What's it like?
It’s a Defender that’s a bit better is most departments, yet still has the ability to cross landscapes without roads. Inside, a blast of orange trim dresses the centre console, while the transmission tunnel is finished in leather and houses the new automatic gearbox, electric handbrake and starter button.
Suede with orange stitching covers the top of the dash, while the leather, orange, and suede mix finish off the central arm rest, which doubles as the lid for a deep central storage bin.
The front seats are part leather, with suede bolsters and contrasting orange stitching; considering they don’t adjust for height, tilt or have any lumbar support, they are surprisingly comfortable. In the back, our car had no additional seating, just a metal lined load bay with some additional storage nets. A useful fold-down step aids access through the side-hinged rear door.
Pressing the starter button fires the engine into life sending the cabin into a permanent state of diesel judder. The engine is the Defender's famous 2.2-litre TDCi, which here develops 183bhp and 358 ft lb of torque, up from 122bhp and 266 ft lb of the standard unit.
JE Engineering has applied its Tune Plus pack, remapping the engine and adding a performance induction kit. The result is a 0-60mph time of 11.9sec. There’s a big slug of low-down torque and it pulls strongly until motorways speeds where you'll need more patience.
The new six-speed auto is sourced from Ford - more specifically a Ford Ranger pick-up - so it should be built to withstand the Defender’s rugged way of life. Gearshifts are generally pretty smooth when pottering about, but they feel lethargic when you're pushing on, and downshifts can be accompanied by the odd clunk and jerk.
JE's Startech Sports steering wheel has a nice feel to it, but with no airbag, it’s a rather daunting sight when entering the car. It doesn't improve the Defender's steering, either; it remains extremely heavy, and the poor turning circle makes it quite a workout for the biceps.
Undoubtedly, the Defender is not the last word in handling prowess - or the first for that matter. However, JE's sports suspension does keep things a little tidier, and while there’s still quite a bit of roll and wallow, it is an improvement over the standard car. That said, the ride is firm and bouncy, with potholes taken well but protrusions exaggerated; this is not helped by the 90's short wheelbase.
To improve refinement, sound deadening has been added to the floor and engine bay; although it has improved matters, our Defender remained a noisy vehicle to be in. The engine is always vocal, there’s a lot of tyre noise at speed and wind noise is almost always prevalent. Added to that, there’s so much vibration through the cabin that the image in the rear view mirror appears more of a watercolour painting than of what’s actually happening behind you.