Ben Samuelson was one of the first journalists to drive the new Defender in the UK before the lockdown hit. Is it the car we’ve all been waiting for?
I’ve been writing about cars for Shooting Gazette for a fair few years now and no car has been even vaguely as eagerly anticipated as this – the new Land Rover Defender.
After the old one was starved of development funding and eventually retired, and the boys and girls from Solihull made the rest of the range blingier and blingier in order to appeal to the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets, the slightly tweedier among us have been left without an obvious new car to buy. I love the Mercedes G-Class but it does start at £90,000.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is an excellent workhorse but its heather is still more of the lucky than the grouse moor variety, and no one has been able to build a pickup that we’d actually choose over a car if we didn’t need the payload or tax benefits, so we’ve all been bimbling about in an increasingly elderly Land Rover product. I have an old Defender I rattle around Bowland in, tidy Discovery 4s still command strong money and most of my smartest chums are driving a mish-mash of senior Range Rovers. So, will this be our next car?
Well, I suppose we should start on the outside, with its fairly controversial looks. I know Land Rover’s designers have tried to come up with new Defenders on a fairly regular basis over the years and that they’ve all been dismissed for being, well, just wrong. The new G-Class, which looks almost exactly like the old one, looks fantastic, but Land Rover has decided to do something completely modern. It has plenty of clever little nods to the old one, but this is a brand-new car. And it looks bloody great in the tin. It somehow manages to be both respectful to the past and completely fresh. Haters will hate, but I love it. I drove the 110, which I am sure will take most of the sales, but the cheaper 90 looks even better.
Underneath, it really is all new, and again it’s bloody marvellous. It is the best thing that Land Rover has ever made, by some margin. It isn’t quite as cosseting as a Range Rover, or as good to hustle down a back road as an Evoque, but it is very close to being as good as both, but with just enough gruff, upright Defendery character to charm a hell of a lot more. Off-road, it is better than anything that doesn’t have a Massey Ferguson badge on its nose. On its factory-available semi-knobbly tyres, it will get you further around the farm, or the shoot, than you’d ever imagine. It’ll wade until it floats, clamber over silly obstacles and find traction where you’d assume there wasn’t any thanks to its clever electronics. On the road, the higher output of the two four-pot diesels available that I drove was very refined, pulled hard and returned vaguely sensible fuel consumption. It hasn’t been formally announced and the coronavirus-shaped hole in the world’s balance sheet may knock it on the head, but a six-cylinder diesel is on the cards, which I suspect will be even better.
Sure, you can get blingy ones that will look swell on the King’s Road but make you look like a complete wazzock in King’s Lynn, but you can also get pale green ones with white roofs and steel wheels that will be acceptable anywhere. It isn’t as cheap and as utilitarian as an old Defender, but it does have rubber floors covered by removable carpets, unlike the other way round on most cars, and you’d happily get in wearing filthy old boots and waterproof trousers. Think of it as the quite astonishingly competent replacement for a Discovery 4, but with all the charm of an old Defender – and go and buy one.
Used on shoots to carry Guns between drives, store the shot game and provide shelter to dogs and Guns alike…
Land Rover Defender 110 D240 First Edition
Top speed: 117mph
0-62: 9.1 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 31.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 234g/km
There is good news, as you will be able to buy a Defender from £35,000. This is still a lot of money, and a good lump more than I paid for my old 90 Station Wagon, but when the Commercial goes on sale later this year, you’ll be able to get one for £35k. Just. And only if you can claim the VAT back. But at least it’ll make it a bit more affordable. At the other end of the scale, spy shots have surfaced of a mighty V8 petrol job, designed to take on the AMG G-Class and probably costing north of £100,000.