Land Rover Defender: The king is dead! Long live the king!
While diehard fans of the old Defender may still be outraged that their beloved Landy was discontinued, the reimagined Defender range, consisting of the 90, 110 and 130, has become Jaguar Land Rover’s global top seller.
As humans, we have an uncanny ability to get used to things. Remember in the early days of load shedding… when we all moaned and railed against Stage 1? These days we breathe a collective sigh of relief when it’s only Stage 2. Hey, we don’t even mind Stage 3.
In the two years of lockdown, we quickly got used to Covid regulations, even though many of them made little sense. We adhered to curfews and squirted endless litres of sanitisers on our dry, cracked hands. I find it both scary and amazing how our minds can adjust to things that once felt unacceptable.
When it comes to the old Land Rover Defender, something similar happened.
I remember being horrified when it was announced that the icon would be phased out. I was one of the thousands, if not millions of Landy worshippers who stifled a sob as the legend was sent to the auto graveyard on 29 January 2016 at the Solihull plant in Birmingham.
After 68 years in production, with over two million Series Land Rovers and Defenders sold, the murder of the legend felt like one of the biggest crimes in automotive history.
The king was dead – with no heir apparent.
Diehard fans were far from comforted when then-JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) boss, Ralph Speth, tried to reassure the mourning congregation.
“This is not the end of the Defender. Far from it. We merely pause.”
Three years passed before the new Defender was unveiled in 2019 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
As I watched online, I was one of many who dissed its sleek lines and found its new, modern design an affront to the senses. What fuckery was this? It didn’t even look like a Defender!
I joined the hordes of social media naysayers, dubbing it a “yummy mummy’s school wagon” and “Too posh to push!”
Then, in a flash, I switched after spending five days in 2020 on a new Defender experience with the legendary Kingsley Holgate.
“Fickle woman!” you may say. I couldn’t help but be turned.
In the metal flesh, on a thrillingly challenging off-road adventure, there was much to celebrate with its all-new tech, gasp-worthy off-road capabilities and luxurious comfort.
And while there are still those diehards who will never turn their backs on the iconic original, many new fans and enthusiasts have wholeheartedly embraced the new posh king which has become JLR’s global top-seller.
I recently got to test drive the full diesel and petrol Defender range consisting of the 90, 110 and the recently introduced 8-seater 130.
As I surveyed the pack of Defenders lined up in a row, it struck me how the overall exterior design had grown on me. JLR designers have somehow managed to evoke the boxiness and 4×4 hardcore, off-roader appeal that the discontinued Defender was famous for, while completely modernising and streamlining it.
So off we road (sic) in gleaming convoy to put the pack through their paces on a three-day adventure, overnighting at Grootbos near Gansbaai and traversing the Overberg region.
I started the journey in the Defender 110 P400, replete with its straight-six turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine, offering a mighty 294kW of power and 550Nm torque. From there I hopped into the 110 D300 derivative. With its 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged 221kW/650Nm diesel engine, I was pleasantly surprised by how silent it was for a diesel.
In both derivatives, I was struck by the interior comfort and super-fast and easy-to-operate on and off-road tech. The Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system, along with all the 4×4 assistance systems, has a central display and the wide, spacious cabin is a perfect blend of retro and modern convenience.
However, when it came to consumption, the P400 was a pretty thirsty specimen. Along the way, the fuel gauge veered into 17l/100kms, so if I were in the market for a 110, I’d consider either the D240 or D300 diesel derivatives which, if driven with care, can come in at around 8l/100kms.
Next up was the recently launched largest member of the fam, the Defender 130, whose rivals include the Lexus LX 600, the Merc GLS and the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. These huge 8-seaters are not really my vibe, but seem to be popular among people with large families, or for those who want ginormous boot space.
The 130 D300 and 130 P400 share the same wheelbase and engines as their 110 bros, along with 8-speed ZF automatic transmissions.
However, when it comes to overall size, the 130 stretches over five metres, which works out to be 340mm longer than the 110. A big plus is its massive boot space of 1,329 litres when the third-row seats are down (although there are only 389 litres when it’s being used as an 8-seater).
While I thoroughly enjoyed the 110 and 130, the Defender that captured my adventurous and badass heart was the V8 90 P525, with its 5.0-litre engine, roaring out 386kWs and 625Nm torque.
Part of a five-engine line-up (the P300, P400, D240 and D300 which were globally launched a year after the 110s), the 90 in Santorini black would feel quite at home in some gangsta rapper’s garage. It oozes street cred.
And because it’s noticeably lighter, much quicker off the mark and more compact than the rest of the Defender family, with its smaller turning circle, it’s really easy to manoeuvre.
It’s just as good off-road as the 110 and 130, with its advanced 4×4 tech and the same 291mm maximum ground clearance using the height-adjustable air suspension.
It’s a dream to accelerate and drive.
Inside, it’s a combination of class and cool with ebony leather and Dinamica suede cloth – a high-end type of microfibre fabric that’s both durable and easy on the eye.
However, the 90 is clearly not designed to be a family car.
While it can comfortably house five adults, the boot space of just under 300 litres is, well, a joke. And don’t even bother looking for back passenger windows, coz there ain’t any.
This is a Defender that’s aimed at the solo adventurer with a love for speed and is unconcerned with life’s bland practicalities. When you check the price, for most of us, it will remain firmly in the realm of fantasy.
But when it comes to new Defender owners, the trend seems to be to have a 110 or 130 on call for family adventures, with a 90 on hand for wild-at-heart, badass days.
Defender 90 P525 R2,773,400
Defender 90 D300 R1,777,500
Defender 110 D300 R1,981,400
Defender 110 P400 R2,033,600
Defender 130 D300 R1,935,500
Defender 130 P400 R1,874,700 DM