The problem with reinventing an icon is that you’ll never be able to please everyone. Purists will bemoan the modern automotive accoutrements while the younger set will probably scratch their heads over certain design decisions. That is why it’s important to discuss the new Defender with respect to its heritage.
The first Defenders rolled off the line in 1983, inspired by the rugged exploits of its 1948 ancestors. Back in those days, they weren’t badged with the Defender moniker and were simply referred to by the length of their wheelbase in inches – hence Land Rover 110. However, in 1989, when Land Rover unveiled the Discovery, it was time to give the original Land Rover a name to differentiate it from its new sibling.
Due to its reliability and ability to conquer almost any terrain, the Defender has been the vehicle of choice for numerous military forces. And while it has welcomed creature comfort updates, such as air-conditioning and electric windows, the foundation has remained the same – off- road capabilities, a flat windscreen and a body that has stood stubbornly unchanged.
It was this lack of evolution that proved to be its demise; the old Defender was a relic of a time when paved highways were still novelties and petrol wasn’t the enemy. So, while the world had moved on, the Defender had not. Land Rover stopped production of the old Defender in 2016. Although the car faded from the public eye over time, the Land Rover team were hard at work to conceptualise, design and engineer a Defender for the 21st century.
And they’ve done a fantastic job. The overall design remains functional, informed by its mandate to conquer any terrain, thanks to its minimal front and rear overhangs, and high ceiling. Its muscular haunches and massive size – measuring 5m lengthwise with a width of slightly over 2m – on the other hand, hides a surprising nimbleness on the roads. Sharp corners are easily tackled by a wide turning radius and responsive steering, and poorly designed car parks, while annoying, can be overcome with nifty driving and liberal use of the impressive ClearSight system rendered as a 3-D overlay on the Pivi Pro touchscreen.
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Of course, people are not buying the new Defender for its urban driving capabilities. In that respect, while we didn’t test the vehicle in the harshest environments known to men, we can report that taking on high roadside kerbs and wet grass fields are like water off a duck’s back for this one.
We love how the interior pays homage to its predecessor with its reductive elements and a stripped-back design philosophy. As part of the Defender’s practical nature, rubber dominates most of the interior. Perhaps the one feature that exemplifies the amount of thought that went into the new Defender is the fridge fitted into the centre console. It isn’t exactly a must-have feature for an off-road adventure. Knowing Land Rover, however, they probably took the prototype, sans fridge, out for a spin in the wilderness, thought it would be nice to crack open a few cold ones while looking out at the stars, and decided to install one in the final rendition. Now that’s clever.
Engine: 3.0-litre, inline 6-cylinder twin-charged
Power: 400PS at 5,000 rpm
Torque: 550Nm between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm
0-100 kmh: 6.1 seconds
Top Speed: 191kph