The last of the traditional Land Rover Defenders rolled off the Solihull production line in January 2016.
The car could no longer meet pedestrian impact regulations here and hadn’t met US rules for several years.
Modifying the car to meet regulations would have been incredibly costly and technically more difficult than starting from scratch.
So JLR started work on a new Defender as far back as 2011 and hasn’t exactly rushed the job.
Now it’s here, JLR says the Defender isn’t a SUV, it’s a 4×4. A rather abstract distinction but after driving the Defender off road, that point really hits home.
First, the styling.
The lineage from the original Land Rover is clear to see with a windscreen that is as upright as regulations and aerodynamics can permit, flat sides and a side-hinged tailgate to which is attached a spare wheel.
The first Defender models to hit UK showrooms are 110s, with shorter wheelbase (three-door) 90 versions following on shortly.
The original was a compact vehicle – the new one isn’t.
Crash regulations, the pursuit of comfort and more technology have seen the Defender grow in width and length. In fact, the new 90 is the same length as the old 110.
A plug-in hybrid version arrives next year but for now there’s a choice of four powerplants from JLR’s Ingenium engine family.
There are two diesels named D200 and D240 with 197bhp and 236bhp respectively; and two petrols which are the P300 with 296bhp and the P400, which is a mild hybrid with 395bhp.
Our 110 D240S costs £52,110 without options, so it’s not cheap. A P400 starts at nearly £80,000.
The brief was a difficult one – to create an interior that is both comfortable and luxurious enough to both warrant the price tag and comparison with rivals, yet be simple and rugged enough to be a ‘proper’ Defender.
The result is a five-star score.
While not as sumptuous as an Audi Q7 or Range Rover, the new Defender combines quality trim and detailing with an interior that can survive a hosing down.
You sit upright in big comfortable seats, the view out is superb and the big door mirrors effective. Rear seat passengers have masses of room, too, for heads and legs.
The luggage space is big, though what you can fit in is slightly compromised by the side-opening rear door. An extra two seats for the back are optional, as is a middle seat for the front row.
JLR hasn’t been good with infotainment systems in its cars but the Defender’s is a big improvement.
We just have to hope that it, along with the rest of the electrics in the car, are more reliable than they have been in the past.
Now, time to get muddy.
We drove the new Defender at Land Rover’s test facility (which it has used since the 1950s) at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire.
To give a full explanation of the Defender’s 4×4 abilities and systems would take another column.
Suffice to say that with a host of electronic handling systems, the nine-speed automatic transmission that’s standard in all models, a central locking differential, high and low ratios, and up to 900mm of wading depth, the car is almost unstoppable off-road. It is also extremely easy to drive.
The old Defender, while requiring a higher level of driver skill, was also a champion off-road.
The difference between the two is that the new Defender is 10 times better to drive on a motorway or A road when you’re on the way home from taking on the rough stuff.
The car handles well, is quiet and more than comfortable enough for a 500-mile day’s drive.
Doing that many miles in an old Defender would have required ear protection and a physiotherapist waiting at the other end.
We’ll be revisiting the Defender again when the three-door is launched. It’s expensive, yes, but it is both desirable and highly competent.
We’ve waited a long time for the new Defender but it’s been worth it.
Land Rover Defender D240S 4×4
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, 236bhp
Fuel consumption: 29.6-31.7mpg
Co2: 234-251 g/km
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Massively capable off road and very cool. Not as good on tarmac as the Defender.
Mercedes-Benz G350d AMG Line
A classic that’s modern and capable but at a ridiculous price.
Toyota Land Cruiser Active
Tough, reliable and a legend itself.