I’ve been living with our Defender for four months now, which is definitely enough time to get to know it beneath that roughty toughty – and to my mind, evermore handsome – metal skin. I finally feel qualified to comment because it’s truly embedded in my life. So what’s the nitty gritty? The minutiae? The little positives and negatives that have risen to the fore and contribute to making life better, or worse, when living with a car?
Well, on the plus side is definitely its brakes. Firstly, they’re powerful, which I find is always a great start, but it’s how they feel that I like most. The pedal travel is quite long but all of that travel translates into an additional and predictable increase in braking force. There’s no spikiness to the braking effort. It’s a set-up that feels totally appropriate to the car and makes stopping smoothly dead easy in any scenario – to the point I find myself trying to emulate the best chauffeurs coming to a halt, even when it’s just me in the car.
Another thing that I really like is the big brute’s elevated driving position. I like the height for many reasons but, in case you’re wondering, not for the old trope of being able to see over the top of other cars. I like it for the ease with which I can get in and out for a start. I hate to admit this, but I’ve reached an age where getting out of low-slung sports cars is not the fluid action it once was. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s a process of sighing, puffing, and kind of stumbling onto the pavement red-faced. Let’s face it – that’s not cool. The effort required as I extricate myself from a Lamborghini does, every now and again, make me wonder if it’s all worth it, and I long to be in something more akin to an orthopedic chair. It turns out that the Defender is one. Being long-legged I can slide on and off the seat base with ease. I’ve only avoided going all in on old age with a pair of M&S beige corduroys because all that sliding will charge them up like a Van de Graaff generator and electrocute me.
I like the driving position all round, as it goes. The easy-to-read dials, the simple buttons for the climate controls, the wide centre armrest, the relationship between seat, pedals and steering wheel, and the comfort of the seat itself. And here’s a thing: these days, being in a car where you can see the corners of the wings clearly is a rare treat. So yes, it’s a big old bus, but thanks to the fact that I can spot the extremities at a glance means it’s actually no trouble trundling about town in it, or squeezing it into gaps between parked cars that, initially, I thought were a bit ambitious.
It's not all one-way traffic to bliss street, though. I’m certainly not so smitten that I’m unable to find and report on the Defender’s faults, and it definitely has some. Getting back to the vision thing, the only direction I can’t see out easily is directly out the back. That’s because someone thought it would be a good idea to cover half the rear window with an enormous wheel and tyre. That and the rear side-hinged door are two very stupid features. Both were a pain when I had an old Discovery TDi300 back in the day, and are still a pain now. Land Rover could’ve shoved the spare wheel underneath, where it is on everything else with this floorplan, and split the tailgate. That way I could see what’s behind and, on top of that, it would be possible to access the boot when parked with the rear end butted up to something, which is most of the time.
A split tailgate would also make it more user-friendly. It would offer some shelter when it’s raining, a seat when you need a rest, and a table to do things on when you’re out working in the field. Speaking of which, it would make the Defender more useful for carrying long loads around the farm. Take the day I needed to move some three-piece ladders as an example. This ladder was too long to fit inside, even with the rear seats down. I’ve moved them before in cars with a regular tailgate and it’s easy: tailgate open; ladder overhanging the back; drive carefully to where you need them; job done. But the side-hinged door of the Defender has a tendency to swing shut on the ladder, so I had to get someone to sit in the boot to stop it from closing. And that wasn’t easy for them because the Defender’s back door weighs more than a portcullis.
I have some buying advice, too. You must order a Defender with air suspension, and I’m not saying that for the ride quality. This is about getting the thing into car parks. Having the air suspension means you can lower the ride height, and without it, the lofty Defender won’t fit in some multi-storeys. You’ll only realise this, of course, when it’s wedged in the opening and people are laughing at you and calling you names. But even with the air suspension there is a problem. So far, I’ve remembered to lower the car going into every car park, but when I return and drive out, the suspension automatically raises itself up to normal height. Why? That’s not cricket. We’re talking about a car with a masochistic streak, because if you don’t realise what it’s about to do you’ll do some serious damage. And the Defender’s desire for a stretch isn’t because I’ve exceeded a certain speed. I thought that was the case but I’ve since driven along at less than 5mph and up it goes. It just does it for no reason other than to make me look like the typical idiot who can’t drive their massive SUV.
Those issues aside, I’ve answered one of the questions I asked in the Defender’s introductory piece: does it work as an everyday car and a working vehicle? And the answer, so far, is a resounding yes. That’s really important to me, or anyone who needs a workhorse but does long journeys and has a family to cart around. It turns out that the Defender is as good at crossing the country as it is at crossing fields, so I’ve come to the conclusion that you could have this as your sole car. Yes, it’s a hugely expensive outlay these days, but a bit of man maths sees it coming out cheaper than, say, a pick-up as the workhorse and a family hack for everything else.
There’s one other thing I’d like to mention before signing off for the month. I’ve driven plenty of outlandish cars in my time and I am used to the attention they bring. But you expect that when you’re in a 720S or Aventador – or a Polestar 1, for that matter. The Polestar was apparently so arresting that when I drove my girlfriend to the train station late one night someone followed me and pulled up right next to me. That was a bit bottom loosening, I can tell you. I stress, it was dark and I genuinely thought I was about to be carjacked. It turned out the father and son in the other car just wanted to know what the car I was driving was and tell me how fantastic it looked. Anyway, the Defender isn’t quite that alluring to passersby, but I am regularly questioned about it when I get out, by people interested to know whether it’s any good and do I like it. To which I say: yes, I like it a lot.
Car: Land Rover Defender 110 D300 X-Dynamic HSE
Price as tested: £82,255
Options fitted: Air suspension Pack (£1,615), Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack (£1,070), Cold Climate Pack (£260), Electronic Active Differential with Torque Vectoring (£1,020), Three-zone Climate Control (£355), Air Quality Sensor (£60), Cabin Air Purification Plus (£285), Wi-Fi Enabled with Data Plan (£460), Secure Tracker Pro (36-month subscription) (£520), dealer-fit manual towbar and electrics (£1,600).
Run by: John H
On fleet since: April 2023
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