Today is the day. The media blackout has lifted, the all-new Land-Rover Defender is here in New Zealand, and available for test drives. It is just a stunning piece of machinery, and its DNA is obviously Land Rover. Sometimes you just want something so bad it hurts!

I had the privilege of being invited to the New Zealand launch of the new Land-Rover Defender at Kauri Bay ‘Boomrock’ near where I live in Clevedon – along with a host of celebrities and Instagram ‘Influencers’ – so this Land-Rover man felt a bit out of place – but I did not even notice the other folk, who appeared to be more interested in who else was there – I just came for my 5th love (after my 4 girls): Land-Rover.

I had seen the new Defender that morning when I dropped off my Series 1 and old blue Defender for a static display – but at the launch, my wife and I were driven up to the Kauri Bay Lodge, to find a new bronze coloured Defender displayed at the end of a long wooden terrace overlooking Kauri Bay on Auckland’s southern coast.

First impression is the size. The 110 is actually 119″ wheelbase, so allowing the back wheel to be pushed right back allowing a stunning ‘recovery angle’ – as opposed to the old 110 or any of the SUV vehicles such as the Discovery and Range-Rover. The Discovery 2 had a substantial increase of overhang from the Discovery 1 for the forward-facing back seats to fit. The Defender has the capability of fitting the 3rd row – but without the overhang.

It is very wide. As with the Range-Rover SPORT, the vehicles are much larger than you think (just try parking them in an inner-city car park) This is because they are proportionally correct, so much wider, allowing them to be much longer than they appear.

The lines are more refined, so familiar modern Land-Rover shape is prevalent with the round front end, as opposed to the old slab vertical face: Land-Rover have tried hard to make it look a bit boxy – but not as slab-sided.

Not sure about the plastic bumper front end. My primary concern with my 2006 Defender was clipping the steel box bumper. It is very common to strike the bumper and bend it back into the front tyre. First chance I had, I installed a raised tubular bumper on my old Defender to avoid the danger. The shape of the curved front end on the new Defender could allow a better-angled approach to a steep bank attack, and I hope to have the opportunity to measure this later next week.

The interior is very modern, as expected but still a little sparse, in keeping with the old Defender with the main driver’s binnacle and the centre dash that used to house the ‘wireless’, – but it has been done so well. It is subtly discreet the amount of customising that is possible if you wanted to set the Defender up for some serious work. The centre main dash is a screen displaying the standard rev counter and speedo along with all the settings and warning lights etc – but in the center of the dash is a larger screen which is where all the customising, and of course all of the camera feeds appear.

The cameras are located all over the vehicle – front, under the bumper, in the wing mirrors and off the back of the vehicle, and provides a real time feed with a red line outline of the vehicle, so making the vehicle invisible in the view. This allows you to see what you are driving over and what is right beside the vehicle.

We did not have time to crawl into the full customising of the Defenders performance. You can buy plug in units for your car now that allows you to alter the accelerator pedal sensitivity – so rocket ship to … well, Series 1 performance,  dampening the pedal when on bumpy undulations. The new Land-Rover Defender has this built in. Boom! I bet that will be copied by the rest of the ‘Johnny come lately’ car manufacturers.

Air bag suspension, so multiple levels available. Not much time to play with this, but it appeared to be the same as the Range-Rover, so has an access mode (which is still quite high) – road level and off-road. Typically, there are also 2 more levels that the car selects depending on the ‘Terrain Response” (Land-Rover invention everyone else has copied) selection, such as “Rock crawl” that jacks it up even higher. You definitely need to install ‘Rock n’ Tree’ sliders, which would be my second accessory (after armour plating the pedestrian-friendly front end), as the vehicle height on maximum would be similar to a 50mm jack on 33” tyres. A bit high to easily slip out (READ: fall out) of when fully jacked.

A common complaint from Australia and South Africa was the highest setting reset to ‘Road-height’ at 50km/h. Speed is essential over badly corrugated roads – so the new Defender stays on full height until a more sensible 80km/h before a forced lowering of the vehicle for stability requirements.

