By Charleen Clarke
It’s almost time for me to vote for the World Car Awards and also the Women’s World Car of the Year. Hence, I’m on a mission: to find the best car in the world. Could it be the new Land Rover Defender?
That’s the question I sought to answer when I took delivery of a Defender D240 HSE. I was, of course, quite familiar with the vehicle. After all, it was probably the most publicized launch of 2020 (and also one of the most controversial – because the new model looks nothing like the old).
But what would it be like to live with? And, very importantly, does the vehicle actually warrant the R1 million-plus price tag?
Hey good looking
The first thing one examines when getting a test car is obviously the exterior design. As discussed, the new Defender looks absolutely nothing like its predecessor. Instead, it looks pretty much like a Discovery – which is a compliment (because the Disco is a good-looking vehicle).
From certain angles, it also reminded me of a Hummer – because it’s quite boxy and butch. Overall, the impression is very favourable.
The styling of the interior is equally impressive and, once again, it bears absolutely no resemblance to its predecessor. Instead of a functional and utilitarian interior, the new Defender delivers a plush and well-equipped interior that smacks of luxury.
It’s right up there with more expensive vehicles in Land Rover’s product line-up.
One of the most unusual features of my Defender was the so-called “jump seat” in the middle of the two seats in the first row. It certainly would accommodate a child (I reckon of up to 12 years in age or so) in comfort. Because I do not have such a creature, I kept it folded down at all times. It looks quite neat in this position and it also offers an extra two cupholders.
I found the interior exceptionally comfortable; I certainly would not mind being a driver or passenger in a Defender on a long road trip.
For me, the pick of the Defender range is the Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) model – the P400e. Combining a powerful 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and 105kW electric motor, the P400e delivers substantial torque alongside low running costs, with CO2 emissions of just 74g/km and combined economy of 2.8l/100km. It will run in all-electric mode with zero tailpipe emissions for up to 43km, including off-road where the immediate torque from the electric motor makes the Defender even more capable. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? I cannot wait to take it for a spin. My test car, on the other hand, featured a 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel producing 177kW and 430Nm – and it did a more than commendable job. I drove the Defender in city traffic, along country lanes and on various highways – and never found it lacking.
Great off-road too
While the Defender is right at home in cities, it doesn’t flinch at getting its tyres dirty. In fact, permanent all-wheel drive and a twin-speed automatic gearbox, a centre differential and optional Active Locking Rear Differential ensure that the Defender has the hardware required to tackle the harshest conditions you can throw at it.
Configurable Terrain Response allows experienced off-roaders to fine-tune individual vehicle settings to perfectly suit the conditions, while inexperienced drivers can leave the system to detect the best settings automatically for the conditions, using the intelligent Auto function.
With a maximum suspension articulation of 500mm, the Defender can tackle 45-degree side slopes and inclines of 45 degrees quite happily.
A maximum wading depth of 900mm is supported by a new Wade programme in the Terrain Response 2 system, which automatically softens the throttle response, sets the heating and ventilation to recirculate cabin air, locks the driveline and adjusts the ride height to its off-road setting. When exiting Wade programme the new Defender automatically drags the brakes, momentarily, to clean and dry the discs and ensure optimum braking performance is restored quickly after driving through deep water.
Safety features abound
As can be expected from a modern car that costs over R1 million, safety features abound. These include six airbags, Emergency Braking, Cruise Control and Speed Limiter, Lane Keep Assist and a Driver Condition Monitor.
It ticks the innovation box
There are so many innovative features up for grabs with the new Defender that I don’t know where to start. I especially like the ClearSight Ground View, which enables the driver to “see through” the bonnet. Also, the Defender takes Software-Over-The-Air (SOTA) technology to a new level, with 14 individual modules capable of receiving remote updates. By downloading data while customers are asleep at home or in remote locations, the new Defender will get better with age (unlike yours truly… sob, sob): as electronic updates cascade down to the vehicle immediately, without delay and with no need to visit a Land Rover dealer.
The new Defender combines emotional appeal with innovation, practicality with luxury, off-road ability with on-road comfort, and safety with a superlative design. Also, I think that the price tag is warranted. But is it currently the best car in the world? It may well be …
- The winners of the Women’s World Car of the Year will be announced at the end of February. The winners of the World Car Awards will be announced on April 20, 2021.