Thursday, 17 December 2020 15:55

Early pick for car of the year!

Written by  Mark Daniel
The new Land Rover Defender is one of the stand-out vehicles to arrive in NZ in the last decade. The new Land Rover Defender is one of the stand-out vehicles to arrive in NZ in the last decade.

As I'm writing this review in early December, I’d like to make a prediction – the new Land Rover Defender should win the New Zealand Car of The Year title.

Unfortunately, this decision will be in the hands of a bunch of ‘Jafa’ journos – whose idea of off-roading is climbing a kerb on the daily school run.

In 1983, the Land Rover Defender was born and went on to become the go-to utility vehicle for those above, along with adventurers and even townies who wanted to go rural.

That car eventually succumbed to increasing regulations and ceased production in 2016.

Fast forward to 2019, and the new Land Rover Defender is a vehicle that will have LR purists shaking their heads, but it is – without a doubt – one of the stand-out vehicles to arrive in NZ in the last decade.

Still retaining that boxy shape and steeply raked windscreen, the new Defender is likely to make a Yorkshire man gasp, “Aye up … it’s got bloody carpets.”

But putting sentiment behind us, the new Defender is all about today’s motoring. Our test vehicle was the long wheelbase, 5-door version – dubbed 110 SE – the third tier of the four-step range. Moving away from a body mounted to a separate chassis, the new Defender is a monocoque construction, using the same base as the Range Rover, albeit with several beefed-up components to tackle the rough stuff.

The powerplant we tested is a 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder diesel – pushing out 240hp (177kW) with 430Nm torque. This is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that takes the drive on to the all-wheel drive system.

The engine picks up smoothly, giving little or no indication that it’s really a diesel. Hitting the highway max in about nine seconds, the Defender is equally at home cruising along at 80km/h, with plenty of get-up-and-go if you hit the gas.

Inside, our review vehicle was configured in a 2+3+2 layout, meaning it can cater for seven people. We would prefer a walk-through space between the front seats rather than the centre console fitted, which looked to have too many places to collect rubbish and dirt, making it difficult to keep clean.

As you’d expect, the seating is comfortable and easily adjusted to take all sizes. Meanwhile, the plethora of information displayed by the central and secondary screens is mind-blowing and would take several weeks to explore fully. Highlights include a surround camera system, making parking or navigating this big vehicle easy, alongside host of safety enhancements like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and Blind Spot Monitoring.

On the road, the Defender’s handling is car-like, showing none of the vagueness of its previous incarnation. Featuring air suspension – great for getting off the beaten track – body roll is a lot less than one would expect, the ride is comfortable and the steering is precise and well weighted.

When you want to go off road, things only get better. Hitting metal roads, farm tracks and muddy paddocks, the Defender never looked like getting stuck and never required the intervention of the locking centre or rear differentials. Low range was selected just once, for pulling a heavy, log-laden trailer up a hill.

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