Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Engine choices are rather straightforward with the Defender; buyers have a choice of 2.0-litre diesels with 197bhp or 237bhp, a 2.0 petrol with 296bhp, and a 3.0 straight-six mild hybrid with 396bhp, all driving through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. A plug-in hybrid will be available later this year.
So far, we’ve tried only what Land Rover thinks will be its most popular engine, the 237bhp 2.0-litre diesel, and it suits the Defender’s character. It’s not what you’d call fast; 0-62mph takes 9.2 seconds, but it has plenty of low rev grunt and gains speed impressively enough when you need it.
The automatic gearbox is less impressive, exhibiting a tendency to shuffle down through the gears unnecessarily at the merest brush of the accelerator. We’d prefer it to make use of the engine’s impressive 317lb ft of torque to haul the car along without changing gear. However, you can work around this foible by using the manual mode to select gears yourself.
Suspension and ride comfort
Suspension options are also refreshingly simple. The longer Defender 110 has air suspension as standard, while the shorter three-door 90 model uses conventional steel springs, with air being an option.
So far, we’ve sampled only the 110, and, even though our test car had big 20in wheels (19s come as standard) and optional off-road tyres, the Defender’s air suspension did a brilliant job of taking the sting out of larger urban abrasions; its body shuddered far less than the larger Land Rover Discovery’s would in similar circumstances.
For such a tall vehicle, the Defender is surprisingly enjoyable to command on a flowing country road. The steering doesn’t overflow with feel, but it’s light and accurate and makes it easy to place the car exactly where you want it. And, while there’s bit of lean if you hoof it into a corner, the body is otherwise beautifully controlled in its movements and gives you plenty of confidence. Of course, more road-biased SUVs such as the Audi Q7 and BMW X5, are sharper still, but compared to cars with a similar level of off-road ability (namely the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser), the Defender is in another league.
Speaking of prowess on the rough stuff, as we discovered on Eastnor Castle’s legendary trails, the Defender’s ability to keep going when the going gets rough is quite simply astounding. With the Terrain Response system activated and the car in its highest off-road suspension setting, it powered over deep ruts, clambered through offset ditches and climbed up muddy hills without breaking a sweat. And, despite our initial worries about it having a more vulnerable belly than the Wrangler or Mercedes G-Class (both of which retain an old-school separate chassis like that of the Defender’s predecessor), not once did we ground out. And if the car does think you’re about to scrape its belly, it’ll even automatically jack up its suspension by an extra 70mm on top of the car’s default off-road ride height of 75mm.
Of course, we’ve no doubt that a Wrangler or a G-Class could have completed the same route, but neither would have made things as easy; the Defender’s Terrain Response system removes the need to hunt for buttons to manually lock the differentials when you want all four wheels to to turn at the same speed for maximum traction in slippery conditions.
Noise and vibration
While the Defender may look like it has the aerodynamics of a brick, wind noise at motorway speeds is surprisingly well suppressed. We noticed a little buffeting around the B-pillar, but Land Rover assured us that this will be addressed before cars reach customers.
In terms of engine noise, although the 2.0-litre D240 diesel engine is a bit vocal when you’re accelerating hard, you don't hear much from it at a steady cruise and it doesn’t transmit too many vibrations through the steering wheel or the soles of your feet. That said, the engines in the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 are even smoother.