To Singaporean guys of a certain age, the Land Rover Defender is a rattly, matte green Diesel-powered beast of burden with knobbly tyres, no aircon, a drop-down tailgate and a signal set mounted in the rear compartment.
I knew these vehicles better than most, having spent the best part of two years repairing and driving them during my stint in green back in the early-90s.
Over its 68 year-long lifespan, the original Defender morphed from utilitarian farm tool, through widespread military and police use across much of the British Commonwealth, to urban family transport and eventually to lifestyle vehicle of sorts for the hipster set.
But even at the eventual end of its production run in 2016, it still proudly wore its workhorse roots, and was never something anyone would describe as luxurious.
A NEW-AGE DEFENDER
The New Defender is a totally different creature. Squint hard and it does bring to mind the old car, especially side-on where the boxy shape, scalloped shoulder line and vertical tail are most evident.
From the front the resemblance is less obvious, the new car lacking signature elements which made its predecessor’s face so recognisable such as the bluff front, the black “mask” headlamp surrounds and the bonnet standing proud of the front wings.
Still, the New Defender is a distinctive and handsome beast, with immense presence – during my stint with the car it certainly turned more heads than any other new model I’ve driven for some time.
It is also much bigger than before – over 2 metres wide, 5 metres long (if you include the spare wheel mounted to the tailgate) and 2 metres tall – almost 20cm taller than luxury SUVs like the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE, as well as its own Range Rover Velar sibling.
That size is evident on the inside as well, where the new car has all the space you could want. Cabin width is vast (to the extent that there is a version with a folding central “jump seat”, for 3-abreast seating in the front) and rear legroom is immense.
As an option, it’s also possible to spec an additional pair of flip-up seats in the boot (although the second row will have to be slid quite far forward for the rearmost passengers to have decent legroom).
Adding to the sense of airiness are the square edged proportions and big glass area all round, including a panoramic sunroof and cute little slot-like windows in the roof rail area next to the third row of seats.
The cabin styling mirrors the rugged looks of the exterior, with the linear dashboard with its open storage surfaces and horizontal grab handles in particular looking familiar to those who knew the original Defender.
But in equipment, especially in-car technology, the New Defender is as far removed from its basic predecessor as you can get.
There are configurable TFT instrument panel and head-up displays for the driver, 3-zone climate control with separate controls for all 3 rows of seats, a 400W, 11-speaker Meridian sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless device charging, countless charging ports throughout the car (I counted at least 14) and even a refrigerated centre console.
The car is packed with more cameras than a high-end jewellery store, and it does some very clever things with them to augment all-round visibility. Right at the back of the roof, just above the tailgate, is a small sharkfin-like protrusion housing a camera, which feeds to the internal rear-view mirror.
That mirror still operates as one normally, but its effectiveness is compromised by the spare tyre housing on the tailgate, which blots out a large chunk of the view out the rear window. But flick a lever under the mirror and it transforms into a mini-screen for the rear camera, which thanks to its high-mounted position, delivers an uninterrupted view backwards.
The camera works well even in low-light conditions, and so sharp is its image and so wide its scope of view, that the rear-view mirror is effectively redundant.
You can also use the 10-inch central infotainment screen (whose display can also be replicated on the driver’s instrument display) to toggle through feed from countless other cameras around the car to view the ground conditions all around, which are out of sight due to the lofty seating position.
Most clever of all is a function which, using augmented reality, mimics the 3D view of someone standing outside and looking at the car – very useful in close quarters manoeuvring around offroad obstacles.
There is also a feature which Land Rover calls ClearSight Ground View, which uses a front-mounted camera to provide a view of the ground directly ahead of the car which would otherwise be obscured by the car’s bonnet, allowing the driver to “see through” the bonnet area when crawling over uneven terrain.
In Singapore, the New Defender will be sold with either a turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder engine delivering 300PS in the P300 model, or a twincharged (turbocharged and supercharged) 3-litre inline-6 with 400PS and mild-hybrid technology in the P400 version.
Our test car was the latter. Both engines deliver their output to the wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox and a 2-speed transfer box (which, as is typical with serious 4x4s, allows a low-range ratio for towing and low-speed off-roading).
Despite the car’s near 2.4-tonne weight, acceleration is still very brisk in the P400 – 100km/h arrives in just 6.1 seconds and the big beast is always ready to surge past slower traffic at will. The engine does get vocal when extended, although it never descends to sounding strained.
It’s not all straight-line go either – despite its hulking size, the New Defender changes direction well too. Significantly it uses an aluminium monocoque chassis rather than its predecessor’s ladder-frame one, giving it 3 times the body rigidity, and this makes a huge difference to its on-road dynamics.
The car never feels anything other than big and tall to drive, but roll is fairly well contained, and chassis behaviour is fluid and consistent, the car not keeling over into bends.
The steering is light but linear, and the car responds smoothly, if not instantaneously, to inputs from the helm. Banished forever is the wandering front end of the old car, which necessitated constant steering correction even in a straight line.
The electronically-controlled air suspension and adaptive dampers rein in stray body movement, with no pogoing or lurching over bumps. There is still a hint of the bobbing, top-heavy gait which is inevitable in really high-riding SUVs, but generally the ride is excellent – aided no doubt by the fat, high-profile Goodyear Wrangler tyres wrapping the car’s 20-inch rims.
This being a Land Rover, unstoppable off-road ability is a given, although most local buyers will never get to explore this fully. The car’s short overhangs and high ground clearance allow for impressive attack and breakover angles to tackle inclines of up to 45 degrees, while lockable centre and rear differentials and immense 500mm axle articulation give it mountain goat-like traction and go-anywhere capability.
There are a range of pre-programmed drivetrain and chassis settings for different terrain conditions, as well as an option for the driver to configure his own preferred combination of settings.
There is also a Wade function, where the car will raise its ride height, lock the driveline, activate the Wade Sensing screen on the infotainment display (which will tell the driver how deep the surrounding water is) to enable the car to plunge through waist-high water.
In size, equipment levels and sheer comfort, the New Defender may be unrecognisable from its iconic forebear, but it still represents the rugged essence of the Land Rover brand. In fact, you could say the company’s core values remain stoutly defended.
Land Rover Defender First Edition MHEV 3.0 (A)
ENGINE 2996cc twincharged 24-valve inline-6 with mild hybrid technology
MAX POWER 395bhp (400PS) at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 550Nm at 2000-5000rpm
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with 2-speed transfer box
0-100KM/H 6.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 191km/h
CONSUMPTION 9.9 litres per 100km (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $314,999
AGENT Wearnes Automotive Pte Ltd