The new Land Rover Defender has arrived and Eamonn Wall got behind the wheel to see what it’s really like to drive.

DELIVERIES of the new Defender finally began last month after its launch back in September 2019 – four years after the previous model went out of production in January 2016. So, what is it like to drive?

The vehicle I had on loan was the 200 bhp diesel five-door and the first thing you notice is how comfortable it is. The engine is quiet and the ride, handling, steering and brakes are superb. You sit lower in the vehicle than you do in the old Defender or in a Discovery 4, and there is plenty of shoulder room as the vehicle is wider than before. You also sit further away from the window with plenty of elbow room and a nicely positioned elbow rest sculpted into the door.

Compared to other vehicles, you still have a commanding view of the road ahead. It almost feels sporty to drive, with good reactions to steering inputs. The engine revs very well and returns about 30 mpg. As before, it has constant four-wheel drive, and central and rear diff locks.

I like the interior design with its open layout. The S Model on test is one up from the standard model so comes with electronic dials. All models come well equipped with the central computer display. Luckily heating, suspension and low-ratio gearbox selector, etc. are kept as separate buttons/knobs to the display.

Forestry Journal:  The 200-brake horsepower diesel engine works very well. The 200-brake horsepower diesel engine works very well.

All models come with the excellent automatic 8-speed German ZF gearbox and this is controlled by the piston handle on the dashboard. It is well located and when you move it to the left it gives you manual control of the gearbox, which I found very handy when descending steep slopes and needing to choose lower gears for engine braking. It’s good to see the circular gear controller on the Discovery has been phased out.

Gone are the ladder-frame chassis and steel springs of the old model. The Defender now uses a strengthened version of the aluminium monocoque body used in the Discovery 5 and Range Rover, but with heavy-duty steel subframes to hold front and rear suspensions.

Forestry Journal:  In this five-seater version the boot folds very flat. In this five-seater version the boot folds very flat.

All five-door models come with air suspension which adjusts the ride height very quickly to demands. The test-drive vehicle came with 18-inch aluminium wheels and high-walled tyres which also help give the vehicle a very compliant ride indeed. I had a wee shot in a 20-inch-wheeled version and it certainly had lost some of its compliancy. The 200 bhp four-cylinder engine has 317 lb-ft of torque, just as the more expensive 240 bhp version has. I certainly was pleased to have had the standard engine on test as it proved to be perfectly well-suited to the vehicle. It pulled strongly uphill or when overtaking and sounded almost sporty, only really heard when pushing it hard. On the motorway the vehicle performs very well, cruising along at higher speeds no problem. However, wind noise is noticeable above 70 mph. This is perhaps due to the very large mirrors which you notice all the time as they are not below you, but almost opposite you. Their casings seem to take up too much space.

There is a range of engines and seating arrangements available and the three-door model can also be had with steel springs. This model will be available later in the year, to be followed by van or hard-top versions. As well as the two diesels, a four-cylinder 300 bhp petrol and a 400 bhp six-cylinder petrol are available. There are rumours that Land Rover is working on a six-cylinder diesel version of the Ingenium four-cylinder diesel, just as it has done with the petrol versions. This would certainly be useful for towing or doing sand driving in Africa.

Forestry Journal: The rear door is sturdy, with a complex rear light design.The rear door is sturdy, with a complex rear light design.

The four-door model has the option of two extra-small seats in the boot, and a jump seat is available on all models up front between the driver and passenger seats. This is not available when seats six and seven are optioned in the boot, seemingly for health and safety reasons.

The new Defender 110 (as the long-wheelbase five-door model is called) is wider but shorter than the old Defender. Without the spare wheel it is the exact same size as a Discovery 4. However, its boot is smaller as more room has been given to both front- and especially rear-seat passengers. It is a very roomy vehicle indeed. The Discovery 5, while offering similar spacious room for the driver, offers similar rear-seat passenger space and a much larger boot than the Defender. So, if you want to carry seven folk regularly you might prefer the Discovery 5. Of course, that is not what the Defender is really about anyway.

The new Defender has been designed to be a world-class 4x4 and that is what it is. It has already been tested off road by all the magazines and all are very impressed.

The rear door supporting its spare wheel is a good idea because if you get stuck off road with a full load you want easy access.

The exterior styling is more a contentious issue, as is the pricing. The body slopes in as you move back along the vehicle and this is why the back door is narrower than it could have been. The front and rear lights look modern but are surrounded by holes and gaps, which will surely fill up with dirt and winter snow. I prefer the Discovery 4’s light designs as they can be very easily cleaned with one wipe of a sponge.

Forestry Journal:  Inspired interior design and spacious dashboard. Inspired interior design and spacious dashboard.

I drive a Discovery 4 and thus my comparisons tend to be with that vehicle. I certainly think the Discovery 4 is a better looking vehicle than the newer Discovery 5 and, dare I say it, the new Defender. The Defender is a much nicer vehicle to drive and its interior is very well designed, practical and stylish in an understated way. The standard stereo is very good. Its off-road driving talent is excellent, while its road comfort is a real bonus. The seating is comfortable and the boot fairly large. It would make for an excellent family workhorse, towing 3,500 kg.

So, how then does pricing stack up? When the Defender stopped production, a long-wheelbase 110 station wagon cost about £28,000. Now prices start at £45,000 for the standard 110 and from £50,000 if you want the 240 bhp version. The three-door will cost £40,000 and the van version from £35,000 plus VAT. So, that makes the new Defender 110 a good 50 per cent more expensive than the old one. However, it is now priced to compete with its rivals from Jeep and Toyota, which all cost from about £45,000 too. The new Defender costs much the same as the 2-litre diesel Discovery 5.

You can get a nice double-cab pick-up easily for £30,000 or less. It does seem to me that the new Defender is perhaps £5,000 more expensive than it should be, even if it is a specialist product with an auto box, air suspension and low-ratio gearbox with excellent on-road driveability. Pent-up demand will ensure Land Rover can sell every one it makes but as time goes by and it wants to get its Slovakian factory up to full production of 150,000 units between it and the Discovery, I can see prices being trimmed a bit. This has happened to the Discovery 5 whose sales have never taken off despite it being a better vehicle to drive than the Discovery 4. However, the press reception to the new Defender is positive and Land Rover had been inundated with orders before COVID arrived.

Yes, the new Defender is a very capable and talented 4x4, great off road and at towing, with a spacious interior and excellent on-road driving dynamics and comfort. Well done, Land Rover.

Many thanks to Martin MacGillvary of Pentland Land Rover, Perth, for supplying the test-drive vehicle.

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