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The Top Gear car review: Land Rover Defender
For:Drives amazingly well, and very refined. Insanely good off-road. Brilliant design
Against:Drinks a bit, inevitably. Launch versions are too posh and high-spec to be true workhorses
What is it?
The new Defender has a mountain to climb. Yeah, a real mountain, of course, because awesome off-road ability is an absolute necessity. But also a metaphorical mountain. It’s got to replace the old one. A vehicle that was very widely adored, for the exact same reasons it was almost impossible to justify buying.
It was basically a tool. Its ability to survive harsh and brutal conditions meant it was, frankly, itself far too harsh and brutal to be taken seriously as an everyday vehicle for most people.
So the new one has to be as capable off-road as the old one. And it has to evoke the old one’s heritage, which is why it looks the way it does. Those two things were probably quite difficult, but if anyone could succeed, Land Rover’s engineers and designers would.
Beyond that are two much harder questions. The ones that are the gateway to it being adored like the old one was. If it drives well and is comfy, will it get accused of blandness? And if it’s smart and sophisticated, will it have abandoned the customers who made its heritage so authentic – the rescue services, the utilities, the true adventurers?
Well, to try to keep the utility buyers on-side, Land Rover will release a Commercial van-sided version a few months after the passenger versions go on sale. First though, we’re testing the long-wheelbase 110 passenger version. You can also have a short wheelbase 90 three-door.
The exterior design is, we think, masterful. It invokes the old one yet it’s completely modern. The boxiness is just right for a hardcore SUV. It doesn’t only eke out the maximum carrying space, it also helps when you’re driving between obstacles because you know where the bodywork begins and ends. The short overhangs help off-road. But it’s subtly curved, not flat sided. Flat panels look makeshift and go wavy. The new Defender’s subtle curves look smart and solid.
The bodywork is structural. The whole shell is immensely strong. So’s the suspension it rides on. It shares principles with the Discovery’s, but few parts. Almost everything is stronger. The Defender 110 has air suspension as standard, which adds to off-road ground clearance and wading ability. Click these blue words to drink in the details of its capability and tech.