OK, let’s get this out of the way straight off the bat: I didn’t take the new Land Rover Defender off-road.
I know, I know — but sometimes life and other aspects of my job get in the way of the fun stuff.
BUT! Our off-road guru Ray Cully will be taking the new beast bush bashing in the near future for a dedicated 4WD review, and besides: the first new Defender in decades is a lot different to the old.
Although the previous generation eventually became a vehicle you endured day-to-day for the pay-off of its off-road capability (and its awesome, ageless styling), the new Defender is a vehicle we’re betting — long-time Land Rover aficionados, look away now — won’t even sniff a bit of dirt in many cases.
Like all Land Rover products these days, the Defender has gone seriously upmarket; basically, this feels like a vehicle Premier League players will buy en masse.
Somehow we’re still not entirely sure if we’re fans of the bold design approach, but it certainly gets attention — especially our option-loaded review vehicle in Santorini Black ($1950), fitted with 20-inch Gloss Dark Grey wheels with diamond turned finish ($1560), black exterior pack ($1079), privacy glass ($845) and a matt-black bonnet decal ($280).
The interior also feels very much like a modern luxury SUV, reflected in the standard gear: ebony grained leather and “robust woven textile seat facings”, leather steering wheel, electrically adjustable steering column, a 10-inch touch screen and more.
Added to the test car were options such as a panoramic roof ($4370), three-zone climate control ($2405), a $1414 Comfort and Convenience Pack adding premium cabin lighting, a Meridian sound system and wireless charging, among other goodies.
This being a Jaguar Land Rover model, some options should be standard, such as the $948 Driver Assist Pack’s adaptive cruise control and rear collision monitor.
Despite retro flourishes such as exposed screw heads, there’s not really much ye olde charm left here.
But thankfully, there is a nod to the Defender’s intended off-road use by way of excellent practicality.
There’s bucket loads of storage, including the entire width of the dash either side of the steering column — including behind the touch screen.
Land Rover has wisely opted to not use its dual touch-screen layout on the centre stack, choosing grubby-hand-friendly, hardy switchgear for temperature controls and the like.
There’s also hardy rubber cabin and cargo area flooring.
And some of the modern tech would certainly help when getting outdoors. The rear-view mirror can switch to a camera view of the rear of the car if the boot is loaded to the roof, while other cameras allow you to see exactly where you’re placing your wheels if on tricky surfaces.
There is also myriad of electrical connections absolutely everywhere — and of every type, too: USBs, USB-C, 12V … even the most tech-obsessed should never have a lifeless device.
There’s also a chilled console cubby for beverages. Space is great also, with ample head and leg room regardless of which row you’re in.
However, visibility isn’t great if you don’t have the fancy rear-vision mirror camera, what with the tailgated-mounted spare wheel and portrait-shaped wing mirrors not offering a very wide view.
This also a very comfortable and quiet vehicle on the road, one you’d be happy to rack up kilometre after kilometre in.
In P400 guise, the Defender feels very bitumen-biased.
Not that it isn’t capable; the Defender has a tonne of standard off-road gear and the test vehicle had additional extras Cully will go into in his review.
But the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel just seems more suited to everyday driving than hard work. It offers powerful, robust acceleration and slick gear changes — it’s a joy to plant your foot in this thing.
But the Defender is no lightweight — it’s listed as “from 2351kg” — meaning as soon as you lift your foot, it slows down markedly.
This can mean keeping a steady speed can be jerky, but also thirsty: if you don’t leave the burbs, you’ll be in the 20L/100km range.
After an 80km or so economy run, our use had dropped to 15L/100km, but we doubt many will get too close to the claimed 9.9L/100km — especially if towing or doing grunt work.
Plus, it requires 95 RON petrol.
But the Defender can do the tough stuff while also keeping you safe: it recently got a five-star ANCAP crash rating despite being tested under strict new 2020 rules.
Goes to show you can have a genuine off-roader without sacrificing safety (Jeep Wrangler, I’m looking at you …).
A long way from it iconic predecessor, the new Land Rover Defender is — shock — a lovely drive on the bitumen: comfy, quiet, practical — and with styling to draw attention. JLR is still stingy with standard gear, though. Check back soon to see how it fares off-road.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER 110 P400 SE SPECIFICATIONS
- Price $98,290 (as tested $123,186)
- Engine 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol
- Outputs 294kW/550Nm
- Transmission Eight-speed automatic, AWD
- Fuel economy 9.9L/100km