Defending the Endangered - Land Rover Defender
Since the last several years, SUVs are the favourite vehicle body style and they almost completely dominate the automotive market, not just in India, but also globally. They come in various forms and all sizes, and though almost every manufacturer is now making SUVs, the ones with serious off-road capability can be counted on the fingers of a hand. Yes, SUVs with 4x4 that can truly tackle tough terrains and trails are extremely rare and threatened with extinction. As a matter of fact, a transfer case with an additional set of lower gears is now an endangered species too.
The Defender is one of the few SUVs with serious off-road capabilities.
So when Land Rover stopped the production of the body on ladder frame Defender in 2016, and said they would be introducing a completely new one with a monocoque chassis, there were many of us who feared that this iconic off-roader would also lose some of its all-terrain capability, and become softer too. But to the credit of Land Rover, they proved us skeptics wrong, and the Defender that was introduced in its new "monocoque avatar" at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2019, adroitly carries forward the "drive anywhere" legacy of its illustrious predecessors.
Though it now has a monocoque chassis, this has by no means affected its off-road performance.
While present day SUVs sport the trademark two box body style and also have a higher stance than sedans and hatchbacks, most are soft-roaders or crossovers, with limited off-road capacity. Some do come with all-wheel drive, which is in my opinion, an essential requirement in a SUV, but few have a transfer case with an additional set of lower gears.
But the shift to a monocoque platform has resulted in better on road ride comfort and handling.
Given all this, the Land Rover Defender with its tremendous off-roading proficiency, is certainly the "Last of the Mohicans". And amongst the 3 Defenders on offer-the 90, 110 and 130, the Defender 90 is the most fun to drive, both on-road and off-road, and in my view is the one to opt for. But I doubt if most people, particularly Indian buyers, will agree with me. And there are several reasons for this. To start with, there is only a minor difference in the ex-showroom price of the Defender 90 (Rs 80.7 lakhs) and 110 (Rs 82.25 lakhs).
The shorter and lighter Defender 90 is far more nimble and like its ancestors it can rove the land, regardless of conditions.
The Land Rover Defender 90 (4583mm) is also significantly shorter than the 110 (5018mm) and there is a huge difference in their wheelbases - Defender 90 (2587mm) and 110 (3022mm). This means the Defender 110 has lots more room and also the option of a 5+2 seating configuration. Even with the 5-seater option, the rear seat legroom is 63mm more. Obviously the Defender 110 also has better boot space. So why in the name of heaven, am I saying the Defender 90 is the one to pick?
Its great fun to drive both on paved roads and off-road trails.
Ah, now we are talking. As mentioned, the Defender 90 is much shorter in length, due to which it's far more nimble. The 90's turning circle of 11.3 meters is also tighter than the 12.84 metres of the Defender 110. It weighs 119 kgs less than the 110, and this combination of shorter turning circle, tinier overall length and lower weight, makes a massive difference in the driving experience. The Defender 90 is agile and can "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee". It also accelerates faster and gets to 100 kmph in 7.1 seconds, with the Defender 110 taking 7.4 seconds for this sprint. Thanks to the shorter wheelbase, the 90 has a higher breakover angle of 30.7 degrees, whereas the Defender 110's breakover angle is 27.8 degrees. And this difference of almost 3 degrees can be an immense advantage while off-roading, as a higher breakover angle allows the vehicle to traverse a steeper-angled crest or ridge.
The under floor management is very good and the air suspension allows the ground clearance to be increased to 290 mm when required.
After driving the new Defender 90, I was left marveling at how well Land Rover designers and engineers have done in creating this modern version of the iconic Series I, subsequently christened the Defender. The original Land Rover was designed to rove the land, regardless of conditions. And the new recreated or reimagined Defender can clearly do that. It also has the instantly identifiable distinct silhouette, with minimal front and rear overhangs that provide excellent approach and departure angles. The new Defender also has the signature Alpine light windows in the roof and retains the side-hinged rear tailgate and externally-mounted spare wheel that make the original so recognizable.
A vehicle like the Defender allows you to truly go off the beaten path.
