THIS week's issue features a look at the Land Rover Defender, one of the most recognisable vehicles ever produced. We examine the classic-yet-current model 90 D240 S. It is retro-modern because it combines some of its vintage DNA with cutting-edge technology.
The task of correctly recreating a symbol must be quite difficult. Just ask VW about the "second generation" Beetle, which, like the previous model, failed to win over the people.
Probably because to these challenges, Land Rover decided to completely redesign the most well-known off-road vehicle in the world for the new millennium. I took it for a spin in Capetown.
Retro but current
The stylists at Land Rover initially seem to have complied with the demands. The new car has a retro vibe to it despite being completely modern.
There are clear allusions to the original Defender. The headlamps immediately give it away. Another interesting feature is that there are two different wheelbase options for the model.
The tall, boxy shape has hardly changed over the years, save for a few slightly softer edges. Several design aspects from the previous edition, such as the side-hinged tailgate with the mounted spare wheel, have also been retained. It is clear to everybody who looks at it what they are seeing.
Land Rover provided an Explorer Pack for this car. This add-on pack features black decals, extra wheel arch protection, mud flaps, a taller air intake, a spare wheel cover, and a gear carrier.
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I found that the carrier, which is mounted on the driver-side rear windshield, limits my ability to see behind me down the flank. The Explorer Pack will cost you a few thousand dollars more.
The test car has a fabric folding roof, and the kit also includes a roof rack (more on these two in a moment). These functions are all optional. We were in charge of a Land Rover Defender 90 D240 S, which was painted a typically ugly shade of "Kelvinator"white.
However, in this case, it appeared to be the most Defender-spec Defender of all due to the colour and coordinating steel alloys.
Everyone I spoke with agreed that it was a good thing that there was not a bright metallic hue or a lot of alloys.
Internally, the retro-modern aesthetic and atmosphere are kept. The interior has a simple appearance because there are not many dials or buttons. Two screens, one on the facia and one in front of the driver, show all the information that is required. The infotainment touchscreen is quick and easy to use, and they have great images.
The drive modes have enormous, widely spaced controls, and the air conditioning has substantial knobs. This suggests that even while wearing gloves, you can still operate all of these crucial controls.
The cabin has an industrial, if you will, feel to it thanks to exposed bolt heads and large grab handles. Yet, it should be noted that soft-touch components at key touchpoints give it a premium feel.
The atmosphere is further enhanced by the presence of no less than five distinct kinds of charge stations, totaling 12 outlets.
Because to its enormous outer proportions and straightforward design, the Land Rover Defender 90 provides plenty of interior space even though it only has three doors.
Due to the high riding height, entering the cabin requires a little bit of a hike, but once inside, it is really comfy.
Even for passengers in the back, there is plenty of leg and head room. Of course, there is a negligible boot in exchange. The Land Rover's advertised luggage capacity is 297 litres. In contrast to a deep space, such figure depicts a tall one. I had to remove one of the back chairs over the previous holiday weekend in order to create place for our luggage for a night out.
Cockpit perspective while in motion
The elevated view you receive from the captain's chair is uncommon in other cars. The Land Rover Defender 90 has a wide nose but a small tail, which makes it difficult to maneuver at first.
The rearview mirror serves as a screen for a high-definition view of what is behind, and there is a reversing camera, which is a blessing.
Behind the ornate hood, which features a matt-black decal and checker plate, is a 2,0 litre turbodiesel engine. It produces 177 kW of power and 430 Nm of torque.
The engine is utilised well and smoothly by the eight-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is more gradual than rapid after coming to a complete stop. Yet, the robust torque production provides more than enough power for passing.
As befits a vehicle with off-road capability, the Defender 90 has a soft ride quality that is superior to almost anything else in this class. The 90's big sidewall tires and considerable suspension travel provide it a gentle response and nearly complete road imperfection absorption.
During the review time, I really drove the car on a few dirt roads, but the comfort levels remained largely constant.
I did get to drive the Land Rover Defender 90 through some seriously deep sand and gravel roads, even though I did not get to go off-roading.
A fanatical Toyota supporter was seated next to me in the sandy area.
He was astounded by how rapidly the Defender advanced. He knew I did not deflate the tires at all, and that I would get stuck. The noise the roof rack made while I was driving was one item that really upset me. Our judgment is that the roof rack and soft roof are a bad combination.
The noise occasionally became uncomfortable over 100 km/h. A few really windy days occurred around the Cape, which made the sensation worse. The noise overhead was too loud for the Meridian audio system, despite its impressive power.
Model: Land Rover Defender 90 D240 S
0-100 km/h: 9,0 sec
Engine: 2,0-litre inline four, turbodiesel
Fuel consumption: 7,6 L/100 km
Max power: 177 kW
Max torque: 430 Nm
Top speed: 188 km/h
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, AWD
I think Land Rover has done a terrific job of maintaining the distinguishing features of the original Defender. The nameplate has been completely updated while keeping the distinguishing characteristics that gave it its fame. In actuality, it has really enhanced itself.
There are people, who will despise the new-generation Defender, including perhaps quite a number in Zimbabwe.
Some might complain that it has become too soft, has too many electronics, and is no longer a "genuine" off-road vehicle that can be driven across Africa.
If you are one of those individuals, take a look around you, grandpa or grandma, the world is moving. Change is inevitable in life. If you do not accept change it will change you.
Adopt and adapt or you will perish. Remember the Jeeps, Mercs and Toyotas from 70s. All brands have evolved. Some more than others. Some earlier than others. Land Rover left it for too late.
The pricing is the only major issue, in our opinion. Unless your budget starts at plus US$150 000, you should not even bother looking at the Land Rover Defender lineup.
Yet high prices are a regrettable part of the overall new-car market, which is terrible because we would want to enjoy owning one of these.