Farm vehicle or road car? Transformer? or Transfarmer?
(From Phonebox Motoring April 2021) Turning up to a job this week a work colleague admired my current test car, Land Rover’s new Defender, and said that it reminded him of a Transformer. Now for those of you who have never heard of the internationally successful child’s toy series-turned-critically acclaimed US movie franchise, you won’t have a clue what he was on about. But for everyone who has seen the intergalactic robots who can turn into cars you might well agree with my friend.
Is it the headlamps resembling staring, slightly closed, eyes? Maybe the big chunky panels that make up the doors, front wings and bonnet? The long white roof complete with stylish black glass inserts? Or perhaps those mighty alloy wheels?
But certainly, there is something of the Optimus Prime about the new Defender.
Alien robots or not, the Land Rover Defender style and swagger is still there. Radically re-designed and modernised to bring it into the 21st century, the Defender has lost none of its powerful road presence and stylish chunky 4×4 flair.
Take the iconic design: the ability to remake an historic vehicle and lose none of its famous appeal is not easy to do, and Land Rover’s designers must have had many sleepless nights making sure they got this one right. That white roof of my test car is a nod to older Land Rovers and there’s no mistaking the headlamp and grille treatment.
I drove the 110 D240 S version, and it’s a big car – you don’t miss it on the road and I certainly turned a few heads on the streets around Olney and Newport Pagnell. Other Land Rover drivers looked… and looked again (“it’s the new Defender!”) and some even raised me a finger (in a nice way, of course).
I’ve driven loads of the old style Defenders and not always with rosy memories. I remember driving a manual gearbox version into London during rush hour. The clutch was so heavy and the gearbox so firm that I could barely walk or move my left arm by the time I had arrived at my destination.
It’s not like that now. This D240 S uses a smooth automatic gearbox to power its lively and surprisingly quiet 1,999cc four cylinder diesel engine. There’s no getting away from the size – it’s long, especially with that spare wheel on the back, and wide too. But sitting up high and with a clear view of the road ahead, the Land Rover loses that gargantuan feel and is actually quite nimble on the road and controlled easily with the big chunky steering wheel. There’s plenty of leg and headroom in the second row of seats and, pull open the heavy rear door (heavy because there’s that full-size spare wheel attached to it) and you’ll find a spacious boot area large enough to carry three or four suitcases, your week’s shopping or, with the seats dropped forward for a maximum 2,059 litres of space, even a pig or sheep if you’re a farmer.
That’s the beauty of the Defender – despite the huge leaps forward in terms of design, comfort and technology it hasn’t lost its agricultural roots. Capable of towing 3,500 kg, it’s there to do a job, and you very much get that impression from the hard-wearing seat material, the tough plastic trim which is easy to wipe clean and the thick passenger’s grab handle.
owner, Brown’s of Stagsden Farm Shop
The dashboard and fascia are kept deliberately uncluttered for the same reason. Most controls can be found in the large centre-mounted touchscreen display. That allows you to use your Android or Apple smartphone, programme the high-tech satnav system, set up the car’s suspension or play some music through a 180 watt sound set-up with six speakers. Some of the controls even multi-task to keep things simple. The temperature controls, for example, become fan speed or ride mode (comfort, mud, snow etc) at the push of a button. And with parking cameras (behind and 360 degrees from above), cruise control, adaptive speed limiter, lane keep assist, emergency braking, and traffic sign recognition among the standard equipment, you’re hardly lacking in kit. The biggest issue for me would be the size of the Defender. There are other 4x4s that are smaller and perhaps easier to live with on a daily basis. But then, you see what the Defender is capable of and how far it has come in terms of comfort, style and equipment and I get the attraction. I could certainly be persuaded. Or should that be transformed?
My Dad owned several Land Rovers in the past and I have had a few myself – Defender 110, Discovery 3 and Discovery Sport – so I was interested to see what this new car was going to be like.
Running the farm I do a certain amount of off-road driving though it’s more going through muddy fields than green lane-ing. I also spend at least a third of my time on the road towing something. The Defender would certainly be able to do both of these things easily.
On the road it’s very comfortable and easy to drive. It’s nice to have somewhere to rest your arm and the new Defender is certainly more comfy than the old one which seemed narrower and more squashed. The steering feels good, the brakes are excellent and the gearbox is nice and smooth. I like the centre control panel. There’s plenty of room too – I’m tall, but I could easily get in the rear with the driver’s seat well back in the position that I would normally have it. My biggest question mark would be over reliability. My past Land Rovers have been good but there have been problems with them. However the way this new one drives and the look and feel of the interior makes you feel like it’s full of quality and well built. If I knew the reliability was sorted I would consider buying another Land Rover.