Driving the new Land Rover Defenders in Spain
I drove the new diesel, new PHEV, and new ... V8!
About a month ago, Land Rover Switzerland offered me the opportunity to fly to Barcelona to try the newest engines in the Defender. Of course, I had to say yes. I already reviewed the Defender last year and I absolutley adored it. It even won our 2020 "The car we thought we wouldn't like, but ended up loving it" award, so I was only expecting fun times. Especially because this time I wouldn't only drive the cars on the road, but also off of it. I was about to experience what these cars were really built for.
I just came back from my road trip to the South of France with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and I was already flying down to Barcelona the next day. Despite the fatigue, I was extremely excited to be among the first ones to drive these new cars. Once we landed in sunny Spain at around 2pm, a very nice Range Rover Velar picked the journalists and myself up to take us to our hotel. About half an hour later, we reached our destination, not too far from the Montserrat mountain. It's a beautiful area and part of it is also a national park, and it seemed to be just the right place to drive a Defender. Once I registered for the event, I dropped my bag in my room, grabbed a quick snack and it was already time to drive some cars, and they weren't Land Rover Defenders.
In fact, on the parking lot in front of the hotel were parked Jaguar's latest models. We would only drive the Defenders on the second day. For me, it was a good opportunity to discover the area and Jaguar's new cars. The first car I jumped into was the small E-Pace PHEV, and after a short briefing from one of the instructors I was alone with the car for 30 minutes. The GPS had a defined route that I had to follow but I could stop whenever I wanted to take some pictures. The roads were specifically chosen to highlight the car's features so there were some highway, small town, and secondary roads driving. Obviously, it was a lot of fun.
Then, I drove the mighty F-Pace SVR, and the XF P300 which was interesting to compare against the XF Sportbrake P300 that I drove a couple of weeks prior. I won't linger on those cars too long as there will be some dedicated articles that will follow later this year. It was soon the end of the day, and I joined the rest of the journalists and Land Rover/Jaguar guys for a drink and dinner on the terrace. After watching altogether the Switzerland-France Eurocup 2020 match with the French journalists (yes, Switzerland won!), I went to bed looking forward to the next day's adventures. We all woke up at 7am, had a quick breakfast and after a quick briefing we discovered the Defenders on the parking lot. Again, there were three cars that we were about to drive. The 6-cylinder diesel, the plug-in hybrid, and the V8. I started with a grey diesel car. Remember the 2.0 4-cylinder diesel I drove last year? Well, they abandoned this engine and are now focusing on this sturdier engine that was supposed to be in it since the beginning.
Again, the route was already set in the GPS. We had to go from the hotel to Land Rover's very own experience centre in Les Comes. The first part of the trip was on the highway and B-roads, but once I arrived near my destination, everything was about to change. I took a right on a gravel road where I was greeted by an instructor. He told me which drive mode I shall select and wished me good luck. OK... I drove on for 50m when I suddenly got in front of a "bridge" made out of four wood logs. That was quite a way to start your day. Obviously, another instructor was there on the other side of the bridge to indicate where to steer. Obviously, I've never done that, so it was a little bit scary especially since there was not a lot of margin of error. It took me a while but I passed the first obstacle. Unfortunately, that was not the end of my labours as I found myself at the edge of a cliff that I apparently had to climb up! The various instructors helped a lot and what looked like an obstacle that no car would ever be capable of passing seemed to be extremely trouble-free for the Defender. You can really feel the car fighting for grip, and it managed to crawl its way up very easily. All of that was done with off-road tires of course, but they weren't as extreme as you'd think. All in all, I enjoyed this new diesel Defender, and as Land Rover mentioned this is the engine that should have been in the Defender since the very beginning. Even though the 2.0 4-cylinder engine that we initially drove was fine, it lacked the torque and power of the 300-horsepower 6-cylinder. Will it be off or on road, the new diesel is very responsive and smooth and will probably be the go-to engine for most buyers.
