Land Rover has revived its iconic Defender badge for a completely new four-wheel-drive designed to conquer – and escape – the urban jungle.
Hardcore Land Rover enthusiasts are still coming to terms with the use of the proud Defender name – which earned its stripes in the post-war era on one of the longest serving vehicles in the automotive world – on a modern, high-tech SUV.
Not since Holden put a Commodore badge on a German import has there been such an outcry.
The original Land Rover Defender was built from 1948 to 2016 – a 68-year run that earned it the same cult status as the Volkswagen Beetle (1938 to 2003) and Volkswagen Kombi (1957 to 2013).
In the end, the Defender was forced to hang up its boots due to stricter safety and emissions standards.
Land Rover has been trying to build a new Defender since the mid 1990s (when BMW owned the brand) and the early 2000s (when Ford owned it).
Under the ownership of India’s Tata corporation since 2008, Land Rover was finally able to steer its own path and it quickly started work on a New Defender, yet again.
Land Rover unveiled a Defender concept vehicle a decade ago, in 2011, but there were other priorities – and more profitable cars – to build first.
The New Defender kept getting pushed back because, although there was equity in the brand and the badge had a fanatical fan base, Land Rover bean counters wondered how many original buyers were really going to buy a new one.
The New Defender is in many ways the polar opposite of the original bare bones, no-nonsense proposition.
The new model is more capable off-road than ever before, but also a world away in terms of on-road technology. It also happens to be made in Slovakia rather than the UK because, Land Rover says, that country has a well established parts supply chain since Audi, Porsche and Bentley began manufacturing there.
In Australia the Defender 110 range starts from $69,626 plus on-road costs for the D200 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder (147kW/430Nm), and $75,536 plus on-road costs for the D240 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder (177kW/430Nm).
However the initial batch of diesel Defenders – available in four grades, including 110, S, SE, and First Edition – priced from $69,626 to $102,135 plus on-road costs, have sold out in Australia.
A fresh batch of diesel Defenders will not be available until early 2021. They will be joined by the short wheelbase Defender 90 models about the same time.
For now, the only model in Australian showrooms is the New Defender 110 P400 mild-hybrid petrol, powered by a turbocharged inline six-cylinder (294kW/550Nm) paired to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive.
There are initially four model grades: S ($95,335), SE ($102,736), HSE ($112,535) and X ($136,736 plus on-road costs).
It might be called a 'mild-hybrid' system but it can’t propel the car from rest. Instead, the tech is designed to help power the ancillaries when the vehicle is moving at less than 3kmh. It also powers a 7kW electric supercharger that helps increase air pressure in the turbocharger to minimise turbo lag, and can give the drivetrain a 142.5Nm boost once on the move.
If all this sounds a bit complicated, all you need to know is this: the acceleration is hot-hatch quick, with a claimed 0 to 100kmh time as low as 6.1 seconds.
Accordingly, the fuel consumption average (9.9L/100km) is not as miserly as the diesel alternatives (7.6L/100km). And it requires 95 octane premium unleaded as a minimum.
During the media preview the average consumption ranged from 10 to 14L/100km on winding country roads while, er, not driving for fuel economy.
Standard fare on all models includes LED headlights, heated side mirrors with puddle lamps, sensor key and push button start, electrically adjustable front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-inch infotainment screen with embedded navigation, AM/FM and digital radio, and 180-watt premium six-speaker audio.
Advanced safety aids include autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition and active speed limiter, tyre pressure monitors, and a 360-degree camera. Rear cross traffic alert is standard on the top-line HSE and X models and optional on the two cheapest grades.
The New Defender is yet to earn a safety rating by European or Australian crash test programs, but the vehicle is equipped with six airbags should the worst happen. An ANCAP safety score is expected late this year or early 2021.
The New Defender is one of the few vehicles available with an optional middle seat for the front row, however this feature is only available on five-seat models, not seven-seat versions.
The "five-plus-two" seat layout (Land Rover stops short of calling it a seven-seater because there really is only room in the back for kids), includes a sliding second row of seats to ensure second and third row passengers can maximise their legroom. There are two ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the second row.
The square graphic or "floating pillar" between the back door and the rear of the new Defender has a dual purpose. On the inside, the panels provide additional interior storage for passengers in the second row of seats. On the outside the panels provide a "landing pad" for the Defender’s accessories, which include an extendable roof ladder.