Hill descent (Land-Rover invention everyone else has copied) is standard and the descent speed is selectable with an easy toggle by your right thumb – and the speed selected is displayed as a green line on the speedo, so you know what is set before driving off the edge. Trust me – that is a really handy bit of kit!

Hill ‘hold’ means you can stop on a steep bit of greasy hill and not have to touch the brakes or attempt a hand-brake hill start. You simply lift your foot off the accelerator. Other Land-Rover products time out – but the new Defender just sits there until you touch the accelerator again. Very clever.

The seats are very flash. Very comfortable and supportive. I have several discs missing in the base of my spine, so use a thin wedge behind my back when on long drives or off-road. When I started off in the new Defender, I was fiddling with the seat adjustment, and the lumbar support just about pushed me into the steering wheel. Brilliant!

Seating position; The old Defender and the CLASSIC Range-Rover you sat on ‘top of’ – so you sat very high in the car, with large windows giving a good commanding view of the surrounds. Great for kids that suffer from car-sickness. The modern cars, you tend to sit ‘in’ the car, so quite low – staring out over a large bonnet. The glass in the new Defender is not as large as the older versions, but the new Defender does have a large headroom – enough to wear a hat while driving. You can really wind the seat high to gain that better visibility. The seats are fully programable, so you could set up ‘Highway’ – ‘Off-Road’ settings if you desired.

The vehicle we drove had the glass roof – so giving an amazing feeling of space, but it would be interesting to see what that is like in Central Otago in the height of summer. Land-Rover have also installed the old-style skylight curved glass windows above the back-passenger doors. Unfortunately, they are very tinted and just blended into the roof looking from the outside. From the inside, there is a massive brace through the middle of these Skylights, so the actual transparent part is probably less than half the actual glass area – but the thought was there.

The rearview mirror has a camera capability, so if visibility is impaired either by a load or centre rear passengers smiling face, by ‘dipping’ the mirror, as you would at night, the mirror turns into a screen connected to a roof-mounted camera. I actually thought of the same idea for the vehicle I am building due to the size of the back-mounted tyre – but this unit did my head in.

It took a while to work out why. With a mirror, your eyes adjust to the full distance – from your eye – to the mirror – then through the car to the object behind, but with the camera, of course, your eyes need to focus on a screen only – so from your eyes to the mirror face, or if you like, from the car in front to close focus of a small screen. Yes, I  may have to rethink this idea now.

The ride. Off-Road, as per all modern Land-Rover products, you have no idea of the severity of the terrain you are driving over. The new Defender takes this to the next level – possibly to its detriment. You could be smashing the living daylights out of the vehicle without realising it. In the older Series and Defenders, if it got too rough, as in our drive in an ex-Army Defender up Cape York last year, your eyesight can become blurred, not forgetting your back teeth becoming cracked, or your fillings falling out of your head. The new Defender – you would be sitting wondering why the lesser vehicle in front is going so slow.

On road – with the reactionary air-bag suspension, it is like driving a Range-Rover SPORT – again, deceptive. It is so quiet and smooth,  you have no idea how fast you are taking that corner. NO body roll. None of the Defender under-steer. Total control.

I love the reactive head-lights that we could see changing as we came down the bush track at night.

I love the fact there are no carpets like the old Defender that just soaked up the water that leaked around the door frame. The floors are flat with a slope to the door, so water can drain out and the full rubber floor coverings can be water blasted out. Thank goodness for common sense!

I love the square tail lights on the slab back door. I mean – really love them. (I like my lights!)

I love the soft close back door, as the old Defender with a 40kg full-size spare tire on the back, you had to slam it hard enough to crack the roof edge over time. Not with the new Defender – a gentle push, and it clicks, then sucks the door in to compress the door seals to water and dust tightness.

What I didn’t like; As above the rear-view mirror, but that does have its uses, and is not compulsory. It just did your head in –

The centre console. That struck me as a waste of important room and was so out of place with the practical functionality of the rest of the vehicle. Since the auto box selector is small and dash-mounted, the whole center can be a ‘walk-thru’, so can be pulled out and a center seat installed. The console is very tall – and not very functional.

