Well, that was quick. Just two months ago, Land Rover unveiled the DC100, a concept that, it said, previewed the next generation of eco-aware, modern Defender.
And now here it is: a shiny new Defender, closely accompanied by a press release bearing strange, foreign words like ‘refined’, ‘efficient’ and ‘diesel particulate filter’. A rapid turnaround indeed.
Actually, it isn’t. As you have no doubt spotted with the aid of your eyes, this is not an all-new Defender. This is a very gentle revision of the nearly-seventy-year-old original Defender, lightly massaged and treated to a DPF see it through the new Euro V emissions regulations. The old 2.4-litre diesel has been downsized to 2.2 litres, with power and torque staying unchanged at 122PS and a bovine 360NM. CO2 emissions are down (to a still-less-than-saintly 295g/km for the longer-wheelbase versions) and economy is up.
Fear not. Despite this dangerous talk of efficiency, the calloused Defender hasn’t turned into a prim, moisturised, modern SUV. OK, there’s a new acoustic engine cover to reduce noise, but beyond that, this is the trad Defender: heavy-duty suspension, ladder chassis, driving position straight out the 1950s.
Though the new engine is a huge improvement on the old unit, doing its work far more smoothly and chuntering quietly rather than bellowing throughout the cabin, it’s still a hairy old thing by the standards of modern turbodiesels. This is an powertrain more suited to hauling a bison from a bog than hauling down the M6, a car that regards ‘Noise, Vibration and Harshness’ as goals rather than flaws.
Euro V compliant it may be, but most will still view the Defender as an irrelevancy in a world of monocoques and turbocharging and the ability to have a conversation with your front seat passenger while travelling at 60mph. Let them. This is still an extraordinary machine with truly staggering off-road ability: despite submerging our Defender up to its windowline in a muddy river, it continued to plug cheerily along. What else, bar perhaps a Hilux, could do that?
For the vast, vast majority of the world, a car’s ability to conquer a Himalaya probably ranks some way below, say, a turning circle tight enough to allow you to negotiate mini-roundabouts. And, with not a crumple zone in sight, it’s best not to consider what’d happen to a Defender in the event of a fast crash with something large and unyielding: a wall, say, or a Scotsman.
But for those who require a mechanical beast of burden, there’s little to match the old Defender. These tweaks may not transform it into a faddish 21st century SUV, but they’re enough to allow the Defender to survive until 2017 when, even the most ardent Land Rover sources concede, it will die – likely replaced by something much closer to the DC100 than this pig-iron masterpiece. This is the end of the line.