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Land Rover Bowler Defender is bloody brilliant for rally rookies


YOU can’t overestimate the importance Land Rover has put on the new Defender.

This time two years ago it was locked up in a design studio in the Midlands.

We’re up to model number eight - the rally-ready Bowler Defender

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We’re up to model number eight – the rally-ready Bowler DefenderCredit: mobile uk 07831586258

Now it comes in more flavours than a Kellogg’s variety pack.

You’ve got the standard three-door 90 and five-door 110. If you want to keep it simple, they’re your Corn Flakes.

At the other end you’ve got the 5-litre V8, which is a bit like a bowl of Frosties. We know it’s no good for anyone but we can’t resist.

In between there’s a plug-in hybrid (Bran Flakes?) and Hard Top vans.

Now we’re up to model number eight, the rally-ready Bowler Defender, as seen on these pages today.

The Bowler Defender is bloody brilliant for rally rookies and a proper weapon for old pros -  just get in and go

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The Bowler Defender is bloody brilliant for rally rookies and a proper weapon for old pros – just get in and goCredit: Davidshepherd 07831586258

I’m not even done yet.

A luxury extended-wheelbase 130 follows next and Land Rover has confirmed it is testing a hydrogen-powered Defender.

So that would make it a family of ten— before an all-electric Defender arrives much further down the line and possibly even a pick-up.

My source told me: “The jury’s out on the pick-up. It would look great but whether it would make money is another thing.”

For now, though, we have the Bowler Defender. Bloody brilliant for rally rookies and a proper weapon for old pros. Just get in and go.

From left to right: Defender 90 Hardtop, Defender 90 and Defender 110

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From left to right: Defender 90 Hardtop, Defender 90 and Defender 110Credit: simon thompson

I should start by explaining that rally-raid specialist Bowler (think Dakar and Baja) was bought out of administration by Jaguar Land Rover in 2019.

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It couldn’t have worked out better.

All staff at the Bowler HQ in Belper, Derbys, were retained and tasked with building 12 competition-ready Defenders for an exclusive UK rally series in 2022.

The plan is to “copy-and-paste” the formula in other countries later.

Land Rover dealers will sell Bowler accessories for regular Defenders — laser lights, special alloys, that sort of thing.

Now we all know a regular Defender is unstoppable - every component has been tested to within an inch of its life

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Now we all know a regular Defender is unstoppable – every component has been tested to within an inch of its lifeCredit: Davidshepherd 07831586258

So, how much is the Bowler Defender? Er, £99,500.

I know that sounds like a lot of money because it is — but in the world of motorsport, it really isn’t.

That buys you the Defender outright as well as full support at seven events. Arrive and drive.

When you consider a regular Defender V8 costs £95k, the Bowler deal is extremely good value.

Especially as they can be driven on the road too.

The various Land Rover Defender models
The various Land Rover Defender models

Now we all know a regular Defender is unstoppable. Every component has been tested to within an inch of its life.

So Bowler didn’t have an awful lot to do mechanically to make the 90 rally-ready.

The 300hp engine, gearbox and brakes are all standard.

Bowler added full underbelly armour, long-travel suspension, heavy-duty wheels and tyres, plus the usual FIA-spec roll cage, race seats and fire extinguishers.

Two side radiators which would be exposed to danger were removed and you may also notice the doors have been shortened, to wrap the underbelly plating over the sills.

Add a snorkel, flared arches, spotlights and a rear spoiler with integrated reversing lights (the ditches in Kielder Forest can eat a Defender whole) and voila: You are ready to race.

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There’s no denying she’s a big girl at 2,260kg but she jumps, rotates nicely, and has traction forever.

As I said earlier, Bowler Defender has a wide breadth of capability.

Forgiving and trustworthy for beginners but also fast and controllable for those pushing to win.

You could eat your rivals for breakfast.

Key facts: Bowler Defender

Price: £99,500

Engine: 2-litre turbo petrol

Power: 300hp

0-62mph: 7.1 secs

Top speed: 90mph

King of Lean

By Rob Lewis

THIS car might well look rather familiar to you. That’s because it’s a Seat Leon.

But look a little closer, scratch the surface or squeeze the throttle and you will find this is no ordinary Leon.

Scratch the surface or squeeze the throttle and you will find this is no ordinary Leon

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Scratch the surface or squeeze the throttle and you will find this is no ordinary LeonCredit: Davidshepherd 07831586258

It’s a Cupra . . . and Cupra is Spanish for “hot”.

Well, sort of. There are 300 tablespoons of hot sauce in this most spicy of Leon hatchbacks – putting it slap-bang in the ring with the potent VW Golf GTi Clubsport and the Audi S3 Sportback (both chassis-sharing siblings, of course).

But this Cupra costs less than the GTi Clubsport. Some £2,350 less. And it looks better.

People will want to talk to you about it – and about that copper-coloured Transformer-esque badge on its grille.

But does it drive better than the venerable Golf?

Actually, that is harder to determine without back-to-back testing.

This Cupra costs less than the GTi Clubsport - some £2,350 less, and it looks better

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This Cupra costs less than the GTi Clubsport – some £2,350 less, and it looks betterCredit: Davidshepherd 07831586258

And honestly, it doesn’t really need to, given the Golf’s appealing breadth of ability.

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But there is a slew of savvy Spaniards back in Catalonia who will stake their livelihoods on its superiority, that’s for sure.

While adopting all the eminently family friendly practicalities that come from the sensible Seat Leon base – like the roomy fiver-seater cabin, generous 380-litre boot and solid build quality – there are a few things inherited that are sub-prime.

The scratchy hard plastics near where your legs go, for instance.

And that frustratingly counter-intuitive infotainment touchscreen you will end up wanting as little to do with as possible.

Copper is the colour of Cupra.

And you will notice little splashes of the bronzy tint dotted about the interior, from the stitching on the racy flat-bottomed steering wheel and the supportive sports seats to the air vent surrounds and the default ambient lighting that visually unites the doors and attractively layered dashboard.

SMILE ON YOUR FACE

But there are nine other colours of illumination to experiment with should you want to stray off-brand.

Like the Golf GTi Clubsport, this Cupra Leon comes exclusively with a seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox.

Which is a shame for hot hatch fanatics but a boon for the less break-necked among us who will need to occasionally drive the thing sensibly and easily in start-stop traffic.

For a front wheel-driven car with tons of torque on tap, it feels wonderfully grippy, even on the damp Welsh mountain roads where I tested it.

Accurate steering inspires further confidence behind the wheel when maintaining pace.

And then there are those pops and bangs that fart out of the quadruple exhaust pipes when you are in the bespoke Cupra drive mode.

Lovely stuff.

The only problem with this is the lack of a shortcut button to activate it – or toggle through more economic or comfort-based drive modes – so you have to faff your way via a couple of on-screen sub-menus to uncork it.

This car doesn’t scream the arrival of Cupra like the bespoke Cupra Formentor SUV does or the forthcoming EV, Cupra Born, will.

But it can slip into family life seamlessly, put a smile on your face when the time is right and save you a couple of quid with a dash of exclusivity for free.

Key facts: Cupra Leon

Price: £35,575

Engine: 2-litre turbo petrol

Power: 300hp, 400Nm

0-62mph: 5.7 secs

Top speed: 155mph

Economy: 35mpg

C02: 171g/km

Out: Now

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