When Land Rover introduced the new version of the Defender, the questions always seem to centre on would it be strong enough to carry forward that go-anywhere image of an invincible off-road machine. The arrival of the commercial version of the new Defender brings that question more into focus as Michael Moroney found out when he took the iconic 4×4 on a recent test drive.
Armies and utilities have lived with and loved the Land Rover Defender for decades while in more recent times that image of invincibility has been usurped by others. Land Rover needs the new Defender to win back that place, and it needs to add a touch more in terms of driving comfort without compromising on its strength.
Land Rover has faced that challenge with an impressive commercial version of the new Defender. Can the Defender perform in its working mode as well as in its comfort mode has been that challenge? The true test is to put it to work both on and off the road and assess its load carrying ability matched with its comfort levels.
Forget about any notions that you’ve had of the Defender in the past, this is a brand new machine. For me that outstanding changes are the comfort levels, the ease of driving with modern seats that are well positioned. When it comes to the commercial model, the way that the Land Rover team has created a very versatile 4×4 with great use of the load space, is particularly impressive.
The new commercial, called the Defender Hard Top is essentially a passenger vehicle with the rear seats removed. Unlike most competitors however Land Rover has put come serious thought into the commercial version and for good reason as up to 25% of Defenders are expected to be for the commercial user.
This new Defender comes in two versions, a short-wheelbase Defender 90 Hard Top and the long-wheelbase Defender 110 Hard Top, which I drove for this test report. The numbers no longer relate to the wheelbase length in this Defender.
The Defender Hard Top Commercial comes with a 3.0 litre twin-turbo diesel engine that pumps out 249bhp and 570Nm of torque. That supports its 3.5 tonnes towing credentials and driving is made easy with the use of a very smooth eight speed automatic gearbox.
That combination gives a very comfortable driving sensation which was more like a Discovery than the Defender of the past but without the body roll. The eight-speed auto gearbox is a dream to use compared with old Defender’s manual gearbox. If you want to change gears yourself you can use the selector lever as there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The steering is precise, and it now comes with a modern steering wheel. The off-road ability is now more enjoyable due to the softness of the suspension as it soaks up bumpy roads.
What was especially impressive was the economy levels. This Defender returned a little over 1,000km on a full 89 litre diesel tank. That’s impressively close to the Land Rover rated figure and that’s the level of economy that’s needed in today’s high price diesel market. I didn’t have the opportunity to test its economy while towing a trailer, but on that basis it has be top of the class relative to the competition.
In terms of driving controls this new Land Rover Defender is a straight-forward machine with more digital controls than in the past. The Terrain Response system allows you to set up the Defender for different kinds of surfaces and obstacles. There are buttons to switch on the hill descent control and set the twin-speed transfer box into low-range mode. This feature claims to give you better control over difficult ground conditions.
With permanent All Wheel Drive, this new Defender can tackle any and every conditions. New electronic controls allow the engine torque can be balanced between the front and rear wheels, to provide greater stability and control, especially when off road. There is a new independent front and rear suspension systems, and the Terrain Response systems allow you to get the best driving system to match the ground conditions.
There are two standard front seats, with a third middle passenger jump-type seat slightly higher than the others. When folded flat you get a centre console, with a pair of cup holders in the back as well as a pair of additional USB ports, that’s in addition to the two already available below the infotainment system.
As this is a commercial 4×4 load space is important. The rear load space is rated at 2,059 litres with 213 litres of lockable underfloor stowage that comes as 58 litres of underfloor storage and 155 litres under what would be the rear footwell. The payload rating is 805kg, which is marginally lower than some of the 4×4 crew car pick-ups. The rear load length is 1.472 metres with 1.160m between the wheel arches.
There’s a solid feel to the new Defender. The interior design is impressive and that feeling of exterior strength is carried through inside to give a durability feel. This Defender has modern driving technology that’s practical to use. The stubby gear/auto lever is well placed high on the centre console, while the steering wheel has a good solid feel to it and includes multi-function controls.
This new Hard Top Defender has all the technology credentials to deliver impressive off-road performance and you’ll have absolute confidence in taking it into the fields at any time of the year. The longer-term test will be one of reliability coupled with the need to match the durability of the past.
There is less competition in the commercial 4×4 market than ever now, and Toyota’s Land Cruiser now remains the Defender Hard Top’s only challenger. The Defender’s entry price of €69,120 + VAT puts it well ahead of the Land Cruiser opening offer of €48,465 plus VAT, but then the older Defender was never a cheap option. That €20,000+ price difference needs to be justified. The Defender’s comfort, ease of driving and towing performance will give it more than an edge in terms of desirability, but the price jump will be its only drawback.
|Land Rover Defender Hard Top D250 – specifications|
|Engine||3.0 TDI Diesel|
|0 – 100km/hr||8.3 seconds|
|Economy||11.4km/litre or 8.8l/100km (32mpg)|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||89 litres|
|Road Tax Annual||€333|
|Main Service||12 months or 30,000km|
|Euro NCAP Rating||5 Star (2020)|
|Turning Circle Kerb to Kerb||11.3m|
|Kerb Vehicle Weight||2345kg|
|Luggage Capacity||2059 litres|
|Warranty||3 years or 100,000km|
|Entry Price||€69,120 + VAT|