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How do you reimagine an icon that virtually invented the art and science of off-roading?
THE ANSWER: You turn to Land Rover. You watch. And you learn.
Land Rover did exactly that when they rolled out their 21st-century interpretation of one of the most iconic 4x4s of all time — the Defender. The result is a stunningly compelling new design that brings all the half-century-old visual values (and charm) of the pioneering Defender, and applies them to an absolutely cutting-edge new body style that is still instantly identifiable as nothing but a Defender.
The aesthetic redo was arguably the most challenging aspect of bringing an ancient yet evergreen icon to the digital age. Despite its 71 years, the tried-and-true mechanicals and off-road capability of the Defender was always unrivaled. Amid the prevalence of so many sport utility vehicles from just about every automaker, the Defender still reigns.
Of course, the changes weren’t all skin deep, especially when you consider the wealth of technological advancements its siblings — namely the Land Rover Discovery and the Range Rover — have on offer.
“We’ve embraced Defender’s stunning capability and minimalistic, functional interior to reinvent the icon for the 21st century. (The) new Defender gives us the license to do things differently, to push the boundaries and do the unthinkable, without ever losing the character and authenticity of the original. From the start, we had an absolute obsession with functionality beneath the skin, from choosing the right materials through to state of the art connectivity. The result is not only the most capable Land Rover ever made, but also a truly comfortable, modern vehicle that people will love to drive,” said Jaguar Land Rover Executive Director for Product Engineering Nick Rogers.
A distinctive silhouette — still squarish but with more softly rounded edges — makes the new Defender instantly recognizable. Minimal front and rear overhangs provide superb approach and departure angles. Land Rover designers re-envisioned signature Defender design cues, giving the new 4×4 a purposeful upright stance, while retaining the Alpine light windows in the roof, the side-hinged rear tailgate, and the tailgate-mounted spare wheel that make the original so identifiable.
The spartan personality of the original Defender has been embraced inside, where functional elements and small details usually hidden from view not only remain exposed, but actually become stylistic throwback elements. There is still an emphasis on simplicity and practicality. Innovative features include a dash-mounted gear shifter to accommodate an optional central front “jump” seat, which provides three-abreast seating across the front like in early Land Rovers. You only realize how much the Defender has advanced, technologically speaking, when you see the huge central touchscreen and the fully digital and configurable instrument panel.
The Defender 110 offers seating for five, with the cargo area behind the second-row seats able to swallow 1,075 liters, and as much as a cavernous 2,380 liters when the second row is folded. The tall and boxy shape allows for generous headroom and legroom. And while the interior design certainly harks back to the Defenders of old, the tactile experience is anything but. Every interior surface is softly padded and much more ergonomic in design.
User-friendly features include practical touches and advanced technological innovations. Durable rubberized flooring shrugs off the spills of daily adventures and once-in-a-lifetime expeditions, providing an effortless brush-off or wipe-clean interior. An optional full-length folding fabric roof provides an open-top feel. It also allows passengers in the second-row seats of the Defender 110 to stand up when parked for that full safari experience.
A major departure from Land Rover practice is the use of a monocoque chassis in lieu of the traditional body-on-frame construction. Land Rover’s new purpose-engineered D7x (for extreme) architecture is based on a lightweight aluminum monocoque construction to create the stiffest body structure Land Rover has ever produced. It is three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs, providing perfect foundations for the fully independent air or coil sprung suspension and supports the latest electrified powertrains. More importantly — especially to the vast number of SUV buyers who almost never venture off road — the new Defender’s monocoque chassis results in a downright luxurious ride; certainly a boon for day-to-day city driving.
In an age of extensive digital prototyping, the new Defender has been through nothing less than 62,000 real-world tests before engineering sign-off. The chassis and body architecture have been engineered to withstand Land Rover’s Extreme Event Test procedure: Repeated and sustained impacts, above and beyond the normal standard for passenger cars and even SUVs. During development testing, prototype models covered millions of kilometers across some of the harshest environments on earth, ranging from the 50-degree heat of the desert and minus-40-degree cold of the Arctic to altitudes of 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It’s a beautiful case of over-engineering.
As for hardware, full-time all-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer box with a rear axle open differential (or an optional electronic active differential), ensure the Defender can traverse the trickiest and most challenging terrain. Meanwhile, Configurable Terrain Response allows experienced off-roaders to fine-tune individual settings to suit the conditions, while inexperienced drivers can let the system detect the most appropriate vehicle settings for the terrain, using the intelligent Auto function.
The new Defender provides a ground clearance of 291mm and world-class off-road geometry, giving the 110 approach, breakover and departure angles of 38, 28, and 40 degrees (on Off Road height), respectively. Its class-busting wading depth of 900mm is supported by a new Wade program in the Terrain Response system, which ensures drivers can ford deep water with complete confidence.
On dry land, Land Rover’s advanced ClearSight Ground View technology helps drivers take full advantage of the Defender’s all-conquering capability by showing the blind spot hidden by the hood, directly ahead of the front wheels, on the central touchscreen.
The new Land Rover Defender D240 is powered by a very high-torque yet utterly refined Ingenium D240 twin-turbo diesel powerplant (mated to an eight-speed automatic). I got to test the extremely loaded top-of-the-line Defender D240 Explorer variant. It retails for P6,510,000 and comes equipped with a raised air intake, side-mounted gear carrier, deployable roof ladder, wheel arch protection, handsome “110” matte black hood decal, classic mud flaps, a spare wheel cover, and an expedition roof rack. (The Defender 110 starts at P6,210,000 with the Urban variant.)
The new Land Rover Defender absolutely redefines the 4×4’s breadth of capability, raising the threshold for both off-road ruggedness and on-road comfort. It can negotiate crowded city streets as effortlessly as climbing mountains, crossing deserts and withstanding freezing temperatures. Its meticulously honed handling delivers both rewarding drive and luxury car comfort across all terrains. And as it has been for the last 71 years, it’s in a league of its own.