We drove the Land Rover New Defender 90 P400: an icon reborn…

It is always tricky to restyle and re-engineer a classic icon. But the people of Land Rover have succeeded. And how: a thoroughly modern looking car that nevertheless retains all the iconic elements of the original Defender. Its tall, upright stance, its purposeful short overhangs, to name but a few. Technically, the New Defender truly belongs to a new era. Painstaking efforts have been made to retain and even improve the legendary terrain capabilities of the Defender, while vastly improving the on-road driving qualities. The level of handling, comfort and road manners have nothing to do any more with the original. This makes this New Defender again fit for another few decades, enough time to grow into another icon. We were already convinced after this test. Just read further.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Inspired by its past, but not harnessed by it…

These words were said by Gerry McGovern, Chief Design Officer, Land Rover, and it all sums it up just right. This is a new Defender for a New Age, he says, and we agree. The lines are clean, well proportioned. Besides the short wheelbased 90 and its hardtop version, there is also the 110, which offers five, six or 5+2 seating configurations, with a load space behind the second-row seats of up to 1,075-litres, and as much as 2,380-litres when the second row is folded. The Defender 90 is capable of accommodating six occupants in a vehicle the length of a compact family hatchback. It is aerodynamic too: it even has a flat underbody which both optimizes aerodynamic performance (as low as 0.38Cd).   

The stripped-back personality of the original Defender has also been embraced inside, where structural elements and fixings usually hidden from view have been exposed, with the emphasis on simplicity and practicality. New features include a dash-mounted gear shifter to accommodate an optional centre front ‘jump’ seat, which provides three-abreast seating across the front like early Land Rovers. The back of this ‘jump’ seat folds neatly forward, offering an immense centre console/armrest, and we just loved it.

Our test car came with the optional full-length Folding Fabric Roof – available on both 90 and 110 – for that open-top feel. There is even more: it also allows passengers in the second-row seats to stand up when parked to provide the full safari experience…

Strong and durable

Bystanders admiring the new Defender usually comment “we still like the old one for its robustness”. Well, they are wrong. Chassis engineering is now living in modern times. And the new Defender is the rolling proof of it.

Its new D7x (for extreme) architecture is based on a lightweight aluminium monocoque construction to create the stiffest body structure Land Rover has ever produced. It is three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs, providing perfect foundations for the fully independent air or coil sprung suspension and supports the latest electrified powertrains.

Our test car had the air sprung suspension, and it is a superb experience, both on- and off road.

Outstanding both on- and off road…

This New Defender drives truly top notch on the road. Our test car proved with its air suspension superbly comfortable, and even spirited driving on winding roads delivered predictable handling with little body roll. Straight line motorway driving at high speeds is also what the New Defender is built for.

 In urban traffic and on terrain,  Land Rover’s advanced ClearSight Ground View technology helps drivers  by showing the area usually hidden by the bonnet, directly ahead of the front wheels, on the central touchscreen.

But also off road the Defender has what it takes to excel. Permanent all-wheel drive and a twin-speed automatic gearbox, centre differential and optional Active Locking Rear Differential ensure it has all the hardware required to feel at home in desert sand or (arctic) tundra.

“Configurable Terrain Response” debuts on New Defender, allowing experienced off-roaders to fine-tune individual vehicle settings to perfectly suit the conditions, while inexperienced drivers can let the system detect the most appropriate vehicle settings for the terrain, using the intelligent “Auto” function.

The new body architecture provides ground clearance of 291mm and world-class off-road geometry, giving the 110 approach, breakover and departure angles of 38, 28 and 40 degrees (Off-Road height) respectively. Its maximum wading depth of 900mm is supported by a new Wade programme in the Terrain Response 2 system, which ensures drivers can ford deep water with complete confidence.

Up-to-date power…

The New Defender offers a choice of advanced petrol and cleaner diesel engines,  while a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) powertrain provides silent EV-only progress of up to some 43 km.

The petrol line-up comprises a four-cylinder P300 and a powerful six-cylinder P400, featuring efficient Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV) technology.

Our test car came with the P400, and indeed powerful it is.

This in-line six-cylinder Ingenium petrol, as said with MHEV technology, features both a conventional twin-scroll turbocharger and an advanced 48-volt electric supercharger, with a belt-integrated starter motor in place of the alternator to assist the petrol engine. Indeed, this starter motor ensures more responsive and refined operation of the Stop/Start system and provides extra assistance to the engine when accelerating.

The MHEV system also has a 48-volt lithium-ion battery to store energy captured as the vehicle slows down.

Driven with restraint, coupled with an ultra smooth 8 speed auto box, this six cylinder (how do we love the sound of straight sixes…) just hums along at anything between 1200 and 2000 rpm, letting you enjoy its impressive torque. It develops not less than 550 Nm over a wide rev range of 2000 to 5000 rpm. Push the throttle deeper and the Defender lifts its heels. Indeed, 400 PS or 295 kW between 5500 and 6500 rpm really make you move. The Defender storms from 0 to 100 km/h in 6 seconds, and its top speed is 191 km/h. This New Defender counts therefore among the fast cars on our roads, a truly outstanding feat.

Fuel consumption depends heavily on how you drive your Defender. Anything between 14,2 and 9 liters/100 km and even slightly less when you concentrate yourself on adopting a smooth and anticipative driving style, is what you can expect, even when driving in town. (!). The MHEV system helps here of course. The manufacturer quotes 9,6 l/100 km for the NEDC cycle, with CO2 emissions being 219 g.

We also note that your new Defender can tow up to 3500 kg (!).

State-of-the art infotainment…

The New Defender introduces Land Rover’s new “Pivi Pro” infotainment system. The touchscreen is intuitive and user-friendly, requiring few inputs to perform frequently used tasks, while its always-on design guarantees almost instant responses.

In addition, the New Defender takes Software-Over-The-Air (SOTA) technology to a new level, with 14 individual modules capable of receiving remote updates.

…and you can personalize your Defender

Like on our test car, a Satin Protective Film can be specified to make the exterior paintwork even more durable. The wrap helps protect against everything from car park scratches to bramble rash and is available as a factory-fit option in Gondwana Stone, Pangea Green and Eiger Grey, providing a unique contemporary finish as it protects the Defender’s paintwork.

In addition to the Accessory Packs, the New Defender is available with the widest choice of individual accessories ever assembled for a new Land Rover, with everything from a Remote Control Electric Winch, Rooftop Tent and Inflatable Waterproof Awnings to more conventional tow bar systems and roof racks.

Conclusion

This New Defender oozes with panache, with its clean body to its impressive, well styled interior, breathing uniquely the aura of our modern times, combining it with a reductionist styling language.

Technically, from chassis, suspension, drivetrain and engine(s), this new Defender is truly top notch. The result is formidable comfort and very good handling on the road, and masterful behavior and capabilities once you leave the beaten track.

The 400P provides excellent performance, and offers reasonable economy when you drive relaxed. A car for all seasons, for any road or place in the world. You will feel at home in it, everywhere you go.

Hans Knol ten Bensel  

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