Land Rover purists lament the day the company decided to launch a new Defender.
Despite the 67-year run of the original Defender shape, fans love them, which is why when a thoroughly-updated, modern, and somewhat luxurious model was introduced, they felt the “essence” of the Defender was lost.
Unless you’ve driven an old Defender, it’s hard to explain the allure.
It’s cramped, slow, agricultural, and uncomfortable, but it has a never-say-quit attitude and character in buckets.
This history was on my mind as I drove the new Land Rover Defender 110 P400 X-Dynamic S recently, which sits near the top of the Defender range.
I wouldn’t count myself as a purist – as I’d opt for new technology over old every time – but in this case it was time for classics to stay classics, and for modern cars to take over.
Where electric windows were a revelation in the old Defender, the new Defender is one of the most technologically-advanced cars – never mind SUVs – this side of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The stripped-back personality of the original Defender is still acknowledged inside, however, and the technology is hidden behind a dashboard and interior that tastefully shows off bolts, metal, and rubber.
Parts of the dash and the whole floor are also rubberised for utility, allowing dust and mud to simply be washed out when needed.
In terms of the tech, an abundance of USB ports – at least 10 throughout the car – is complemented by several digital screens and buttons. Buttons that do more than one thing.
That is to handle the many electronic off-road, comfort, and convenience systems.
Replacing the traditional gauges behind the steering wheel is a customisable display, which shows anything from speed and revs, to vehicle settings, to a large terrain map.
There’s a 10-inch central touchscreen with Land Rover’s latest Pivi Pro central command system, too, which is as responsive and as easy to use as a modern smartphone.
It controls everything, and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The features above are only scratching the surface in terms of the technology the new Defender offers, however.
Let’s just say that drivers should not encounter a situation in the deepest darkest bush, dunes of Namibia, or marshlands of the Okavango that a push of a button and twist of a knob cannot sort out.
Wading depth sensors, electronically-controlled ground clearance of up to 291mm, and the 8-speed automatic transmission – with a two-speed transfer case and locking differentials – make virtually all terrain passable.
The Defender’s blind spots – and there are many – are also covered thanks to the 3D Surround Camera which provides an all-round aerial view and individual cameras at every possible angle.
Driver assistance features like lane keep assist, blind-spot assist, and radar cruise control then make highway cruising effortless.
Unlike the previous Defender models, the new SUV is made from an all-aluminium unibody.
The result is a 4×4 vehicle that drives like a modern car and handles like one, too.
It’s refined and smooth, but not scared to tackle a mountain, and it doesn’t creek and flex or feel “vague”.
The air suspension disregards imperfections, speed bumps, and potholes on any surface, allowing the 294kW turbocharged, six-cylinder engine to put its power down efficiently through the wheels.
The 550Nm of torque then does an excellent job of shifting the 2.3-tonne car around at any pace and in any gear.
A claimed fuel consumption of 9.9-litres per 100km is a pipe dream, however – and even on a 250km round trip with gentle throttle inputs, the fuel consumption never dipped below 10.9-litres per 100kms.
In a city, you need to get comfortable with over 13-litres per 100km.
With a R1.4-million price tag, the Defender P400 sits squarely in the premium SUV segment.
It’s fundamentally different to its competitors, though, as it’s unashamedly a super-capable off-road vehicle which carries on-road refinement.
The BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and Audi Q7 will be competing alongside the Defender on tar, but will get left behind when muddy hills loom large.
What Land Rover has achieved here is a perfect balance between the utilitarian roots of the original SUV and the technology that modern drivers demand.
This has undoubtedly created a broader appeal than the original Defender – which is good for Land Rover, but potentially bad for the purists.
For me, this is the pick of all the new Land Rover and Range Rover products – but I’d go for one of the more economical diesel engines if I was buying.
It’s expensive, yes, but in a segment of relatively non-descript SUVs, the Defender 110 has something which many still lack: and that is character and purpose.