The One and Only Defender

Back in 2019, when Land Rover decided to reboot the icon that was their now discontinued Defender, I think they were taking something of a gamble, reports Export & Freight’s Austin Lynch.

Even though the Defender name itself is only about since 1990, the four-wheel drive vehicle – wearing pretty much the same clothes, had been in existence for 67 years, first as the Land Rover Series and then the Defender.

The old Defender, as we would recognize it, first appeared in 1983 and was called the Land Rover 110 (one-ten) referring to the vehicle’s wheelbase in inches. It was joined the following year by the 90.

In 1989, Land Rover introduced their first Discovery model, and the following year –to avoid any confusion – they renamed the two existing models as the Defender 90 and Defender 110. A third wheelbase (model) was also added to the mix – a longer 127 (later named the 130). At this point in time, the only other vehicle Land Rover made was the Range Rover.

When production ended in 2016, just over 2 million vehicles (Land Rover Series and Defender) had been built and that, as they say, was that for this vehicle instantly recognized all around the world.

But just three years later, in September 2019, the world got its first look at the all-new Defender – bigger, bolder and bang up to date.

On sale since 2020, the new Defender has proved a big success, and is appealing to a whole new market/demographic that its predecessor couldn’t even have imagined or dreamed of.

To find out a bit more about this vehicle – the granddad of the modern 4X4 SUV – Charles Hurst Jaguar Land Rover from Belfast kindly gave us the chance to take an extended test drive in a new 90 Hardtop SE model.

The model we borrowed was the D250 AWD auto MHEV, finished in Silicone Silver (premium metallic paint) with a white contrast roof. And being the shorter model, with just seats in the front, somehow made this vehicle feel to me like an authentic Defender, ready for a busy day down on the farm.

However, climb aboard and you instantly realize that this vehicle’s appeal will stretch way beyond those who need to transport a bale of hay and a collie!

With huge, comfortable leather seats, a digital dash and all the tech you could imagine, the new Defender is pure luxury, and just sitting in it makes you feel a bit special –and that’s before you even press the start button to fire this thing up.

Land Rover has pulled off a couple of magic tricks with this new Defender, which I only discovered when I actually got up close to one.

The first trick is its size. To the casual onlooker this is a compact, neat Land Rover, not overly bulky or imposing compared to some of the other off-road type vehicles about. But on the inside it feels huge – there is an amazing amount of space for front seat passengers, and you are up such a height compared to other road users. With a massive windscreen, and that elevated driving position, you really feel like you are in something special here.

The model tested also had a front row jump seat, handy when you have two kids to leave to school in the morning.

With 250bhp, this Defender has huge amounts of power, and bury the foot and this thing takes off with a very satisfying roar from the 3 litre diesel engine.

But going fast is not what the Defender is about. This is about cruising along, enjoying the comfortable interior and soaking up the view – and believe me the view out of this thing is amazing thanks to that ride height. If you regularly drive any type of commercial vehicle, you will feel right at home in this thing.

And, of course, you have to remember this is an incredibly capable off-road vehicle, so if you have to take an excursion through a field, up to the top of a quarry or down some country tracks then the Defender will be more than happy to take you to where you want to go – in air-conditioned, leather trimmed luxury.

The second magic trick Land Rover have managed to pull off is perhaps its most clever. They have managed to turn what was a staple of the farmyard into an icon of the High Street.

This new Defender is possibly the most trendy set of wheels you could be seen in today – and not since BMW reimagined the MINI do I think a vehicle has had such a transformation, while still retaining its raison d’etre.

And, I suppose the cleverest part of this trick is that the Defender manages to combine these two personalities in one shiny package. So whether you want to cruise the town, or go check on your livestock, it’s the keys of the Defender that everyone will be reaching for, if you happen to have one of these parked outside the back door.

I can testify that for the few days I had the Defender, it’s the only thing the kids wanted to go in.

I should mention the Defender is full to the brim of technology – from cameras all around, to a fantastic sound system, all sorts of intelligent drive systems and displays and even comes with Land Rovers wading depth tech if you need to get across a body of water.

Quite simply, this is the one, and the only Defender – and thanks to this reboot the Defender name will live on for many years to come. Land Rover, your big gamble has paid off – in spades.