I FIRST saw the new Defender at a top-secret briefing in Coventry in February. As the studio lights went down, the Kasabian song Stevie started blaring out of the speakers.
I was a bit baffled at first because you wouldn’t normally associate Land Rover with indie rock. But then I heard the lyrics “live to fight another day, live to fight again”. Never has a soundtrack been more apt.
The Defender has been resurrected to fight another day, albeit in a very different world to the original. Now I’m sure many farmers and woolly-hatted enthusiasts will take one look at these pictures and sneer and complain that Defender has moved too close to a posh mumsy SUV. But what is Land Rover to do?
If it gave us another basic mountain goat workhorse, it’d sell two or three a year. This modern-day Defender isn’t just glamour muscles. It is more capable than ever. It’s just that you’ll have wifi and 360-degree cameras while you go mud-plugging in the Welsh forests. Designer Gerry McGovern promised: “You’ll be able to kick the hell out of it and it’ll get up for more.”
From what I’ve seen so far, I believe him. The new Defender — officially unveiled at this week’s Frankfurt Motor Show — has the same unmistakable silhouette as the original 4×4.
Quick recap: It sold two million in 68 years and was a vital tool for the military and loved by the public but production ceased in January 2016 for a combination of reasons including safety, build costs and poor sales.
Now it is back: tough, trendy, clever, comfortable — you’d never say that about the old one — and armed with efficient petrols, diesels and a mild hybrid. An even greener plug-in hybrid with an electric-only driving range for cities will follow. Here’s what else you need to know.
Sticking with tradition, there’ll be a three-door 90 version — which, incredibly, is shorter than a Ford Focus — and a long wheelbase five-door 110.
The 90 bodystyle can be optioned with five or six seats, which includes a front row middle seat, and a canvas folding roof. The 110 comes with five, six or seven seats. So there’s a lid for every pot.
Prices will start at £35,000 plus VAT for the 90 commercial van up to £79,000 for the all-singing, all-dancing 400hp hybrid X model. The standard 90 will cost £40,000 and the 110 is £45,000.
Be prepared to drop another huge dollop of cash on personalisation because there are enough “adventure accessories” to fill the Argos Christmas catalogue.
The kit list includes a rooftop tent with extendable ladder, fridge, pressure washer, remote-controlled winch, side-mounted panniers, snorkel for dune driving, air compressor for your inflatable flamingo, and spray-on mud. I made that last one up.
But there is a £3,000 satin film to protect the paintwork from scratches. It’s effectively a double skin which can be replaced a bit at a time. McGovern said: “This is a new Defender for a new age. Highly desirable and seriously capable.
“We don’t sell commodities at Land Rover. We sell vehicles our customers fall in love with. You can rest assured this thing will be more capable than anything we have ever done before but, of course, some people will buy it for its image.”
Now let’s have a look inside. A quick poke around the cabin reveals nothing but well thought-out design. It plays heavily on comfort and cutting-edge tech combined with clever nods to its obvious strength.
138mph king on and off-road
CAN a Defender swim through a hippo’s bedroom? Absolutely. Can it drag a boat up a mountain? Yes, that too. Can it dance through sand dunes? Easy. Can it do 130mph without turning milk into cream? No way. Not a chance.
Actually, yes, the new one can. Because while the old Defender rattled like a skeleton in a washing machine, the 2020 Defender is astonishingly refined and composed at high speed.
I know that, because this prototype, fitted with the 400hp six-cylinder petrol hybrid and air suspension, clocked 138mph during testing. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY EIGHT MILES AN HOUR. And it felt as smooth as a Range Rover.
That’s the bonus of sharing the same bones as a Range Rover Sport. It now has the comfort, speed and handling needed for travelling long distances. But with key components strengthened for extreme use.
Chief engineer Mike Cross said: “There are no compromises with this car. It does everything a Land Rover should plus a whole lot more in terms of comfort and dynamics. I’d say this and the Jaguar XFR are my two favourite cars in my career.”
He clearly loves it, then. But not half as much as me. What do you think?
The stripped-back magnesium alloy cross-beam with grab handles at each end is key to the structure of the vehicle and looks class. As do exposed screws in the door panels. The floor is rubber-lined for easy cleaning.
Yet Defender is also blessed with a slick, always-on central touchscreen, digital driver’s binnacle, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and over-the-air software updates which means it will get better with age.
This is the most eagerly-anticipated new car for several years and Land Rover has nailed it. Apart from one thing. The old Defender had a plate on its bum which read, “Solihull, Warwickshire, England”. The new one will be made in Slovakia.
Engine: 2-litre turbo diesel
Power: 200hp, 430Nm
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 109mph
Towing capacity: 3,500kg