Smooth as silk, hard as nails and as tough as old boots.
I’m talking about the new 21st century Land Rover Defender which I’ve just had a chance to put thoroughly through its paces on and off road in this country as it finally hits the highway.
Priced from £45,560 for the 110 model, it’s quite a revelation – even if it’s a total different proposition to the original Defender.
Back on home soil: Ray Massey has been behind the wheel of the all-new Land Rover Defender in Britain – ahead of the rugged 4X4 hitting UK showrooms
Traditionalists with a soft spot for the 72-year-old icon may moan that it’s not the back to basics 4X4 that has captured hearts since 1948, that it costs 100 times more and it’s built in Slovakia. But life moves on.
Given its go anywhere heritage, Land Rover has pushed the boat out to show just how the new Defender will appeal to that small hard core of explorers and adventurers setting off on expeditions to remote corners of the Earth where it will cope with the most extreme of terrains.
Billed as ‘the most capable Land Rover ever built’, scores of them have been trundling around for weeks the wild deserts and rocks of remote Namibia in South West Africa. That’s always been the stock in trade of the Defender – which was the original Land Rover.
Let’s be honest, most of the people buying the new Defender will not be traversing remote deserts or the Arctic tundra.
In the UK it’s the ‘Country Casuals’ customer base who will use them mainly on the road and occasionally off road, though those out in rural Britain, on farms, remoter parts of Northumbria, the Scottish Highlands, Dartmoor, and Brecon Beacons in Wales will want that extra bit of four-wheel drive capability to get them out of trouble.
Then there’s the urban jungle of the school run, sports clubs and shopping trips – when life eventually returns to normal.
But it’s good to know that if you need the capability, it’s really there.
Ray says traditionalists with a soft spot for the 72-year-old icon may moan that it’s not the back to basics 4X4 that has captured hearts since 1948 – but life moves on
Billed as ‘the most capable land Rover ever built’, scores of them have been trundling around for weeks the wild deserts and rocks of remote Namibia in South West Africa
However, most will be used for the school run, not be traversing remote deserts or the Arctic tundra
I spent a day driving the new Defender from Jaguar Land Rover’s Gaydon design centre in Warwickshire, cross-country through the Cotswolds, to the challenging off-road Land Rover Experience centre at Eastnor near Ledbury and the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.
I was in the larger five-door family-friendly Defender 110.
I’d barely gone a few hundred yards and I could tell instinctively that this was a winner.
It’s a surprisingly smooth operator on tarmac road, regardless of potholes.
It has a high and commanding seating position with exceptionally comfortable seats, a smart but functional interior, plenty of grab-handles.
The exterior and interior styling gives an honourable nod to the original Defender, without being a slave to it.
It has very flexible seating as either a seven-seater like mine (with two extra rear pop-up seats), a six-seater with an extra third central jump seat at the front, or five seater.
On main roads it’s an exceptionally comfortable drive. Hit country lanes and it fare roars along.
There’s none of that boaty swaying or bouncing around. It’s a good solid drive.
Despite being a hardened offroad vehicle, it’s a surprisingly smooth operator on tarmac road, regardless of potholes
Ray Massey says the Defender really does the business when you take it away from the tarmac: ‘It does what you expect a Defender to do. Sorts it. I felt fully confident. Not once did I feel it wouldn’t cope’
Push the automatic gear-box into ‘sport’ mode and the sinews tightens up to almost sports like performance.
On motorways it munches up the miles with good acceleration and long-legged cruising credentials.
But get it off road and it really comes into its own.
Heading off into the Eastnor Estate around the castle of the same name, I chose the required off-road settings from the dashboard and restricted the speed before tacking the extensive hillside assault course through woodland trees, exposed roots, and deeply sunken, tightly-packed, and steeply angled terrain.
I scrambled through muddy single tracks, up and down some seriously steep and slippery inclines, and waded carefully through opaque brown silted water.
