REINVENTING an icon that has been a global favourite is no mean feat, but that was the challenge faced by Land Rover engineers and designers when the hand-built Defender became an unsustainable option.
Throughout its 70-plus year history, the Defender and Series models before it became popular for their go-anywhere off-road capabilities as well as being one of the most easily adapted vehicles. This meant the vehicle was used to assist mountain rescue, emergency workers from fire and ambulance, beach patrols and much, much more.
But in 2020, Land Rover introduced the latest version of the model, which although no longer hand-built in the UK, still maintains plenty of its original quirky characteristics.
Even the most die-hard fan of the earlier models would have to admit they are not the most comfortable vehicles to drive on the road. They are cramped, noisy, quite bouncy, had the turning lock of a juggernaut and lacked any of the refinement found of modern cars. That is possibly part of the attraction.
However, new Defender is beautiful to drive on the road with comfort levels never experienced in the vehicle before. It's quiet, nimble, dynamic, packed with modern technology and can still take on the roughest terrain when put to the test.
The five-door Defender 110, powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine with 240PS of power, can complete the 0-60mph dash in 8.7 seconds and maxes out at 117mph while delivering a combined 31.7mpg with carbon emissions from 234g/km.
Our car, in high-end First Edition specification, was priced at £59,220 although a few optional extras saw the final cost creep up to £60,593. So, fair to say that the new Defender is not exactly the cheap option it once was.
From a design point of view, the Defender 110 still looks the business. It maintains its bold, upright box-like stance with a side-hinged rear door complete with full-sized spare wheel on the back. There is a contrast-coloured roof, front fog lights, privacy glass, chunky wheels with all-season tyres, plus lots of First Edition badging.
Move inside and the interior is beautifully crafted, but maintains its practical, rugged styling with lots of wipe-down surfaces and hardy design cues. But luxurious features have been introduced at every turn, including powered, heated seats, a heated leather steering wheel, full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-speaker Meridian sound system, an excellent navigation system along with Land Rover's impressive new 10-inch Pivi Pro infotainment set-up.
But it's the driving experience that really takes this vehicle up a notch. The acceleration is smooth and constant through the automatic gearbox, the road holding is ultra-grippy and although there is some body sway into bends, purely due to the design of the Defender, it is minimal compared to its predecessors.
The cabin is well-insulated against lots of the engine, road surface and wind noise and the Defender is also nice and agile in busier town centre settings where the all-round visibility is an added bonus too.
Five adults can sit comfortably inside the Defender and there are bundles of storage spaces with a lockable glovebox, cooled cubby box under the armrest, front and rear cup holders, door bins, a sunglasses compartment, lots of non-slip trays and numerous USB points to connect devices.
The boot, accessed via the side-hinged door, can hold 646 litres of kit, a limit that increases to 2,380 with the rear seats dropped down. And it's worth noting that there is a 5+2 version for larger families that can carry seven people.
It goes without saying that any vehicle carrying the ‘Defender' name needs to be able perform off-road and this model does just that. The driver can choose from modes called Eco, Comfort, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud Ruts, Rock Crawl, Wade and Configurable to tackle the roughest terrain imaginable. It can also tow a caravan or horsebox weighing up to 3.5 tonnes.
The latest Defender was awarded a maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating and features the likes of blind spot assist, rear traffic monitor, wade sensing, lane keep assist, emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, rear traffic monitor and a full suite of airbags.