The spare wheel is mounted on the rear door to improve off-road clearance angles. An optional rear view camera mirror – and the rear view camera – improve visibility when parking.
The New Defender’s appearance can be deceiving, especially in photos. But it’s actually quite a large vehicle.
It is longer bumper to bumper than a Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Prado and Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series, and has a bigger footprint than these three rivals. It’s also slightly wider than the Prado and LandCruiser.
Its off-road clearance numbers are impressive, with class-leading wading depth and better approach and departure angles than everything except a Jeep.
|Specification||Defender 110||LandCruiser Prado||LandCruiser 200||Wrangler Rubicon 4dr Unlimited|
|Approach angle||38 degrees||30.4 degrees||32 degree||41.7 degrees|
|Departure angle||40 degrees||23.5 degrees||24 degrees||31.9 degrees|
|Rampover angle||28 degrees||21.1 degrees||21.1 degrees||21 degrees|
These numbers might not mean much if you’re not a hardcore off-roader, but the translation is this: it seemingly has the off-road ability of a Transformer.
The air suspension can be raised for off-road driving and, if the car figures it’s stuck, it will lift its body another 75mm higher again, to help it scramble out of mischief.
There are six driving modes: normal, wading, rock crawl, mud, grass-gravel-snow, and sand. Plus there are four settings that enable the driver to configure differential modes, throttle response and steering feel.
There are 11 choices of wheels and tyres, from 18 through to 22 inches. The roof is available in black or white, or can be fitted with a panorama sunroof. The four interior trim colours include black, tan, khaki and cream. It’s a stark comparison to the options for the original Land Rover Defender; seats were optional in some models.
Accessories include a heavy duty roof rack, bullbar, raised air intake (snorkel) so the engine doesn’t gulp water in deep crossings, wheel arch moulds, a spare wheel cover, matte black bonnet decals, a remote control winch, a roof tent, and a fancy bucket and hose to wash mud off your feet.
Warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres, and a five-year service plan costs $2650 including roadside assistance.
On the road
The first part of our test drive was off-road, putting the New Defender through seemingly impassable obstacles and testing out the various drive modes. Suffice to say it has the off-road ability of a mountain goat.
However, in much the same way few Ferrari drivers put their cars on a race track, chances are few buyers of the New Defender will explore or exploit its full potential. After all, who wants to get a $100,000 car scratched?
Most impressive is the way the New Defender handles the open road and the daily grind. It has the pace of a Porsche SUV and the cornering ability of a BMW, and yet you’d never know this if you judged it on its rugged looks alone.
The six-cylinder engine is smooth and perky and has seemingly endless reserves of oomph, and the eight-speed auto is superbly calibrated for intuitive shifts.
Even on patchwork roads, the suspension does an excellent job of dispatching with bumps. That said, our test vehicle was running an 18-inch wheel and tyre package, which has the most cushioned rubber. At this point in time, our observations on ride comfort don’t apply to bigger alloy wheels on lower profile tyres.
The electric power steering is smooth, well-weighted, and responsive. The Defender feels like it has the precision of a much smaller car, even though it weighs between 2.3 and 2.4 tonnes. If the body and its core structure were not made out of aluminium, the New Defender would have tipped the scales at close to 2.7 tonnes.
Having a decent amount of weight on the tyres means it should, presumably, be able to tow pretty well. Maximum towing capacity is 3500kg, but we’ll reserve judgement on that aspect until a later test.
When our off-road editor Sam Purcell tested a prototype version of the New Defender, he noticed the brake-by-wire set-up was a bit over-sensitive. Land Rover said engineers were still working on it. They weren’t fibbing, it seems, because the brake pedal on the New Defender we tested this week had a sharp and responsive pedal but it wasn’t too abrupt.
Overall, I came away scratching my head after driving the New Defender. I can’t think of a car that can do what this did off-road and yet was so capable, comfortable and sure-footed on-road.
Although Land Rover says the New Defender has no direct rival, it did supply a comparison sheet showing how it measures up against the Land Rover Discovery, Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series, and Toyota Prado.
Speaking to Land Rover dealers who have already sold quite a number of Defender 110 models, they say the most popular trade-ins are the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series and the Ford Ranger ute. I’d also like to bet it will take some sales away from other Land Rover models because of its added capability and unique design.
It appears the Defender’s rugged appearance combined with modern creature comforts may have carved a new niche for Land Rover, even if is wearing an age-old badge.