I’ve done a lot of off-roading and this was not an easy-peasy grass-and-gravel trip. The Defender really does the business. It does what you expect a Defender to do. Sorts it. I felt fully confident. Not once did I feel it wouldn’t cope.
The vehicle’s terrain response system adapts automatically to ruts, mud, sand, rock or snow – and you can set it manually as I did.
The first drive included scrambling through muddy single tracks, up and down some seriously steep and slippery inclines, and wading carefully through opaque brown silted water
It can wade through rivers and streams to a depth of up to 900mm aided by the first electronic wade programme
The highly capable 4X4 is also packed with modern hi-tech features.
The X-ray vision using exterior cameras to see what’s out of sight under the vehicle, proved when the bonnet blocked my view to the rough, rugged and deep ruts beneath. I’m still a bit old-school and like to pop my head over for myself. But there’s no disguising this was a great help.
Muddy off-road obstacle courses aside, it will also traverse deserts, mountains, crawl over rocky terrain, and arctic ice.
It can wade through rivers and streams to a depth of up to 900mm aided by the first electronic wade programme. It underwent 62,000 tests over 744,000 miles in some of the world’s harshest climates. Ground clearance of up to 291mm means it can tackle steep angles easier – downhill and uphill.
The digital rear mirror, which uses cameras and a screen in place of glass, helped me see through and behind the big spare wheel on the back door to give greater rear visibility.
Both the new five-door Defender 110 and smaller three-door 90 variant have four engine variants at launch – two petrol and two diesel.
Examples of the 90 are the cheapest, starting from £40,290 for the most basic trim and engine combo. The 110 range kicks off from £45,560 for the base D200
Owners of original 4X4 still see it as part of the heritage, giving a wave or a nod to our man Ray Massey as he passed in the opposite direction in Land Rover’s 21st Century Defender
Examples of the 90 are the cheapest, starting from £40,290 for the most basic trim and engine combo.
The 110 range kicks off from £45,560 for the base D200 model with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel motor, 200-horsepower twin-turbocharged diesel engine, which accelerates from rest to 60mph in 9.9 seconds and up to a top speed of 109mph.
I drove the more powerful D240 with a 240-horsepower version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine that’s over a second quicker to 60mph and boosts the top speed by another 8mph.
Land Rover Defender: Will it fit in my garage?
Defender 110 Range price: from £45,560 (Defender 90 from £40,290)
Model tested: D240 (from £51,750)
Length: 4,758mm (5,018mm with spare wheel) Width: 2,008mm (door mirrors folded) Height: 1967mm
Engine driven: diesel 2.0-litre 4-cylinder twin-turbo
Power: 240 horsepower
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 8.7 seconds
Transmission: Permanent all-wheel drive 8-speed automatic
Top speed: 117mph
Fuel economy: up to 31.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 236g/km
Wheels: 20-inch. (choice also of 18, 19, and 22 inch)
Wading depth: 900mm (aided by first ‘wade’ programme)
Ground clearance: up to 291mm
Towing capability: 3,500kg
Maximum roof load: 300kg static/ 168kg moving
It also offers fuel economy of up to 31.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 236g/km on the new WLTP real world measure.
Its price starts from £51,750, or £58,860 in ‘First Edition’ trim.
A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version is to follow next year, allowing the vehicle to run for periods in silent electric-only mode.
Prices soar to a whopping £78,800 for the top-of the range Defender X.
A smart commercial or ‘van’ version of the new Defender for businesses and rescue organisations like the Red Cross or Mountain Rescue service is to follow priced from £35,000 plus VAT.
Although the new incarnation of the British icon has been designed and engineered in the UK , the new Defender will be built abroad – at Jaguar Land Rover’s massive new factory at Nitra in Slovakia.
Die-hard critics complain the new Defender is too expensive and not sufficiently ‘basic’.
Truth is, the previous ageing Defender had to end production in 2016 because it was too expensive to almost hand-build, couldn’t keep up with ever-tougher safety and emissions legislation, and – while worshipped by enthusiasts – was selling far too few to the wider market to make it an economically viable manufacturing proposition.
