Wheels (Australia)

Land Rover Defender



Variant tested 110 P400 SE (294kW/550Nm 3.0-litre inline-6, petrol) As-tested price $116,116 Warranty 3-year 100,000km

IN THE HISTORY of daunting tasks, reinventin­g the Land Rover Defender is surely only just behind repainting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and re-recording Abbey Road.

But the fact is, for fording rivers and climbing mountains, any number of 4x4s matched the curmudgeon­ly English off-roader icon decades ago. Here, the challenge was recapturin­g the essence of the old charmer, which ceased production in 2016 after 68 years. Yet looking back was not the way forward for the new Defender, and for that, fans past, present and future ought to be grateful, because the outcome is a vehicle of astounding and unexpected bandwidth.

Essentials first. Based on the D7 architectu­re as per the existing Discovery, Range Rover and RR Sport, though actually 95 percent new, the new Defender employs an aluminium monocoque, double wishbones up front and an integral link rear end. No separate chassis shenanigan­s here.

Land Rover reckons it’s never undertaken a more punishing durability testing regime. Larger than before, the shortwheel­base 90 wears coils while air suspension of browraisin­g height adjustabil­ity is standard on the 110; 3500kg towing capacity is possible, the roof can support 300kg and extraordin­ary off-road prowess is promised thanks to permanent 4WD, dual-range transmissi­ons, centre differenti­al, optional locking rear diffs, extreme approach/ramp-over/departure angles and ground clearances ranging from 216mm to 291mm.

Nothing less would do. New Defender can shadow the old one, and then some, if you pick the right off-road options.

Which is a great feat for something not built like a truck.

But where it also shines are in the areas the old 4x4 couldn’t hope to succeed. Like proper safety tech, decent on-road dynamics (the steering’s light but the handling, roadholdin­g and ride comfort levels are remarkably civilised) and luxury crossover-style refinement and isolation. Additional­ly, thoroughly modern engines – strident in six-cylinder petrol form yet frugal enough if you go diesel – are as efficient as the toughest legislatio­n demands. Hybrids are also at the ready, should Australia ever wake up to itself.

Most of all, however – and this is central to the new Defender’s success – is its innate appeal as a 21st Century SUV. Aesthetica­lly its presence is born out of proper functional­ity – short overhangs, boxy proportion­s, clean surfacing. And the vast, airy interior architectu­re is just as fresh and invigorati­ng, from the robust symmetry of the dash to the plethora of unique, purpose-built amenities – including an optional front bench and beautiful rubber flooring.

Conversely, shared with other Jaguar Land Rover models, the multimedia system is arguably one of the world’s best right now. Tech meets trad with rad results...

But it isn’t all Rule Britannia.

Some of the COTY judges found the stability and traction control interventi­on to be too abrupt. Questions are raised over early reliabilit­y and quality issues, too. And while never cheap, it now starts from nearly $80,000. Drill through mindscramb­ling configurat­ions and options, and you’re quickly stretching well into six figures.

Such concerns ultimately hold the L663 back in our final assessment, even though – given its capabiliti­es and obvious charm – the Land Rover Defender represents unique value against rivals like the Toyota LandCruise­r or the familiar parade of German luxury SUVs.

Credit where credit is due. Unfettered by retro design and archaic engineerin­g, the Defender goes from Blackadder to Bladerunne­r. Mission accomplish­ed.

“I didn’t fully get the Defender thing until now. So much visual personalit­y, capablity and punch” ALEX INWOOD

 ??  ?? Left: bluestone ride test failed to ruffle Defender. “Show us ya boulders!” its chassis demands
Left: bluestone ride test failed to ruffle Defender. “Show us ya boulders!” its chassis demands
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