When you get behind the wheel of something worth just over $125k, you would be expecting something a bit special, well most of us would!

We certainly were, after all this is the car that won the Top Gear “Car of the Year” competition, as well as their “Unstoppable Force” 4WD Award, and was a finalist in this year’s NZ Car of the Year.

Perfectly suited for a ‘Kiwi Road’ adventure

We didn’t just get something a bit special however, we got sensational! We got the 2020 Landrover Defender 110 D240 SE, with the optional Explorer Options pack, which added $10,115 to the base Defender’s $114,900.00.

It was hard to go into our week away in the Defender with an open mind, as all the Landrover enthusiasts we know, kept telling us how superb it was, and how impressed we were going to be.

Landrover have been working hard to reinforce the message that this new, integral frame Defender was as robust and capable as the Body on Chassis lineage it was replacing, but hugely capable on road as well.

This new platform is an uprated version of the D7 chassis as seen on the Range Rover and Discovery range, that Landrover designates the D7X (X for extreme). Using a combination of Aluminium and Hi-Tensile steel, the new frame is insanely strong, and wears suitably upgraded suspension and steering subframes and components to match. Landrover reckon you can hit a 250 mm step at 25kph and it won’t raise an upper class, sophisticated eyebrow.

It’s got entry and departure angles that read like Ultra 4 4400 class buggy specs. Well not quite, but there is very little on the market that can get anywhere near them. It does off-road like an offroader should, and we’ve all seen the pics and videos of Defenders all over the world going places no other luxury SUV would even dream of.

Going places!

Over the years, the previous Defender had some city manners tanned into its farm-boy hide, but you would have never called it sophisticated! It remained defiantly “what you see is what you get.”

With the new Defender, what you get is a lot more than what you see. What you now see is James Bond, what you get is Indiana Jones! While they can both hold their own in high society, it’s Indy that’s the master when it gets down and dirty!

Our plans, however, involve something not too offroady (We’ll leave that till we get to sample the soon to arrive two-door 90) and investigate the ‘on-tour’ face of the Defender.

We want to take it away from its heritage as the working man of the land, slightly muddy faced, and take it out on an exploding New Zealand pastime – rediscovering the country.

Lake Arapuni – Arohena Campsite

Grabbing a couple of grandkids to fill the rear seats, and hanging a 6m caravan on the back, we are going to head down to Stratford, via the Forgotten World Highway and Whangamomona, to see how it handles the load, the road, and the passengers.

It’s a long haul from Tauranga to Stratford, so we’ll break it somewhere along the way for the night, but we’re still expecting a lot of  “are we there yets” before the excursion is over.

The technology is there to use right from before the word go. Press towing on the big screen, select reverse, and there is the image of the towbar, and it’s own separate trajectory back to the van drawbar. Easy. Once it’s all lined up, raise the suspension, and it’s basically done. Nice.

And then hit the road, and immediately recognise that this trip is a damn good idea. Effortless is an understatement, how the hell does Landrover get so much out of a 2 litre diesel engine?

Ingenium by JLR

Introducing the Ingenium from Jaguar Landrover. A project 7 years in the making, and already successfully adopted to the Jaguar range, with one and a half million units having been produced in the companies own Engine Manufacturing Centre in Wolverhampton, England.

The modular design allows for the construction of a range of engine sizes by “connecting” a number of 500cc block castings to create the engine size required. In this case, 4 blocks equals 2 litres. A400hp, 6 cylinder, 3 litre unit is part of the Range Rover Line-up.

Our Defender’s engine bay was graced by the twin-turbo inline 4 diesel version, that maxed out at 177Kw, (240HP), and 430nM Torque.

Form and function – suspension tower bracing

Twin Cam, 16Valve heads, dual twin-scroll turbos, electrohydraulic valve train, 18,000bar common rail injection, and integral exhaust manifold all feature on this configuration.

This specific engine can also be manufactured in a transverse design, for petrol or diesel fuel, and matched up to front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or 4wd drive-trains.

JLR attribute much of the impressive output numbers to concentrating on a reduction of internal friction, with such things as needle roller bearings instead of machined surfaces, variable oil pumps, etc.

They claim a 17% internal friction reduction over the previous 2.2 litre diesel.

The engine matches up well to the 8Speed ZF Transmission, which is specifically designed for longitudinal engine applications, and also features reduced friction and improved fuel economy advancements. Shift times are down to 200 milliseconds on highway, and the trans has the ability to skip stages if necessary, even being capable of shifting straight from 8th to 2nd in extreme cases.

Forgotten World Highway

The combination worked well, hauling the caravan around in any number of steep, tight situations, and out on the open road staying with traffic flow was effortless. We can see a number of these hitting the road with horse floats attached in the future.

With or without the caravan attached, the 4wheel independent air suspension works better on the road than any Landrover in history, and, rumour has it’s just as good off the road as well. Our day trip exploring the Taranaki Tunnels took us into some pretty wild country (albeit still on designated roads) and the levels of comfort and control were remarkable.

It’s a big, heavy piece of kit, and it’s never going to handle like the Jaguars that carry the same mechanicals. It feels like it wants to, but it doesn’t want to shake up the occupants, so has to restrain itself till it gets offroad.

Inside there is no getting away from the fact you are in a Landrover, a Defender in Particular. Actually, at night you know you are getting into a Defender even before you do, unlocking the doors triggers courtesy lights that light up the ground around the doors, in the shape of the Defender Logo!

Inside is quite a different experience than anything else. In keeping with the “Still as tough as an old boot” Defender image, Landrover call it ‘reductionist’, with a minimum of knobs, switches, and controls. Many of them are multi-purpose, their function depending on how often you push, turn, or click them.

Rugged and stylish! (James meet Indy!)

Then you get things like exposed cap screws holding the door lining, and bolting the grab handles to the serious looking dash cross beam, which is actually powder-coated magnesium, and metal on the doors, contrasted with the rather tasteful Defender logo embossed into the back of the big storage space created by that dash beam. Landrover call it ‘exposed structural elements’.

A wide touch screen is neatly integrated into the beam, looking like it really belongs there. The way it is positioned, and its size, makes it readily visible from the back seat, and watching the countryside unfold kept the passengers quiet, interested in what was coming up, and where we were.

Dramatic colour contrasts look a bit OTT initially but become pleasantly familiar very quickly.

There’s more to the contrast than a mere photo can show

And just so you don’t forget the working-class heritage, it has a rubber floor (carpet inserts optional) and flush sills so you can brush the country back out.

We saw a lot of country in our few days in the 110, heading over the Kaimais from Tauranga, down through Putaruru to spend the first night beside the Waikato River at Lake Arapuni, across to Taumarunui, then over the Forgotten World Highway to Stratford.

Following a day at the Taranaki Best Pairs 4×4 Trials competition, the next morning we took off again with the caravan on the back, around the mountain, out to the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, then up to Urenui Beach for a couple of nights, while we explored the Kiwi Road Tunnels and Damper Falls.

Urenui Beach at Sunrise

By the time we were ready to head home the next morning, we were expecting some fairly severe resistance from the back seat, but they seemed pretty comfortable back there. The Defender had comprehensively passed the “Are we there yet” test.

Are we there yet?!

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