But as well as being practical for life in the modern world, the new Defender has many styling and practical cues which hark right back to the original, as well as the must-have off-road capability. It’s fun without the flaws.
The new Defender has been used by the baddies in the movie ‘No Time to Die‘ starring Daniel Craig as British secret agent 007 whose screen has been postponed from April until November because of the coronavirus.
But if there’s one problem for Land Rover it’s that the Defender may take more sales from its existing Discovery, priced from £47,745, than is comfortable.
Yes, the Disco has a more premium interior and a full seven seat option, rather than two occasional seats.
One lovely touch while out on the road, however. Drivers of the original generation Defender heading my way, including some well-used, mud encrusted farming work-horses, gave a friendly wave – you could almost call it a salute – of recognition and acknowledgement. So the signs are that it will be accepted.
And in these uncertain times, it’s worth pointing out that Land Rover – and particular the Defender – has a long association with the Red Cross following years of humanitarian work in some of the world’s most inaccessible spots. Given the current climate, that’s at least one extra bit of comfort.
A rough guide to 71 years of Land Rover’s original 4X4
The original Land Rover started life as a squiggle in the sand when, shortly after the Second World War, Rover director Maurice Wilks sketched out in the sand on a beach near his holiday cottage in Anglesey the workhorse 4X4 vehicle he needed to replace the American army surplus Jeep he was then using.
The first pilot pre-production model called ‘Huey’ after its registration number ‘HUE 166’ and is fully working.
The original Defender began life in 1948 when it made its debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show as the original Land Rover, priced £450, created out of aluminium as a practical vehicle for farmers and Britain’s answer to the Jeep during the immediate post-war austerity when steel was scarce.
The outgoing 71-year-old Defender model – much loved and often driven by the Queen, other members of the Royal Family, and Winston Churchill – was built at Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull factory near Birmingham until production ceased in 2016. Since then second-hand prices of existing Defenders have soared as they become ‘collectors’ items’ – and increasingly a target for thieves.
Astonishingly, some three-quarters of the 2 million Defenders ever built since then are said to be still in regular use.
The Defender name itself can be traced back to 1990. It was created to avoid confusion with a new Land Rover launched the previous year called Discovery.
The Queen, who is regularly photographed at the wheel, took delivery of her first one shortly after coming to the throne in 1952
To cheering and applause from the workforce at Land Rover’s Solihull factory near Birmingham, the final Land Rover Defender 4X4 drove off the production line in January 2016 and joined the firm’s heritage collection.
But it does now face a rival. Billionaire British petro-chemical tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe is planning a rival ‘back to basics’ 4X4 to fill the gap left by the original Defender, which could be built in Britain. Codenamed ‘Projekt Grenadier’ – after the pub in which the idea was conceived – Ineos Automotive’s off-roader aims to recapture the rufty-tufty spirit of the original Land Rover Defender – amid concerns by purists that the old ‘boxy’ Defender shape and spirit is being smoothed out.
The royal relationship with Land Rover goes back to 1948 when King George VI viewed the original Land Rover.
The Queen, who is regularly photographed at the wheel, took delivery of her first one shortly after coming to the throne in 1952 and has driven or been driven in Land Rovers ever since. She used a specially adapted one for her first world tour in 1953.
The final version of the original Land Rover Defender coming off the Solihull production line in January 2016
Winston Churchill was given one as an 80th birthday present at his home in Chartwell, while another was used for Pope John Paul II’s tour of England in 1982.
Prince Harry became the first person to enjoy an exclusive sneak-peek at the new Defender at a pre-launch event in Holland ahead of the now postponed ‘Invictus Games The Hague 2020’, of which he is patron, planned for May.
The new Defender also appears doing dramatic stunts in the forthcoming James Bond movie ‘No Time to Die’, whose screening has been delayed from April until November because of the corona virus epidemic.
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