Replacing the Defender must have caused the engineers and designers at Land Rover more than a few sleepless nights. Just how do you replace such an instantly recognisable classic vehicle, with a legion of loyal owners?
Perhaps the answer is that you don’t, at least not directly. Whereas the original, which could trace its roots back to the Land Rover Series 1 of 1948, was a utility vehicle, the new version of the Defender is a thoroughly modern 4×4.
Its styling reinterprets the looks of the original and, just like the first Land Rover, the new model has been engineered for exceptional off-road ability. But in other respects the new Defender is a high-tech and luxurious car.
Some will be disappointed that the new Defender has moved so far upmarket. Others will welcome the combination of tough looks and modern comforts.
As a tow car, the new Defender is off to a good start with an impressive list of weights and capacities. Even the lightest model has a kerbweight of over 2.2 tonnes, giving an 85% match figure of at least 1877kg. Whichever of the launch engine variants you choose, the legal towing limit is 3500kg and the maximum download on the towball is 150kg. Given that the maximum download on an Al-Ko hitch is 100kg, that’s going to be more than sufficient for towing a caravan.
The Defender comes in two sizes: the 90 and the 110. The 90 is the smaller version, with a reduced wheelbase and five seats. The larger 110 has more room between the axles, and air suspension (which is also fitted to some 90 models), and comes in five- or five-plus-two seat configurations.
Five-plus-two? By this, Land Rover signals that the third row of seats is really for occasional use only. If you’re seeking a true seven-seater, look at the Discovery rather than the Defender.
As you would expect, the 110 is slightly heavier than the 90, with a kerbweight of 2518kg for the range-topping P400 petrol.
The choice of engines will grow in time, with the addition of a plug-in hybrid due towards the end of the year. Initially, buyers can ponder the merits of 2.0-litre diesels with 197bhp or 237bhp, a 2.0-litre petrol with 296bhp, and a 395bhp 3.0-litre petrol with mild-hybrid technology. All drive through an eight-speed automatic gearbox with a low-ratio mode.
Despite the fuel-saving mild-hybrid tech, the most powerful petrol’s economy makes pretty grim reading – the WLTP official combined figure is 24.7mpg, so economy while towing is likely to be in the teens.
So while this is the heaviest and quickest Defender (0-60mph in 6.1 seconds), you’ll rack up plenty of petrol station reward points if you tow with one.
At the other end of the scale, 197bhp is modest for a 2.2-tonne car with a caravan in tow. However, torque matters more than peak power when towing, and both diesels offer 317lb ft of pulling power.
Until we have the opportunity to drive the new Defender, we’re going to reserve judgment on which of them will be the pick of the range for towing.
Even if you go for one of the diesels, economy and emissions are not a strong point. The less powerful of the two diesels returns 31.9mpg and emits 232g/km in the Defender 90, and 31.4mpg and 236g/km in the 110. That compares with 33.2mpg and 222g/km for the Audi Q7 45 TDI, which is a considerably more powerful car.
The old Defender was renowned for its go-anywhere proficiency. The new car promises to be even better, with a suite of aids to help even a ham-fisted driver explore the outer limits of the Land Rover’s abilities.
Short front and rear overhangs mean abrupt and steep slopes shouldn’t be a problem, while the wading depth of 900mm (almost three feet) will take you across deep water in safety. That’s some 200mm deeper than the Mercedes-Benz G-Class can handle, and the big Merc is one of the few large SUVs that can rival the Defender’s all-terrain prowess.
The Defender is also equipped with the Terrain Response 2 system, which adjusts the four-wheel drive, throttle, gearbox and traction control to better suit the ground beneath. As well as a series of modes which the driver can select, this can be left to make its own adjustments in Auto mode.
Drivers can prevent cross-axle slip using the Centre Slip Limited and Centre and Rear Slip Limited options.
Advanced Tow Assist allows the driver to reverse the caravan steering with their fingers, using a rotary control on the centre console, rather than turning the wheel in what seems like the wrong direction at the beginning of any reversing manoeuvre.
The 110 has a longer wheelbase than the Land Rover Discovery, so you can expect plentiful space for five. We’ve yet to get our hands on the new Defender, but colleagues who have driven it report build quality is excellent, with the commanding driving position that you’d expect of a Land Rover.
There’s a rugged look and feel to the cabin, which differentiates the Defender from Discovery and Range Rover models.
Five-seat models have a 646-litre boot. The extra seats of the five-plus-two version take up some space even when stowed, reducing capacity to 464 litres.
In the 110, the second row of seats splits and folds 40:20:40, although it doesn’t slide like the bench seats in some SUVs.
You’ll need to find £40,330 to purchase the Defender. Get carried away and you could pay £79,695 for the range-topping petrol in X spec. We think the SE looks like the pick of the range, with a good list of standard kit and prices from £52,985.
We were due to drive the Defender for this issue of the magazine when the lockdown came into force. However, reports from colleagues who have driven the care are almost universally positive.
The car to beat
Price From £96,200
It’s hard to find a true direct rival for the Defender. The G-Class is also a reinvented off-road icon, but it’s hugely expensive.
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The old Defender was renowned for its go-anywhere proficiency. The new car promises to be even better