LAND ROVER DEFENDER

NEW DOG, OLD TRICKS

TIM ROBSON

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IF THEREíS a gene that predisposes a person to like the original Land Rover Defender, Iím afraid I donít have it. I appreciate that people are sentimental about these things, but really, the previous Defender was Ė and still is Ė the worst car Iíd ever reviewed on a public road.

The third-generation Defender Ė code-named L663 Ė thankfully comes from different stock, and is tasked with the hardest job of all; placating the cynical faithful while attracting an entirely new audience.

Weíve already sampled the Defenderís bush-bashing chops (Wheels, April) so letís concentrate on the terrain where most Aussie Defenders will spend their lives: on the tarmac.

Long-wheelbase 110 and shortwheelbase 90 variants will make up the Australian mix, with two diesels and one petrol engine across four grades.

The D200 and D240 diesels are, however, already sold out for 2020, leaving just the Ingenium straight-six powered P400 Ė tested here Ė for now. Retailing for $95,335 in its most basic S form, the 110 P400 takes the vaunted Ingenium 3.0-litre straightsix, combines it with an eight-speed automatic and delivers it on a heavily revised version of JLRís D7x (the x is for extreme, naturally) platform.

That dollar figure climbs north with the $102,736 SE and the $112,535†HSE, and is topped by the $136,736†X, which wraps up a lot of the brandís extensive pack catalogue into one. A lot, mind you, but nowhere near all; the Defender inexplicably continues Land Roverís irksome and bewildering tradition of offering a metre-long options list that is far too confusing.

Isnít the point of the Defender not to be that kind of car?

The interior is a curious blend of†robust retro detail and earnest modern tech, but itís not as overtly outdoorsy as, say, a Jeep Wrangler.

Packing 294kW and 550Nm thanks to its analogue turbo and digital supercharger, the 2400kg-odd P400 (depending on specs and number of seats) hustles from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds Ė surprising given it has the aero frontage of a corner shop. And given that pace, its official 9.9L/100km consumption isnít terrible.

An off-road loop around Lithgow proved an absolute doddle for the Defender, though the newer, more complex terrain management interface takes some getting used to; itís no longer as easy as twisting a dial. Itís easy to see that the Defenderís heart and soul lies in the dirt.

On road, the big 110 is a pussycat.

Noise suppression is admirable, given the huge frontal area and the mixedterrain tyre spec of our tester. The straight sixís oomph is blunted by the Defenderís mass, but torque delivery is straight, true and plentiful.

It steers with surprising authority and accuracy, too, though its off-road oriented suspension tune means that body control is less than ideal when the pace ratchets up. Thereís an easy solution to that, though; ease off the gas and enjoy the spacious interior, clear instruments, powerful multimedia and the novelty of revisiting a true automotive legend.

Though weíll need to sample the diesel-powered cars to get a complete picture, it looks like I might have to reset my Defender dislike meter.

TIM ROBSON

Model Land Rover Defender P400 SE

Engine 2996cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo

Max power 294kW @ 5500rpm

Max torque 550Nm @ 2000-5000rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Weight 2418kg (seven-seat)

0-100km/h 6.1sec (claimed)

Economy 9.9L/100km

Price $102,736

PLUS

Crazily capable off-road; amenable around town; torquey petrol six

MINUS

As heavy as the moon; mile-long options list; complex terrain management system

The rival

JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON $70,950

If you look at cheapest Defender (a shade under $70K), then the similarly priced Jeep Wrangler Rubicon four-door feels like its natural rival. Both seat five, both can crush the toughest dirt tracks and both make a virtue of being overt. The Jeep does much more with its legacy angle, though. A cheaper petrol V6 version can be had for $65,450, or the dual-cab ute Gladiator version for $76,490.