that had surprised me given the older Discoveries loved to go around corners rubbing their wing mirrors along the road.
And then there was the interior comfort…yep, just like the Defender I described the Discovery 4 as offering lounge-room like levels of creature comforts. Of course, the new Defender’s interior is a hell of a lot more comfortable, cooler and way more technologically advanced than the old Disco.
Actually, let’s just briefly digress and discuss the interior. The first thing you notice when you climb into the new Defender is the magnesium alloy bar running across the dashboard. This is industrial design at its best and I say that because that bar is structural and is normally hidden away. But on the Defender it’s been exposed giving you a shelf from one side to the other.
There’s so much storage space inside the Defender. The seats are nice and comfortable and there are acres of room in the front and the back. And the flat floor in the back means you can easily sit three people in the back.
Around at the boot you still get the spare mounted on the side hinged tailgate but where, on the old Defender, you needed to be built like Dwayne Johnson to swing the door open, this new one can be opened and closed with a finger. Almost. There’s heaps of boot space in the back and the 40:20:40 split-fold seats makes it even more practical.
So, back to my old copy of Top Gear Australia. While I banged on about the places I drove the Disco and how I nearly got it stuck in a bog on top of a mountain, the conclusion I drew was that Land Rover had built a luxury vehicle capable of getting its feet dirtier than any other luxury 4×4.
And that’s how I’ve come to the same conclusion with the new Defender. This thing is unbelievable; it’s incredibly capable and comfortable and it’s loaded down with creature comforts. But the waterproof electrics and the easy clean footwells and tough seat materials, and the fact you can buy a factory snorkel and winch, and more, don’t hide the fact this really is just a luxury four-wheel drive that’s more capable than any other luxury four-wheel drive and is better on-road, and bigger inside, than the current Discovery.
This new Defender 110 isn’t a touring 4×4. That’ll be the Defender 90 on coils, I reckon (and you can read Paul Horrell’s review of that HERE). So then, without further blather, with this new Defender 110, Land Rover has built the best Discovery ever. The end.
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