As is the norm, JLR’s engineers benchmarked all sensible competitors before developing this new car. That included the original Defender and they concluded that, for all of the old car’s faults – and they were no less aware of them than anyone else – and even though the ride was a disaster, it remained a relatively engaging drive. Ditto the Wrangler was not a great road car but had a likeable honesty. So one of the elements they tried to keep intact was a car that’s both capable on and off road yet honest and characterful to drive.
They’ve got all traits sorted. The steering is smooth, linearly responsive and well geared at 2.7 turns between locks. Pedals are easily modulated and the driving position, being high, means there is no pretence of sportiness, and nor should there be. But nevertheless, the Defender has an exceptionally flat and composed ride, a terrific capability of both body control and yet ride compliance for a car of this size and height.
Around town, you might think the Defender’s girth stands against it but its visibility makes parking it as easy as a car of this size is going to be, and that you can easily judge the sides makes it more manoeuvrable and confidence-inspiring than, say, a Q7.
As the road opens and speeds rise, there’s some roll evident, clearly, but its rate is pleasingly controlled and the body deftly damped when the Defender is leaning, so there’s actually a degree of fun and no small amount of engagement to be had.
Off road, all of these traits make the Defender not just a very capable car but also a supremely easy one to drive. The Terrain Response system adjusts things like throttle response and the effectiveness of the stability control, but most of the time it doesn’t matter too much what mode you put it in. With myriad external cameras and even wade depth detection depending on which Defender you pick, its driver can challenge terrain with more confidence and with less getting out to inspect the surroundings.
Its 38deg approach, 28deg breakover and 40deg departure angles, and up to 291mm of ground clearance with the air springs extended, see it around the top of whichever class you like. With the caveat that, like sports cars, different off-roaders can specialise in certain obstacles, Land Rover is not kidding when it says the Defender is a 4x4.