The biggest difference of course, and one that had hardcore fans worried was the shift to a monocoque chassis. Land Rover was very conscious of this concern and worked hard to ensure that though the new Defender is based on a lightweight aluminium monocoque construction, it has a stiff body structure. In fact Land Rover says that with a torsional rigidity of 29kNm/Degree, it is three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs. They also claim that this strong foundation provides the perfect basis for the fully independent suspension, twin-speed transfer case and an intelligent all-wheel drive system. The Defender 90 I drove also had electronic air suspension with adaptive dynamics and it completely transforms the on road ride comfort and handling.
To be honest, the earlier ladder on frame Defenders were never really good long distance cruisers or comfortable to travel in, as the ride and handling left much to be desired. But the move to a monocoque platform and the new suspension system, has worked wonders and now the Defender is actually both agile and comfortable on the road. Never thought I would say that for a Defender.
Fortunately, this has not come at the cost of off-road capability. In fact the air suspension also aids this and when needed, at the push of a button, increases the ground clearance to a maximum height of 290mm. And when required, the "Elegant Arrival" feature automatically lowers the body by 40mm to improve ingress and egress. While driving the Defender off-road, one cannot help but be impressed by the 500mm articulation of each wheel and the Defender's ability to successfully tackle steep inclines and declines. And when the going gets truly tough, you can engage 4WD Low and use the additional set of lower gears housed in the twin-speed transfer case.
The entire cabin is designed to be practical and comfortable.
There is also a configurable terrain response system that allows both experts and novices to augment traction in all conditions. The under floor management is also top-class with proper protection for the completely flat underside, which is designed to ensure that no part of the drivetrain gets tangled in obstacles. A center differential and optional active locking rear differential makes sure the Defender has all the hardware to comfortably and confidently, venture off-road. If that is not enough, then chew on this. The Defender has higher ground clearance, deeper water-fording ability, and larger breakover and departure angles, than even the other off-roading icon, the Rambo of off-roading, the Jeep Wrangler.
It's equipped with several external cameras, which in off-road mode show you things normally hidden by the bonnet.
One feature that I found really useful while off-roading is the All-Terrain Progress Control and ClearSight Ground View 2 technologies, which give you various camera views to choose from. Yes, on the large central touchscreen you can select several external camera angles that show you things normally hidden by the bonnet. You can even look under the Defender while driving and also see what is in the path of the front wheels. It's almost like having several additional eyes on the outside to guide and help you determine the ideal course.
With its new monocoque chassis, the Defender has transformed and can now tackle turns in quite an athletic manner.
Another impressive feature is the Defender's water wade system. Once you select it in the terrain response menu, it automatically moderates the throttle response, sets the climate control to recirculate cabin air, locks the driveline and adjusts the ride height to its off-road setting while triggering the Wade Sensing screen on the infotainment system. This enables drivers to see the depth of surrounding water in real time and provides confidence when driving through deep water. And you can afford to be supremely confident, because the Defender has a world class maximum water wading depth of 900mm! Given how often our cities and even countryside flood now, this is definitely a must have feature.
The Defender has a smart water wade system that shows the depth of the water in real time, and it also has a world class maximum water wading depth of 900 mm.
In conclusion, I must say I really like these new generation Defender's, not only because they superbly carry the bloodline of their ancestors, but also because they look like them and still retain the off-road capabilities. The Defender also comes with lots of personalization options and various accessory packs, and I particularly like the fact that you can also go in for strong and utilitarian 18-inch white steel rims. Land Rover also offers a proper foldable rooftop tent that sleeps two adults and includes a full-size luxury mattress, pillows, interior LED light, rear canopy and compact aluminium ladder.
The extensive accessory list includes an easy to use rooftop tent for two.
As for the Defender 90, while it makes little practical sense when compared with its bigger siblings, it is certainly more fun and capable both on-road and off-road. Sometimes, big is not better. Instead, like with the Defender 90, small is definitely more pleasurable and rewarding.
When not in use, the tent can be stowed flat for maximum stability and aerodynamic efficiency while driving.
Starts Rs 73.98 Lakhs
Starts Rs 53.9 Lakhs