My full review of the new Defender is scheduled for the spring issue of Wheels Afield, and as that was contracted I can’t offer all my thoughts here. However, I can offer a few, and a general conclusion.
My basic conclusion (Roseann’s as well) is that if Land Rover had named this vehicle anything but “Defender,” Land Rover fanatics would have greeted it rapturously. It’s really only the heady baggage of that name that created the uproar.
Over the course of five days we employed it for everything from serious rock crawling to freeway driving, and everything in between. And it handled them all with more aplomb and balance than any vehicle either of us has experienced, including JLR’s own premium models.
How so? Because the Defender’s all-independent air suspension offers 90 percent of the highway comfort of the Discovery and Range Rover—in other words, lots—while clearly being more biased toward backcountry capability than either. Exactly what most overland travelers I know want. The superior ground clearance and approach/departure angles were apparent while maneuvering around and over boulders, while Rock Crawl mode on the Terrain Response menu provided plenty of traction. Yes, I would prefer a full manual front locker instead of the traction-control version supplied, but with the center and rear diffs locked there was never anything we couldn’t climb.
Styling? It will certainly never be mistaken for a Series II, but some of that was inevitable in this day of aerodynamics and safety systems. I still give a thumbs down to the Angry Birds headlamp look and the Martha Stewart sample swatch of body color stuck in the middle of the greenhouse.
All is forgiven once you step inside. A dashboard I never dreamed would make it beyond the prototype stage in fact went straight to production, and it is simply stunning. Bentley should accomplish such elegance in a dash.
More important, the cargo area with rear seats down is eminently practical—rubber matted and perfectly rectangular. There is just enough room for my 5’9” to lie down inside; if, for couple-only travel, you removed the rear seat squabs (the back edges of which protrude above the flat floor) you could easily arrange a platform six inches longer.
On the road any resemblance to the old defender vanishes. My test vehicle had the Ingenium 3.0-liter straight six (hurrah for straight sixes!), electric supercharged and turbocharged, with 395 hp and 407 lb.ft. The owner’s manual recommends “not driving for long periods above 100 miles per hour.” I’ll bet no warning like that has ever appeared in a Defender manual before.
Of course . . . sigh . . . the big question, as always with Land Rover, will be reliability. There have already been a couple of alarming experiences documented on YouTube and elsewhere. I’m praying to the overlanding Gods that the Slovakia production plant can exceed its predecessor in Solihull in this department. Yes, that’s right: The British icon is no longer built in Britain. Some will gasp in horror; some will think smart move.
I will say this: Roseann and I both agreed we’d be happy to own one.
As long as we got to keep our original one too . . .
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