A weekend trip with Land Rover’s new Defender 110

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Earlier this month an opportunity presented itself in the form of test driving the new Land Rover Defender 110. We were on hand when the local launch of the vehicle happened last year, so were quite keen to actually get onto the road to test out its capabilities. Of equal interest is the technology that Land Rover has placed in the new Defender lineup, which is a significant departure from previous Defender models.

As such, we were interested to see if the soul of the core Defender experience has been lost now that the vehicle is so technology-laiden.

For out test drive, we spent the long weekend travelling from Johannesburg to Dullstroom. A 540 kilometre round trip that would allow us to see how the new Defender 110 copes on highways, dirt roads, the city and small towns alike. It would also present us with the chance to test out all the aforementioned technological kit that Land Rover has fitted on this model.

A new chapter

For reference, the model we drove (pictured in header) featured the Urban Pack specification with the P400 engine in Eiger Grey and Black Trim. We’ll touch on the engine performance shortly but, in general, this spec was a particularly striking flavour of Defender 110.

To be honest we prefer to the shorter wheel base 90 model, which was recently made available to purchase in South Africa, but seeing as how the 110 landed in SA first, it is what we’re testing.

The local Land Rover site has an exhaustive “Build Your Own” section for the 110 and 90, featuring choices for everything from the type of engine, Pack options and infotainment setup. Prices for the Defender 110 start at R1 143 900 at the time of writing, with the P400 engine raising things to R1 265 00. From there all the extras and trim options can see things getting past the R1.5 million mark fairly quickly.

As such, this is definitely not the Defender of yesteryear, which was still expensive, but far cheaper than the new iteration. That is understandable of course, given all the technology and development that went into this entirely new chapter of the iconic 4X4.

Setting up

Stepping into the new Defender cabin you are immediately struck with just how luxurious an experience driving it can be. Land Rover has gone to great lengths to ensure that the interior is comparable, and in a few ways better, than what you may find in a Range Rover Evoque or Velar.

The setup process is also rather seamless, as drivers are prompted to create a profile via the main infotainment panel found centrally on the dashboard.

The home screen (seen below) is segmented into three parts – navigation, phone and media. The latter two elements were heavily smartphone dependant for our trip with the Bluetooth connectivity between our Huawei P30 Pro and the car stable throughout the journey and the listening experience via Spotify unimpaired. You can also pair multiple devices to the Defender’s system, and we counted up to 10 when we tried it out.

The next couple of hours should be dedicated to understanding the important technology onboard the 110 – cameras.

4X4 too easy?

Here, the 4X4 may be in a class of its own. We have seen Land Rover vehicles with nifty rear view mirrors that employ cameras should whatever is in your boot be obstructing the normal view, but the Defender 110 uses an array of cameras around the vehicle and augmented reality view for very specific purposes.

The one we used quite often was the overhead view for parking. This as the Defender 110 is a hulking beast of a vehicle, and the longer wheel base naturally means the 4X4 is longer than previous ones we’ve encountered. Despite the higher sitting position, the length of the bonnet can sometimes mean you don’t see the sides of the car in relation to parking lines, and the overhead view is needed to line things up neatly.

There are also two 4X4 specific modes that leverage the camera system to assist when roughing it. The view of the undercarriage of the car is particularly helpful when dealing with rocky terrain that puts the axles through their paces, as well as mode specific for wading, although we were not able to put the latter to use. The other mode provides a third person augmented reality view of the vehicle, as well as the immediate surrounding environment.

While all of these modes are helpful and make the 4×4’ing experience easier, it must be said that you lose a bit of the essence that comes with off-roading, as you’re staring at the screen instead of relying on the feedback from the four wheels and steering wheel to negotiate obstacles.

The drive

As for the non-off road driving, the Defender 110 is really impressive. The P400 engine on this test model 3.0 litre six cylinder turbocharged block that yields 294kW of power.

As such, it has plenty of go.

Given that we did not want to deal with fines or overnight stays in jail, we stuck to the 100 – 110km/h range while cruising on the N4 and N12 to Dullstroom. The level of comfort was superb, and it ironed out any bumps for a very un-Defender like riding experience.

When we did need to tap on the accelerator to overtake though, the engine duly obliged and offered up a little sampler of the power on offer. While supercharged and V8-sporting special editions Defenders have been produced in the past, this feels an entirely different prospect.

Final verdict

So is the new Defender 110 all that Land Rover says it is cracked up to be?

From a technological and luxury standpoint, undoubtedly. While the Range Rover is the gold standard as far as Land Rover’s luxury 4X4 lineup is concerned, this new Defender has quickly taken up second spot for us. It also looks a bit more rugged and hard wearing than the tamer SUVs that the company has been rolling off of the assembly floor of late.

Does it feel like a Defender though? On this front things are far less clear. There are nods to the heritage of the Defender branding in its design, but the in-cabin and driving experience are more akin to a Range Rover. As such, it is not the distilled experience we think of when it comes to the Defender.

That said, this is a new chapter for the company and we’ll be very interested to see what future iterations will be like, especially the 90 version.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Editor of Hypertext. Covers smartphones, IoT, 5G, cloud computing and a few things in between. Also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games when not taking the hatchet to stories.


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