BY BRIAN BYRNE
THERE was a lot of angst when Land Rover decided they could no longer just keep updating the Defender and killed off the model that was the icon of the vehicle from which the brand was born. The simple truth, it was no longer fit for modern purpose.
It was truly iconic, still very capable in the right skilled hands, and was loved enough to garner a significant number of buyers every year. But an ever-diminishing number.
Besides, it was uncomfortable, noisy, and would never last under the continually more stringent emissions regulations. Eventually the patchwork of incremental improvements could no longer take another patch. Defender had become a dinosaur.
I learned my early off-roading in a Defender. A long time ago now, but I would still be happy taking one in the most difficult conditions today and be confident that it would take me back home safely. But dinosaurs have to die eventually.
Land Rover promised a replacement. It took them some time, but they finally delivered on the promise, and the car arrived here earlier this year. I was fortunate enough just before Level 5 to have had one out for a full appraisal.
It has no technical relationship with the old vehicle in any way. Nothing has been brought forward from the previous version. So this is more than a generational change, it’s a total reboot of the nameplate.
This is Defender brought into the realm of modern Land Rover and Range Rover. The whole range is now luxury car stuff.
There are some detail traces of the old DNA. But they are cosmetic, a tip of the hat for the nostalgics. The overall squareness of the new Defender is one. The spare wheel on the rear door is another, though practical — you don’t want to be going off-road in anything without a proper spare wheel.
But the hawkeye front lights, and the sets of tail-lights in the back door frame, are all from today’s automotive world. As is the whole body and platform.
Inside elements like visible bolt heads on the door trims also hark back to the old, though in a more refined way. And there is a relative simplicity up front in the driver’s area compared to other Land Rover models which also appeals to me. Only the one centre screen, for instance, compared to what has become a cineplex in some of the others.
Beautiful rotary knobs for climate control. And though the main instruments cluster is entirely built on digital, the dials are a good modern take on old school simplicity.
It’s a big car, especially in the five-door 110 which I was driving. With lots of room for the five people it can accommodate and all their needed accoutrements. And, boy, will they certainly be travelling in comfort.
Everything that we now expect from a premium car maker is there. No point in listing them, they’re just there. Including stuff we never had in the old Defender days, like cameras in the front which show what you can’t see when you’re aiming towards the sky on a steep off-road incline, or trekking a narrow trail and that big bonnet gets in the way of you knowing just what kind of hole your front wheels are about to drop into.
I had the opportunity to take my review car into some of that more challenging terrain during my week. By no means anything like my drives through the Argentine Andes in 2007, but potentially tricky.
But, because the new Defender has the latest versions of all Land Rover’s technical off-road electronic wizardry, it was as easy as driving onto the grass verge in a park. I also have had enough experience of that tech in seriously tough situations to be very confident in it.
Back on the road, this is an excellent highway cruiser. As you’d expect, certainly when you are paying the price for the new Defender. It’s also very pleasant sitting up high over other road users and seeing the countryside. There are, many, worse ways to be travelling.
My review Defender was the starter one of four grades that are available. A three-door 90, and a Hard Top version are available, and there’s also a commercial option. Power came from Land Rover’s own 200hp 2.0 diesel, which was barely heard from inside, and wasn’t much louder from outside. There are options of 3.0 diesel and 2.0 and 3.0 petrols, and a plug-in hybrid.
Whenever we get to be able to go long distances and interesting parts of Ireland again, with the option of some trails driving, I certainly wouldn’t mind having this one for the journey. And I’m not nostalgic for the old one, really.