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Driven: Kahn Defender
OK, what have we got here?
Kahn, the firm that modifies Range Rover Sports for footballists, has turned its attention to the venerable Defender. Into which it has inserted some Harris Tweed.
Hmm, I remain unconvinced. Tell me more.
It’s way better than you think it’s going to be. Way better. But you won’t think so initially because you open the door and are greeted by a three-spoke chrome steering wheel. It comes from a powerboat and has much finger-trapping potential.
Bet it’s pretty reflective, too.
At speed under streetlights it’s like holding on to a glitter ball. Which is fine as you’ll be doing a little jig anyway due to the way the suspension bucks around. And the fact you’re sitting on rather firm seats. Even if you’re not the driver. Inside there are four retrimmed bucket seats, which might look out of place, but actually give the Kahn the best driving position of any Defender I’ve ever driven. This is important stuff.
Any other beneficial changes?
Absolutely - it also has an automatic gearbox.
Possibly. But for the type of driving I suspect this Defender will be used for it’s a far, far better choice, even with a cost of £6,000 plus VAT. A manual Defender is not a dainty thing to use - have a look into the cabs of most and you’ll see drivers lent to the left with a grimace on their face. You can sense the tension as the left leg pumps and the lever is yanked about. It’s chuffing hard work. So this automatic, while hardly the most couth of its breed and decidedly indecisive at high speeds where it ricochets between ratios, is a boon. Makes the Defender so much easier to live with if you’re driving it regularly.
OK, point taken. So are there any other mechanical changes?
None, bar a tweaked exhaust routing and a new chunky set of wheels and tyres. The 2.2-litre diesel develops a modest 122bhp and 265lb ft so progress is best described as ‘stately’. But quick enough, plenty quick enough given the frightening lack of feedback and stability. That’s nothing new for a Defender and there is a lot of charm to the utilitarian way it interacts with other cars. It doesn’t have their manners, but tries hard to be on its best behaviour. It’s charmingly rustic and the Kahn mods have done little to change that - a good thing.
The bodywork doesn’t seem to have been tampered with too much, either.
Aside from the black, black and black colourscheme which rather suits this car and makes it look like a farmyard stealthship, the only major additions are the body cladding panels over each wheelarch. Tap them and you realize they’re neither metal nor that well integrated, but then the slabby, boxy Defender is a long way from sleek, so the boxy add-ons look just fine. In fact they serve to add a bit of extra visual toughness that does it no harm at all. Wheels look good, too. And the headlamps are bulletproof. We like that.
I do indeed. Not sure about the numberplate connotations, mind you.
Agreed. Nor the Chelsea Truck Company logo. I’d do away with both, were it mine. But it wouldn’t be, because it costs nearly £50,000.
OK, let’s look at it another way. It’s way cheaper than a £82,945 Mercedes G350 - its closest rival in having a veneer of civility spread thinly over some proper hardcore clanky bits. But what the Kahn lacks, of course, is the depth of engineering, the integrity and cohesion of the Merc. The Defender wasn’t conceived to be this sort of car originally and hasn’t had the years of evolution that the Merc’s endured, sorry, enjoyed. Well, either. When all’s said and done this is still a Defender. Just one with added Harris Tweed-trimmed sports seats and a blingy steering wheel.
Is that all?
Well, no. Kahn has done a lot of work inside retrimming everything from the A-pillars to the gearknob and even fitting those in the back with Harris Tweed knee protectors. And grab handles. And I have to say that the quality of all these fixtures and fittings is very good indeed. There are no loose threads or peeling trim, and the tweed does feel very hard wearing (if not that tactile). In fact it’s far better quality than the Defender itself which still squeaks and rattles, has a piece of Velcro to hold the centre bin shut, seatbelts that don’t retract and a clock that counts the minutes v-e-r-y s-lo-w-l-y.
A success then?
On the whole yes. I admit to being skeptical about this car before I drove it, and came away quietly impressed. I’ve no idea what I’d use it for if I had one though, and by the same measure struggle to think of who might want one. The security detail of an anglophile oligarch, maybe?
Words: Ollie Marriage
Photos: Rowan Horncastle