The ultimate getaway car: the new Land Rover Defender reviewed

    8 June 2020

    As the world cautiously emerges from lockdown, it looks as though we’re not going to become part of a real-life version of the TV series ‘Survivors’ after all.

    But if you’re the type of person who likes to be prepared for anything, Land Rover’s new Defender is probably the car you’ll want to have sitting outside, packed with provisions to sustain you in the event of having to make a sudden getaway to the remote and distant haven of your choice.

    Land Rover fans will know that the ‘old’ Defender ceased to be in early 2016 having evolved directly from the original model of 1948. Safety legislation, dwindling sales and the fact that it was just too old-fashioned for most were among the many reasons for its demise – although as soon as word got out that the ‘classic’ Land Rover was going to be killed off, everyone suddenly wanted one.

    The new Landrover Defender from the rear

    Die-hard enthusiasts had already spent years opining that the rugged off-roader beloved of farmers, adventurers, people who towed things and urban posers could never be replaced and, to some extent, they were right – it was simply so utilitarian that it didn’t really belong in the 21st century.

    The challenge for Land Rover’s design chief Gerry McGovern, therefore, was to create a replacement that outperformed the old Defender in every department yet which incorporated some of the character that garnered so much affection.

    It was a decidedly tall order, not least because people who own old Land Rovers – me included – can seldom explain what it is about a slow, uncomfortable, draughty, thirsty, rust-prone and not always reliable vehicle that they hold so dear.

    And, in truth, the new Defender is nowhere near so singularly utilitarian as its forebear, not least because most people won’t feel quite right about carelessly throwing logs, gravel , fence posts, sheep, muddy dogs and garden rubbish straight into the back of it.

    So perhaps the best way of understanding it is to regard it as a modern-day version of the original Range Rover – in other words, a very capable and practical motor that’s designed to be used off the road as much as on it, but which offers a level of comfort that elevates it above being in any way ‘commercial’.

    The Land Rover Defender – interior view.

    And on that basis, the new Defender represents a bullseye hit. While it’s way more car-like inside, it features exposed elements that give it a rugged feel and, while its finishings are decidedly easy on the eye, they are also designed to shake-off dirt and abuse – multiple trim options include extra-resilient, washable textiles and rubberised, brush-out floorings.

    The three front seats arrangement found in earlier Land Rovers has also been reinstated, just one option in a modular system that enables the car to be configured as a five-seater, six-seater or five-plus-two (using jump seats in the very back).

    The main rear seats, meanwhile, fold completely flat to create a level load bay that enables the long wheelbase 110 model to offer up to 2,380 litres of carrying capacity.

    The Land Rover Defender’s interior features exposed elements to give it a rugged feel

    The Defender’s role as a workhorse is further emphasised by the fact that it has been built strong from the bottom of its aluminium chassis all the way to the top of its aluminium roof, which has been engineered to carry a load of 168 kilos when on the move and 300 kilos standing still – meaning the car can be used as a pitch for a rooftop tent, a sturdy work platform or anything in between.

    And its role as a serious go-anywhere vehicle is demonstrated by the fact it was developed in some of the most hostile parts of the planet, ranging from  the Moab desert to the Arctic in order to put it through temperatures that ranged from 50 degrees centigrade to minus 40. Land Rover claims that, in total, prototype vehicles clocked-up a remarkable 1.2 million miles before the Defender was considered good enough to go on sale.

    But tough doesn’t need to mean unrefined – whereas the old Defender featured almost no mod cons at all, the new one is brimming with them.

    The doors, for example, can be unlocked from a wrist-worn ‘activity key’, there’s 10-inch infotainment touchscreen with ‘Pivi pro’ software that means it never switches off, a ‘ClearSight’ 3D rearview mirror that displays a video image of what’s behind (good when towing or fully-loaded) and full colour, jet fighter-style head-up display that automatically adjusts to on or off-road driving.

    There’s also a ‘Software-Over-The-Air’ system that remotely updates 14 of the car’s electronic control modules, enabling it to self-upgrade its systems and fix any glitches, while a phone app makes it possible to keep track of fuel levels, journey history and location  – it can even heat or cool the interior in advance of the driver’s arrival (quite a contrast to my old Land Rovers, which are freshened-up manually by opening a couple of metal flaps beneath the windscreen).

    Land Rover’s excellent  Terrain Response system, meanwhile, has been especially tailored to the Defender and adapts automatically to mud, ruts, sand, snow and rock. It can also be set manually, even allowing for more or less wheelspin to be dialled-in – which could make the difference between keeping going or getting stuck during really tricky off-road situations.

    Add to this variable hill descent control, an ability to wade through more than three feet of water and class-leading approach and departure angles of 38 degrees and 40 degrees respectively, and any thoughts that this is a ‘soft roader’ are soon dispelled.

    If you decide to stick to Tarmac, however, you’ll find the new Defender a far better proposition for day-to-day use than the old one. For a start, it has a sensibly tight turning circle (the old one was absurdly restricted) and the interior is warm, dry, and cossetingly comfortable. The car is quiet, too, and swift and stable enough to eat up motorway miles without leaving the driver battered and exhausted.

    But if its real adventure you want, Land Rover has already developed  a range of Defender accessories and personalisation packs that include pressurised water reservoirs, boot-mounted air compressors, rooftop tents, expedition roof racks, lockable, exterior stowage pods and roof ladders.

    Almost everything you need, in fact, to cope in a crisis……

    The new Land Rover defender is available to order now in 90 and 110 body designs. There are two petrol and two diesel engine options and six models (Defender, S, SE, HSE, Defender X and First Edition). Prices range from £40,290 to £78, 800 (Defender X).