Land Rover Defender long-term test: report 1

Huge waiting lists underline how popular the Land Rover Defender is, but does it have the all-round ability and feel-good factor to justify its high price? We're living with one to find out...

Land Rover Defender long-termer

The car Land Rover Defender 90 D300 HSE Run by Jim Holder, editorial director

Why it’s here Can Land Rover’s reinvented icon really live up to the hype?

Needs to deliver Capability and practicality on and off-road as standard, plus enough wow factor to justify the £65,000 price tag

Mileage 879 List price £58,875 Target Price £58,875 Price as tested £66,450 Official economy 31.1mpg Test economy 28.9mpg Options fitted Country Pack (£1585), Off-road Pack (£1450), white contrast roof (£900), Tasman Blue paint (£895) and detachable tow bar (£780).

19 January 2022 – Worth the wait?

Is there a more desirable car on the planet right now than the Land Rover Defender? It’s certainly right up there, with waiting lists stretched out to more than a year, thanks to a long list of wannabe buyers, the current computer chip shortage and speculators turning five-figure profits by flipping cars the moment they get their hands on them.

Land Rover Defender front

In that regard, there’s no quibbling with Land Rover’s decision to follow up the much-loved but long-discontinued old Defender with something rather different, but which still pays respect to the original's utility-focused design. Land Rover says it provides the same unstoppable all-terrain capability as the original, but this reinvention combines that with lashings of must-have desirability, thanks in no small part to its Tonka Toy looks.

Of course, there is a risk that stretching the Defender’s broad appeal from disaster zone relief vehicle to Congestion Charge zone cruiser (it carries enough tech to battle the best in terms of its go-anywhere abilities, yet is styled to be at home in the streets of Chelsea or Mayfair) has compromised its focus. Indeed, whether it has or not is one of the things I’m most keen to find out, so even though it will spend most of its life in a south London suburb doing family runs, this is one Defender that will also be put through its paces off-road.

There’s also the question of whether it justifies its price tag. Pushing £60,000 before options and topping £65,000 with some off-road focused kit added, the Defender is far from cheap, especially when you factor in that its boot is comparable in size to that of a rather smaller Volkswagen Golf family car and is encumbered by an often impractical side-hinged rear door.

Land Rover Defender driven from over the shoulder

In addition, in this three-door 90 model there’s an awful lot of hassle involved in climbing – literally, if you’re somewhere between five and 15 years old – in and out of the back. Land Rover can point to the aforementioned waiting list to justify its strategy, of course, but fashion trends can pass, and I’m keen to get a feel for its longer-term prospects.

If there’s a bad-looking new Defender, I’ve yet to see it, and that made speccing it more a choice of which direction to take than sweating over make-or-break details. I went for rural charm, which meant steel wheels (a no-cost option, but perhaps the most divisive one based on feedback from friends and neighbours so far), a cost-option blue body (£895), a separate roof colour (£900) and the Country Pack (£1585).

This last item adds classic mudflaps, scuffplates, wheelarch protection, a portable rinse system and a loadspace partition, which I’ve removed because it separates the front seats from the rest of the vehicle, in anticipation of you spending more time throwing sheep in through the boot door than kids through the front. The off-road tyres plus an electronic differential added a further £1450 to the invoice, but are critical for off-road adventures.

Land Rover Defender long-termer panning shot

The engine choice was harder. There are petrol and plug-in hybrid options available, and given its town leanings it was a tough call, but the plan is to cover some serious mileage, as well as go fully off road, so the low down pulling power and long-distance economy of the 3.0-litre diesel made most practical and economic sense. In a car weighing 2.2 tonnes, some serious grunt is appreciated. Fuel economy is creeping towards the 30mpg mark – acceptable, if hardly anything to write home about.

Clearly, life with the Defender is going to be anything but dull. Its appeal is self-evident, but it’s also more than apparent that this 4.5-metre long, two metre high and wide beast isn’t going to slot into life – or car parking spaces, especially old-fashioned low-roofed multi-storey ones – without compromises. Whether these factors are deal-breakers, or the sort of imperfections that will make me love it even more, is going to be part of the fun in the coming months.

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