Slot the Getrag gearbox into first, raise the heavy clutch and, at first, you’ll be impressed by the performance of the new motor. Its 121bhp at 3500rpm may not sound much, but it’s blessed with 265lb ft of torque at 2000rpm, and in the lower gears, you’ll not struggle to keep up with the traffic in the Land Rover Defender.
Flat out around the test track, our test car reached a mighty 83mph, and did so suspiciously quickly. Just like a BMW M5, its top speed is restricted. Unlike the M5, however, the Land Rover Defender’s electronics are meant to call it a day at 85mph. It is, apparently, for ‘operational’ reasons, from which we infer that the Defender becomes difficult to operate above such speeds.
The engine refinement, while still quite vocal, is clearly a big improvement and the motor’s muscular low-down torque helps make the Defender more driveable. The six-speed ’box needs a firm hand but is clean in its shifts and positive.
The brake specification is one of the areas where the Defender has changed not at all. There are discs all round, with ventilation for those up front, and they offer good feel and reasonable, fade-free retardation.
Off road, the Defender is enormously capable, but it takes much more effort from the driver than is needed in a modern, electronically controlled off-roader, not least in finding – and selecting – the right gear in difficult conditions. One thing that has made it much easier to drive in extreme situations is the engine’s stall control. At crawling speeds, it is possible for the driver to lift off the pedals altogether and let the stall control inch the vehicle forward.