Defender Comes Close to Snagging Top Critics’ Crown
The fact that it will mainly be bought by people who won’t experience its full potential counted against Land Rover’s new flagship in the final reckoning for the Car of the Year 2021 award, says experienced motoring writer Andrew English - who goes on to give it fulsome praise for its capabilities in an off-road examination.
While the Defender couldn’t quite manage to strike a blow for the bigger beasts in the motoring world by winning the prestigious 2021 Car of the Year crown, as voted by motoring journalists, it earned some major consolation in the shape of a resounding thumbs-up from one member of the judging panel.
Telegraph motoring correspondent Andrew English put it just one place off the top in his own ranking of the seven finalists which were in the running for the top award.
The award is judged by English himself and his peers whose day-to-day job involves pointing buyers towards the new cars they should be looking out for - and the ones to avoid.
He’s very generous in his praise for the latest version of the Defender, and in his round-up of the CotY contenders, called it “a great looking vehicle, probably the most effective off-road device outside of a horse and with road manners and ride quality that are out of sight of its predecessors and more than good enough for the average family.”
So much unrealised potential
English hinted that a major reason why the Defender faced an uphill struggle in the competition for the top award was that most of the cars sold would never get the chance to realise their full potential: “It’s not Land Rover’s fault that so few of these cars will fulfil their destiny of adventure in remote regions, instead being driven in congested urban centres,” he said.
He also noted that, while the latest Defender variants might be viewed with some scepticism by some Land Rover purists, “for those who say that this new version isn’t in the spirit of the old Defender, I’d point out that it might have been had the Defender been allowed to naturally evolve over the years. For this is a great looking vehicle.”
English points out, however, that while the Defender was first introduced in 1990, it “was still recognisably based on the 1948 original” - a factor which, he said, counted against it when it was up against many rivals whose origins from the ground up were much newer and so came with the benefits of much more technology and enhanced safety features.
On the inside, English says the current Defender has moved on several generations from its antecedents, saying: “The interior has a sense of occasion that few can match and while not hose-out, it’s certainly sponge-out; tough and seemingly durable.”
In a separate article, English also put the latest Defender 110 through its paces.
He starts by making the case for a completely new Defender model, pointing out that the first model “didn’t pass diddly squat in terms of modern safety requirements”.
More importantly, old models still soldiering on in the American market were about to be banned from the country’s roads as legacy contracts with military and public utility buyers fell due for renewal - and in any case, English points out, Land Rover could hardly afford to overhaul the spec sheet of a car which accounted for just 25,000 sales a year across the Atlantic.
That brings us to the new Defender, which has not a single panel in common with the original vehicle we all know so well.
If anything, says English, the new model is firmly intended to be more extreme than its sister model, the Discovery, with a suspension set-up that gives it 84mm more ground clearance. Even if such figures don’t mean much to the average Disco driver, he adds, “rest assured the Defender will go pretty much anywhere you dare point it.”
The model and options list are kept pleasingly spare, says English, and the interior leans far more towards practicality than plushness: “With standard rubber mats (the carpet options go on top), low sills and lots of bare metal and wipe-clean plastics, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep clean”, he notes.
Original Defender lovers will especially love the option to spec their new one with 18-inch cream steel wheels, which notes our reviewer, “for the aficionado, is quite simply marvellous.”
Thankfully, one characteristic of the new Defender for which the old one simply didn’t compete is the quantity - and quality - of interior space: “If it's not the last word in comfort, the Defender is pretty cosy for a couple of hours at least,” the Telegraph’s man says. “There's plenty of room in the second row of seats, although the fold-out rear pair are for occasional use only”.
But it’s on the move on standard Tarmac roads where the difference between old and new Defender is most keenly felt, English found: “Sure it clambers a bit and sharp-edged bumps thump through the body, but drivers of the old Defender simply wouldn’t recognise this car,” he comments.
Another element of the refinement he says Defender die-hards might take some time to come to terms with is the precision of the new model’s steering: “It turns in to bends much better than it has a right to, with a lovely progression to the steering and superb on-centre response,” was his description.
Just one word was needed for English’s verdict of its performance down some muddy Cotswold tracks - “stunning”.
He said of the new car’s mud-plugging performance: “Using the Terrain Response system and a bare minimum of throttle, the Defender simply rolled up [some] fearsome slopes, only needing an occasional bit of steering lock to gain traction.
And he ended: “Of course the old model could do all this, but with a great deal more effort and requiring a fair degree of knowledge and experience”.
From what you’ve seen, do you think the new Defender is a worthy latest in its illustrious line? Let us know at:
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