A loose tray – a tiny fridge that is too small to be useful on an overnight trip, so not big enough for a few beers and a block of sausages. A huge cavity from just below the dash to the floor – and rubber deck-tread mat at the bottom with open sides. I genuinely cannot think what you could use that for. A magnum wine bottle? Some fence battens? Really – no idea.

The old black vinyl covered beer crate that used to be in the old Defenders was less than half the height due to it sitting on the seat base, (which is no longer there) – but I used to refer to that as the ‘Tardis’ as it was so huge, once you threw stuff in there, it rattled down to the bottom, never to be seen again.

There just isn’t anywhere to put your rattly keys, wallet, ammunition and electric fence tester. Our Range-Rover SPORT is the same. Everything you just dump in the centre just falls off. I would have to remodel that really quickly as it would genuinely hack me off.

The name: It’s funny how opinions change over the years. I wish there was ‘Social media’ when Land-Rover decided to drop the ‘Rover Free-wheel’ permanent 4WD capability of the Land-Rover in 1950 for a selectable 4WD system. Imagine the outrage! From memory, there were 11 different Land-Rover models produced between 1949 and 1958 before some clever trousers decided to rename it a ‘Series 2’ – but even that was only for 2 years before the ‘Series 2a’ was released. The outrage in 1966 moving the headlights from their protected location in the centre out to the outer guards just for the Norwegians!

What about the demise of the steel grate grill for the poofy plastic grill of the ‘Series 3’ – so now it could no longer be used as a BBQ grill – and what about the poncy plastic dash they replaced the centrally located full steel dash. What were they thinking? I don’t know… progress?

Interesting to note that not one Series 1 Land-Rover has a ‘Series 1’ badge on it. The Series 2 is called a ‘Series 2’. Same went for the Discovery.

The Defender name came about in the mid 1990s. Up until that time, they were simply referred to by their wheelbase, Land-Rover 90, 110 or 130. They were never called a Series 4, yet we have a Series 5 Discovery – albeit D5.

So why on earth did Land-Rover just call the all-new Defender ‘Defender’? Why not call it a Series 2 Defender so the obvious comparison is NOT made? Can’t call it a D2 I guess…. but ‘DEFENDER 2’ is good.

So would I buy one?

I once had a conversation with a Sales chap at Archibald & Shorter when my Defender was in for its service. He asked me if I liked my Defender – I replied that I loved it as it was ideal for what we purchased it for – long-distance touring, with some reasonably serious Off-Road sections, like through Central Otago etc. “Bloody useless around town”.

The Salesmen laughed and agreed. He said they often get a ‘Weekend Warrior’ come in to buy the ultimate ‘Blokes’ machine. He then takes it home and it won’t fit in the garage or the parking building at work. Rubbish in heavy traffic with the manual gearbox and heavy clutch – hard suspension.

So after about 3 weeks – he swaps it for his wife’s car, so she can drop the kids off to school in ‘her new Defender’. That generally lasts about one or two days, so about 6 weeks later, the ‘Weekend Warrior’ is back at the Land-Rover dealership to trade it in for a supercharged SPORT…. which the wife promptly swaps for her car….

The new Defender, in my opinion – drives very similar to the post 2011 Range-Rover SPORT, but with the tucked in front and back – a far superior Off-Road set up that would, unfortunately, ‘slam-dunk’ all other Land-Rover products currently on the market.

The new Defender sits perfectly in the ‘Weekend Warrior’ market who would buy an upper-end Ute to tow a trailer load of Trail bikes, or head off hunting – and drive it to the office Monday morning – still covered in mud of course.

There is just no way that Defender we drove – on those road bias ‘All-Terrain’ tyres on full road pressure should have been able to go where we took it. Just no way.

So, would I put my money where my mouth is, as I did when I bought a new Defender in 2006? In a heartbeat mate – in a heartbeat!

WORDS AND IMAGES FROM KEVIN ISEMONGER

Land Rover invite you to test drive their 2020 Defender today. To book your Defender experience click here.

 

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