The Defender is back from its four year hiatus, now completely re-engineered, redesigned and on a completely new platform. Basically, we've had 20 odd years of updates all happen in one big jump. The 2020 Defender now uses the D7X platform, which is basically the Range Rover and Discovery 5 platform but strengthened up. This means for the first time, the Defender is a unibody vehicle, which has annoyed some people, but then again anything annoys purists, then again everything does...
Driving the old Defender was an... experience, an uncomfortable and loud experience. This one however, is a far nicer place to be and a far cry from the tractor like previous shape. On the road, its weight is felt, but its expected. Steering wise its direct, with some feeling, but the power steering is quite present, so its no sportscar. Which is exactly what it needs to be. Its a 4x4, it feels like one on the road. The gearbox, an 8 speed ZF one, is controlled through a proper auto stick, not the bizarre dial thing that Jaguar Land Rover has been using for a while, so it is an intuitive thing to drive. It rides firmly, but not harshly, less with bumps and road imperfections basically unnoticed, with good noise dampening.
The 2.0 L Ingenium diesel four pot, which in this particular Defender is the 240PS version.
The engine my one had was the D240, a 2.0 turbocharged ingenium diesel engine which makes about 238hp. Its the ideal engine for most, with enough punch for your average driver. Other engines available are the D200 four pot diesel, P300 Petrol four pot and the top dog P400 straight 6 petrol fuelled mild hybrid, if the D240 doesn't appeal to you.
Around corners it doesn't roll that badly, so don't worry about throwing it around corners with some enthusiasm, which is something the old one wasn't exactly known for. The brakes, however, are my only problem with the Defender. They are... touchy. Pushing the pedal down a small amount is relatively normal, but beyond that is a sharp braking experience. Sort of throws you off a bit, but after a short while it'll be somewhat natural. Overall, think of it as the classic Land Rover driving experience, high up with a commanding view of the road and a good sight line to the end and edges of the bonnet, good visibility, but now it won't feel like its about to roll over. There is also zero pretentions towards sportiness, no sports mode or anything of the like. In a modern vehicle, that is a rarity, a very welcome one at that. It knows exactly what it is, an 4x4 focused more on utility and offroading than being a track monster or B road driving machine.
Rugged, but refined. Those are the two words that stuck out at me when I climbed into the Defender. Nothing is in the Defender that is there just to look good, at least with the dashboard. Big boot too, with a farmer pleasing plastic plating all over it, so sheep shit wont ruin anything. The dashboard is simple, minimalistic and thoroughly utilitarian, there nothing extraneous in the wide and open feeling interior. The seats, which can be optioned with a pretty unique choice a third seat in the front row, a la earlier Land Rover 90s, 110s and 130, which is a nice touch on Land Rovers part. The base models come with a walkthrough between the front seats, with the middle seat and a centre console being options. The Defender doesn't feel massively luxury focused, the floors are rubber, with a flat door sill that is very much a thing you could wash out with a bucket, if you've gotten it all muddy from boots and wellies, as you should be doing with a vehicle like this.
The infotainment, Jaguar Land Rovers new Pivi Pro, is a definite improvement over the previous Land Rover units, which were fine, but a tad laggy and also a step behind their competition. It's clear and simple to use, intuitive enough for me, which is a mild achievement. The display is pleasantly uncluttered and not distracting, which the old system did feel like. It's also responsive and according to Land Rover, works with gloves, as I would expect. The Defenders quite expansive offroad suite, such as air suspension, terrain response (which is now customisable to your offroad tastes and needs) and drivetrain settings are controlled through both the infotainment and nicely tactile buttons, which, unfortunately I didn't have time to play with, bar the suspension, which at maximum height gives 11.5 inches of clearance.
The alpine lights, windows mounted at the edge of the roof, are also a nice touch, a call back to earlier Land Rovers, give a glimpse into the sky for rear passengers, but aren't exact a massive source of light into the cabin. Visibility is overall good, but the rear mounted spare is slightly obstructive, but not massively so, but thanks to large side mirrors, isn't that much of an issue.
It is a brick, as it should be,
The look of the Defender is unabashedly brick like. The front end is flat, as is the back end, for offroading reasons, but also because an aerodynamic Defender wouldn't really make sense. The wheel arches are a reassuring boxy shape, which I think balances the design nicely. At the back, the cuboid theme continues, with lift call button looking rear lights and sharply accented haunches at the sides. The boot door, which opens sideways towards the right hand side of the vehicle might be a slight issue in left hand markets, but is very much a feature the Defender needs as part of its character. It is a tad on the heavy side, as the (fullsized) spare wheel is mounted on it, but not something that will take long to get used to.
One small feature that annoys me slightly from the overall design is a two strips of textured plastic that sit on the sides of the bonnet, which are just there for aesthetic purposes, but look sort of like you could stand on them... but they are soon forgotten, taking in the rest of the design, which I absolutely love. The grille is as big as it needs to be, there isn't a single bit of chrome effect plastic or anything seemingly superfluous. It very well might be my favourite looking vehicle of this year. No fluff bar the bonnet stuff, just the slab-sided, boxy goodness that I demand from a Defender. This is a design language that Land Rover needs to follow once again, at least for the Land Rover models in the future.
My one gripe with the design...
The Defender is the vehicle I have been waiting for Land Rover to make. The previous Defender, whilst likeable, was a massively flawed. This new one has all the features you'd expect from a modern Land Rover, with its cutting edge technology and effortless offroad capabilities (which as I only had 3 hours with the Defender I unfortunately couldn't even scratch the surface of), but the recognisable feel, handsome ruggedness and feeling if adventure that a classic Land Rover feels like. I had a love-hate relationship with the previous one, I love the way it looks but couldn't get over how uncomfortable and unrefined it was, so I got its older and more well mannered brother, the Range Rover Classic, rather than the 110 I had had my heart set on. This Defender though... it doesn't feel like a compromise anymore. I can see myself owning one as soon as I can, with its wide capability, be it the massive payload of 900kg, legally mandated 3500kg tow cap and formidable offroad abilities (Approach angle of 38 degrees, departure of 40 degrees, breakover of 28 for the 110 and 31 for the 90, but I didn't get a chance to go offroad with it this time...). Starting at £42,000 for the three door Defender 90, that doesn't feel like that much of a price tag... although depreciation might be an ally for acquiring one.
The Defender is finally back, under its new, modern and refined skin, the character of the old one still lives on. Land Rover has got its soul back, lets hope the Defender leads Land Rover towards a slightly more utilitarian future.
WORTHY OF THE NAME, WHILST BRINGING IT HAPPILY INTO THE 21ST CENTURY, BUT REMAINING FUN
Thanks for reading, also thanks to Land Rovers #meetdefender event and Guy Salmon Land Rover Coventry who supplied the one I drove. This first review did take a while, but hopefully it wasn't (that) crap, so leave a comment to ridicule or compliment...