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First Drive

First Drive: Land Rover Defender

The story:
One of the most iconic shapes and nameplates in UK automotive history is resurrected after a break of a couple of years, with Land Rover producing what it called a “Defender for the 21st century.
Category:Large Off-roader
Key rival:Toyota Land Cruiser
Land Rover Defender 110 D240 S
Price:£49,880
MPG:31.7 mpg
Emissions:236g/km
On sale:Now

It’s been a long time coming but Land Rover has finally launched an entirely new Defender, a car it describes as a “modern interpretation of the original” and claims is the toughest Land Rover ever built; capturing what made the original version so loved while still needing to cure its failings and bring it up to date.

First Drive- August 2020-Land Rover Defender-Image 9The ‘old’ Defender was equally brilliant and awful, and stepping up into the cabin instantly shows how Land Rover has cured much of the awfulness. It’s an utter transformation in every way; the sparse and cramped cabin is gone replaced by something that befits the expense beast the Defender has always been.

The range currently kicks off at more than £45,000 and runs up to nearly £80,000 for the 400hp petrol range-topper, although there is a short-wheelbase three-door 90 model joining the line-up before the end of the year. But for now, it’s just the five-door 110 that’s on sale, coming with a choice of 200hp or 240hp diesel and 300hp or 400hp petrol engines.

The good news continues with the on-road driving experience, another area that the old Defender was rather flawed and showing its age. Or had “a few compromises”, as Land Rover put it. The target for the brand was to retain the off-road prowess while making it a car capable of long distances in comfort and being a practical and comfortable everyday car.

First Drive- August 2020-Land Rover Defender-Image 3It’s fair to say ride and refinement are a world away from the previous car, which is fortunate, although the driving experience does feel like an excellent workhorse rather than premium SUV. There’s a small degree of buck or wobble to the ride that anyone that’s driven a pick-up will be familiar with, but it’s present in the background rather than too prevalent, and a necessary evil to retain the off-road excellence that the Defender is renowned for. And it’s still capable of going further into the wilderness than pretty much anything else you can buy, but now helped by rafts of electronic trickery that includes cameras to show a 3D perspective around the car. Handy for off-roading or negotiating city car parks, as the Defender is a big beast, with lavish rear passenger space and a big square 857 litres of load space in the five-seat version, accessed via the side-hinged door where the spare wheel is mounted. There’s also the option of a pair of child-only seats that fold into the floor, while a small central front seat is also an option to make it a six-seater.

The big issue the Defender has is its efficiency. Which is really not very good, with the best it manages being a hefty 236g/km, and 31.7mpg for either diesel model. The good news is that, apart from residuals being really very excellent, in the next six months a plug-in hybrid Defender will join the range, offering fleets a hugely more BiK-sensible route into a very impressive renewal of a car that had spent decades waiting for it.

Paul barker

The verdict

A really very impressive and long overdue all-new Defender struggles only in the area of its poor efficiency. A comfortable do-anything off-roader, but drivers paying BiK will be well advised to wait a few months for the PHEV version.