I arrived at this beautiful Hacienda where the event was hosted and was already offered the wheel of another Defender. This time I got to drive the P400e plug-in hybrid car, or in other words the most important Defender here. Because in countries like France, the Defender is subject to a lot of taxes that makes these cars extremely expensive. However, with an electric engine there aren't any. It will be that way for many European countries and we will see more and more city centres closing their doors to cars that cannot run in full electric mode. The particularity of the Defender PHEV is that it's still a four-wheel drive in full electric mode, and then you can drive up to 40 km with one single charge. Therefore, it means that you can go off-roading in full electric, and enjoy the silence. So, I jumped in the car and headed to... a small town. Land Rover still wanted us to experience how these cars cope with normal roads. I was afraid that the extra weight would harm the way the Defender drives, but it actually didn't. It's still this very progressive steering, and despite the weight of the car, it turns into corners with much ease. The 2.0 4-cylinder engine associated to the battery may not be as noble as the P400's inline 6, but it does the job really well. It's fast too because thanks to the direct reponse of the electric engine the car will go from 0-100km/h in only 5.6 seconds. That's just 0.2 seconds slower than the 525-horsepower V8 powerhouse of the P525. Yet, it's no sports car, but it's good to know that it can easily pick up speed. Once I got out of the little town, I headed back off the beaten path. Again, the Defender PHEV feels pretty much at ease anywhere, and these rough terrains are just so painless to overcome. There were some obstacles again where instructors asked to turn the vehicle in full electric mode, and it was truly surprising to see what this battery was capable of doing. We went up some extremely steep and slippery slopes and all you could hear were the tires scratching against the rocks. In fact, I'll go as far as saying that it's easier doing extreme off-roading in an electric vehicle because you can better hear if your tires grip to the ground or not. After 45 minutes of exploration in these tight mountain roads, it was time to head back to Les Comes and pick up a new car.
In fact, the final car of the day was the P525 equipped with a supercharged 5.0 V8 that makes, as its name indicates, 525 horsepower. Most certainly the coolest car of the test. Even cooler than that, the car I got to drive was the 90, the three-door version! In this session, a friendly instructor came along and sat on the passenger seat, because we were about to go rally-crossing! Yes, Les Comes is lucky to be equipped with a dirt track, and the V8 Defender felt completely at home driving on it at high speeds. I drifted, had so much fun and even jumped! This test was definitely the highlight of these two days, and when I thought it was finished the instructor asked me to head back to the mountains. But here, he wanted me to do rock-climbing at a faster pace. He was basically shouting "go fasteeer" the entire time, so I did exactly what he politely asked. Therefore, that experience was a little bit scarier than in the other cars, but I felt safe and trusted the abilities of the car. You just have full confidence that the car will safely take you from A to B. I also drove a V8 110, the five doors version, on my way back to the airport and that was only on B-roads and highway. I was truly impressed by the driving dynamics of the car and how fast it could go. Going that fast and sitting that high is truly frightening. That V8 is a true blast that has such a beautiful exhaust note, and even though it seems totally excessive, the petrolhead in me loves it so much. There is absolutely nothing rational about such car, especially if you drive it on the road every day, but let's face it, it's exceedingly cool.
Once we got back, we had a nice lunch by the pool and it was already time to go back to the airport. As mentioned above, my last drive was in the V8 110, therefore I really had a blast until the very end. This experience made me discover what the Defender was truly capable of off road, and even if I know that most people who will buy them won't ever do extreme off-roading, it's good to know that it can. I would never dare to do most of the stuff I did during that day on my own. It was sometimes scary, but going through this rough terrain is so satisfying. Everything I thought the Defender was capable of, was absolutely nothing compared to what it has been through with me at the wheel on that day. The Land Rover may feel slightly over-engineered, but the result is a car that is simply extraordinary. It's a hardcore off-roader that retains the simplistic philosophy of its predecessor and you can still drive it every day to work, because it's comfortable, safe, usable, and just better in every way. We cannot wait to have longer drives especially in the PHEV and V8 to tell you more about how they are to live with.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Land Rover Switzerland for inviting us to Barcelona to experience the new Defenders. It was our first event abroad, and we hope it won't be the last.